History of the Film: How it all started
My initial interest in Native American culture began in 1992 after I experienced the power of the drums at The GATHERING OF NATIONS in Albuquerque, considered the biggest Powwow of United States.
The Powwow’s organizers, educators Derek and Linda Mathews, had invited Wynton MARSALIS to attend as a guest of honor, because of his strong involvement in education. As I was filming a portrait of this famous jazz trumpeter for Sony music PLAYING THROUGH THE CHANGES my crew and I were able to experience this spectacular event along with him, capturing his encounter with a culture he had never been in such intimate contact with, although he was born and raised in America.
Though I had been already living in America for ten years, I’d never encountered Native culture either, and neither had any of my crew. So it appeared to me that the Native culture had remained somewhat hidden and shared by only a few aware people. Furthermore, when asking Americans where we could find Indians, most of them would discourage me from trying to go to the reservations, thinking it was uninteresting or even dangerous.
Back in France for a few years, I decided to come back to America and shoot a documentary on Powwows, filming the exuberant beauty of the songs and the dances that I had not forgotten. But it took me quite a long time to finance such a project.
Finally, in 1997, I went to the Ute Council Tree Powwow [Note : official website offline] in Delta, Colorado, looking for dancers or singers who would accept me and my camera on their Powwow trail. And there I met the Martineau family.
I first met Carmen who was wearing a sumptuous beaded buckskin dress that she made herself. Carmen took me to her father Lavan Martineau. In fifteen minutes he told me a lot about his past, his life and their family’s Powwow involvement.
The following summer, after a few mail exchanges with Carmen, it was agreed that I could come with one other person, in order to share and film their Powwow trail for a few weeks.
I discovered at very close range the wonderfully educational world of Powwows.
Indeed, I found a common thread between Wynton Marsalis, Lavan Martineau and his five daughters, and myself – and later on, the same common thread with some of the characters in INDIANS LIKE US: an avid quest for learning and sharing the knowledge we acquire.
Powwows are a place of choice, to exchange knowledge between generations, families, friends and various tribes. They are also a place where the Whites get a chance to appreciate the beauty and the diversity of Native culture, and perhaps change the detrimental prejudices perpetrated by numerous television reports and various media. There are no drugs, alcohol or guns allowed on the Powwow grounds, and the Indians aim to provide a very safe and friendly haven for the families and children.
One year after I had filmed and recorded the Martineau family, Lavan passed away. I then realized that my film was not just about Powwows, but more about his story: a white child adopted by a Paiute elder when he became an orphan, Lavan devoted his entire life to giving all his acquired Indian knowledge to his five Paiute daughters, to his grand-children, and to everyone he could share it with.
He called himself “A RED APPLE INSIDE OUT”, and that became the title of my film.
When making this film, I discovered the alarming blood-quantum situation that was described to me by ROY TRACK, a respected Powwow Master of Ceremony (MC), as a major growing problem in Native America. That issue became a main documentary focus, as it reflects a broader situation of mixed cultures and identities throughout the world.
My own Vietnamese-French mixed blood is surely an influence on my constant desire for exploring and resolving questions of identity and all its related subjects.
When I met the French group SAVY WESTERN, from the region of Picardie, doing a performance in my native area of the Ardennes in their self-made Indian regalia, I was at first amused. But then I was very touched by the exchange I witnessed between them and the locals, particularly the children. People in their audience were fascinated and asked many questions – which Alain Letellier, the “chief” of the group, answered what he had learned in books.
I asked if they had ever met Natives. He answered that it was his biggest dream, shared by the whole group, to go to America and meet “real Indians.” Every year they dreamed of going “next summer.” In fact they were planning to go “next year” (2009), but they did not speak English! I offered to come along and film them, in exchange for some translation help.
Their encounter with the “Real Indians” (as they keep calling them) had to be interesting. That is what the documentary INDIANS LIKE US reflects, as do the five bonus films included in the DVD, released by Native distributor Vision Media Maker in North America since November 2013.
INDIANS LIKE US was selected by several documentary film festivals, ethnological film festivals for the most part. That led me to discover many other “Indianists” (“Indian hobbyist” groups), particularly in Eastern Europe (such as the bulgarian society: http://www.eaglecircle.org/)
The entire experience also showed me how little the average Americans know about the Natives, even though they may live very close to them. When I showed the film in the Riverside International Film Festival in 2011, the audience was totally unaware of the nearby reservation (and that a powwow was scheduled for the very next weekend. There is still a lot of ignorance – as well as prejudice – to fight against.