- For the Generations: Native Story and Performance
Told through interviews and performance footage of contemporary music and dance, For the Generations provides viewers with a pastiche of individual performing artists, their experiences, and their perspectives from a range of indigenous North American communities. The artists profiled in the documentary are both unknown and world renowned, including singers Jana Mashonee, Jaynez, and Martha Redbone; the touring group Women of the Four Winds; classically trained ballet dancers Michael Greyeyes and Santee Smith; renowned Grammy winners Robert Mirabal and Bill Miller; and dancers and performers associated with Painted Sky, a Portland, Oregon, nonprofit organization designed “to improve the lives of Native youth through dance.”
Laced with original performances and behind-the-scenes footage, the film presents the personal stories of struggle in entertainment and the performing arts, hard industries for anyone, but ones where the bars of success are often confounded by the expectations of non-Native audiences. As the well-known Canadian actor/dancer Michael Greyeyes (Cree) notes in the film, “People expect certain things from our work. Ah . . . but at times we choose not to give it to them.” That is one of the greatest strengths of the documentary, dispelling numerous long-held stereotypes about what constitutes indigenous performance. However, the film also deftly tackles the complex relationships between identity and popular culture from a variety of perspectives and in this way is most certainly geared for a young indigenous audience. As Singer Jana Mashonee (Lum-bee) laments, “There’s a lot of times where Native kids don’t want to be Native. . . . They want to be a part of something that’s bigger and that’s better. And I tell them what they are is . . . is wonderful.” [End Page 247]
Many of the artists make it a strong point that they do not live on reserves or reservations and never have and that this fact in no way inhibits cultural vitality or their cultural expressions as indigenous artists. Mashonee sets the tone of the film at the beginning: “I really want to make music that people enjoy. I want people to see that Natives can do other styles of music. But it’s really beyond that. It’s just about people enjoying the music. . . . I happen to be Native American, and, hopefully, that will have a nice influence on them, and they’ll discover something new about Native people.” As the renowned singer and performer Robert Mirabal (Taos Pueblo) states in a later scene, “I want to be known as a musician that just happens to be Robert Mirabal from Taos, New Mexico, . . . that just happens to be a Native American.”
These issues of identity and performance confront the artists on an intensely personal level and confront viewers on a visual level, as many of the segments address artists’ personal feelings of mixing traditional and non-Native elements in their works. Dancer Santee Smith (Mohawk) notes that “I stopped dancing because I thought ballet wasn’t really expressing who I was, a Mohawk person. It was only later that I was asked to choreograph that I fell back into my love, my passion, which is dance and creating dance.” Choreographer Vanessa Shortbull (Oglala Sioux) relates again how exposing even those in indigenous communities to new forms of expression is important: “Mixing in, um, contemporary dance with Indian dance, I think is really important because sometimes they [Native youth] may not have been exposed to that. . . . But it says, well, we’re gonna do some Indian dancing mixed with hip hop.” This statement is further supported by Greyeyes, who notes that “Native dance is—is something still quite hidden. We have this idea that ballet isn’t, you know, ethnic dance, but it is. It’s our own traditional dance form. It’s just really wonderful to see other things coming into this contemporary dance world . . . other traditions being evolved.”
What the film lacks in strong narrative structure or production values, it makes up for in its insightful and inspiring stories, performances, and career paths...