Jolie Produced Film:3 out of 4 Stars
John Trudell is a name that should be revered alongside the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez in the annals of civil rights leaders.
Instead, the American Indian activist is a generally marginalized enigma, dismissed from the history books and public consciousness.
Director Heather Rae’s hagiography, “Trudell,” is a step toward garnering the icon the recognition he deserves.
A crusading firebrand, Trudell, now 60, spent the late 1960s and ’70s agitating against the U.S. government to garner dignity and respect for Indians, as well as secure rights granted to indigenous peoples through treaties. Exploiting agreements that allowed Indians to take control of federal lands not used by the government, Trudell took part in the occupation of Alcatraz from 1969 to 1971.
Trudell grew up on the Santee Sioux Reservation near Omaha, Neb. He dropped out of college and joined the U.S. Navy in the mid-1960s, serving in Vietnam. From 1973 to 1979, he served as national chairman for the American Indian Movement.
The U.S. government certainly took notice. From 1969 to 1979, the FBI compiled a 17,000-page dossier on Trudell. In 1979, hours after Trudell burned an American flag in a protest outside FBI headquarters in Washington, his wife, three kids and mother-in-law were killed in a fire at his Nevada home. Trudell and others believe that the arson was retribution from the government.
Following the fire, Trudell has become less actively militant, focusing on a career as a spoken-word artist and actor. Rae has produced several of the independent films in which Trudell has appeared, including “A Thousand Guns” and “Sawtooth.” The closeness between subject and filmmaker sacrifices any hope at an unflinching, all-sides-considered look at Trudell’s life. But in return for objectivity, “Trudell” yields loads of inside access to Trudell’s life.
Executive-produced by Angelina Jolie, Rae’s film paces through Trudell’s life, mixing archive interviews with Trudell’s performances and commentary from celebrities such as Robert Redford and Jackson Browne. Val Kilmer and Sam Shepard, who worked with the subject in “Thunderheart,” gush over Trudell’s sagelike prominence.
The film is a powerful portrait of a man and his ideals, so much so that it leaves the viewer believing Trudell is a saint, although obviously the government would have had a different take on the matter. “Trudell” may be a one-sided work of propaganda, but it’s effective, well-crafted and informative propaganda.
At least Rae makes no bones about her passion for Trudell and what he stands for. She seeks to share that passion, and her film accomplishes the task with vigor