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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Drama > Native Americans > Powwow Highway

Powwow Highway


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Film: B



Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, former Beatle George Harrison was a remarkable film producer through his Handmade Films production company.  The company made more memorable films and independent triumphs than most people realize.  Anchor Bay has just issued one of the less-known films that deserve a much bigger audience.  Jonathan Wacks’ Powwow Highway (1988) is a look at Native Americans trying to deal with their marginalization and troubles, but with some remarkable humor and offbeat touches that merit it more of an audience than it received on first release.


Buddy Red Bow (the underappreciated A Martinez) and Philbert Bono (Gary Farmer) are best friends who are moving through life the best they can, experiencing the usual prejudice over their heritage and struggling for a better life.  Besides not being able to get their new car stereo working, they are not able to get their life working.  Having to deal with things in a streetwise way, they become stuck in a unique quandary when Buddy’s sister gets in trouble.  They have not been talking for a long time because she has not been making the best life choices, especially considering she has kids, which gets her arrested and put into jail.  What will they do to get her out?  Can they do anything to get themselves out of their own life trap?


What could have been a dull or overly serious film has some moments of greatly timed humor and some moments that really celebrate life.  Based on David Seals book, the Janet Heaney/Jean Stawarz screenplay is nicely paced and gives the actors some fine moments.  When a film has the right combination of story and character like this does, it becomes a unique experience and takes you somewhere you have not been before.  Powwow Highway really is the road less traveled.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image has some Video Black trouble, but Toyomichi Kurita’s cinematography is still apparent in its good capture of locations and action.  This is somewhat of a “road movie” and is shot as such, but the actors are as interesting as any of the locations.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is clean and Barry Goldberg gives the film just the right kind of music, plus the soundtrack has some good hits on it.  Sadly, there are no extras whatsoever, though I bet just about everyone still with us would have something to say about the film.  Powwow Highway has a remarkable way of dealing with the dread of what Native Americans still suffer to this day, but does it knowingly at a time when this was unheard of.  It might just be a minor classic.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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