Michael’s short film, A Nation Is Coming, has been shown on Canada’s Bravo and APTN cable networks. This thought-provoking film deals with native peoples’ reactions to drastic changes wrought by the introduction of technology and disease. It is interspersed with words from native prophecy and the Ghost Dance. Michael is the only person in the film. Portraying a resurrected Ghost Dancer, he appears in different scenes that express a time-line of events. He dances around a circle of fire in modern dress, performs the grassdance (those of you who have seen him in the CBC documentary He Who Dreams: Michael Greyeyes on the Powwow Trail will recognize both his regalia and some of the dance steps), dances in a simple breechcloth, and, in some very striking outdoor scenes, wears a traditional buckskin shirt and breeches and fur boots. Although there is no spoken dialogue or narration in the entire film, he does some of his finest acting to date — through facial expression and body movement alone.
Stark images of a gray, sterile industrial wasteland contrast with images of a pristine winter wilderness. Filmed in sepia-toned photography, the outdoor scenes are particularly striking. Michael trudges through knee-deep snow (and it must indeed have been very cold because one can see his breath – the film was made in and around Banff). Several shots showing him lying in the snow were uncannily reminiscent of images of the tragic victims of the Wounded Knee massacre in December 1890. There are images of disease such as Michael seeing blood trickling from his palm, and a blanket upon which are superimposed images of living micro-organisms. I understand the latter as a reference to the “blanket fever” (an early, calculated form of germ warfare/genocide when, in the 1800s, U.S. soldiers gave tribes blankets taken from smallpox hospitals).
Michael choreographed the film. His mastery of movement and his creative, artistic vision are truly remarkable. This tall young man is both powerful and graceful as he dances and leaps, seemingly effortlessly, on stage. In the final scene, as the credits roll, he appears to be a “visitor” or alien, sitting in an armchair, remote control in hand, watching a TV program about the annihilation of the buffalo. He is wearing eerie makeup (somewhat reminiscent of the late Brandon Lee in the movie “The Crow”) and comically choking as he tries to inhale cigarette smoke.
The film, which is only about 25 minutes in length, is rather avant-grade and experimental in nature. It takes several viewings to understand its messages. And due to the film’s very nature, each viewer will have a different interpretation. It continues to play in one’s mind long after one sees it. It is a thought-provoking, disturbing, inspiring and moving experience. One is left with an even greater appreciation of, and admiration for, Michael’s acting and dancing, as well.
Review © Jan
Photo © Kent Monkman