On the evening of April 3, entering the auditorium, with only having the trailer of the film resonating in my mind, I knew how profound the feature had the potential to be. Having never read the book, Winter in the Blood but familiar with James Welch’s work, the connections from his time to present day native issues are still very much relevant. Issues such as blood quantum, abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism are featured in the film and are very real in indigenous society.
Co-director, Alex Smith welcomed his audience and beginning the film, saying, “Sit back, laugh, cry, get lost, get found,” and just like that described everything one will feel and do while watching the film. As the audience views the journeys that Virgil First Raise, played by Chaske Spencer, goes through from his original plan to find his renegade wife and his stolen rifle, the audience is given the chance to explore their own relatable journeys.
The film is directed in a way that resembles First Raise’s state of intoxication, consciousness and clarity. From First Raise’s drunken stupors and his flashbacks of memories you are brought through his emotional and critical life experiences. In this First Raise thinks critically and tries to focus on his traumas in order to find himself and get the closure he longs for. While many may think that they are merely watching another stereotypical “drunken Indian” the trouble that Virgil First Raise goes through in his life encompasses many natives’ troubles that go unacknowledged. It isn’t a clichéd role or story if much of it speaks truths for indigenous people.
The film, like many books, is filled with metaphors, one being that throughout the film the rifle the audience sees so much of is broken and unable to fire off a shot. However, when Virgil brings it to a blind elder, he is able to fix it. When returning the rifle the elder says, “the rifle wasn’t broken, something was just stuck deep inside it.” These words describing the problem with the rifle is what the audience sees in Virgil’s journey to find himself.
Chaske Spencer portrays a native soul who has experienced a huge amount of loss, pain, helplessness and self-inflicted tormenting with absolute perfection. Spencer, known for his roll in the Twilight film series, makes a definite break out from that roll and proves hundreds of times over his acting abilities.
From his deep voice the audience hears narrate the film, to the incredible drama and drunken sequences he portrays he captures you in every scene.
Smith commented on all the actors ability, to “access the characters that none of [the crew] being native could.” The director’s recognition of these abilities in native actors is a major boost in the indigenous entertainment industry needs. Being that many native-based content films, books, and theater aren’t widely produced it gives a non-native perspective of appreciation.
I highly recommend this powerful movie to anyone who is interested in movies that hit spot on with native traumas that are very real amongst native people as well as to those who want a look inside of their selves.