“It makes you feel good to see other people happy,” is the earnest line spoken by an affable young Native American toward the end of Pine Ridge, debut director Anna Eborn’s quietly contemplative sociological documentary. He speaks of the good he and his brothers try to do for their fellow residents on the eponymous Indian reservation where the film takes place, but he’s unknowingly offering an apt summation of the movie itself. To see other people happy—these people, specifically, the young generation who catch Eborn’s eye—is to feel great; to see them sad is to be distraught. In Pine Ridge we see both in equal frequency and alternating amounts, honestly encountered as we follow the dozen or so individuals whose lives, for seventy-six minutes, overrun ours.
“Most people think we still live in tipis,” remarks one youth in the film’s opening moments, “Fuck, we have houses man.” It’s a lovely line, as offhandedly funny as it is importantly declarative for the movie to follow: these are, lest we forget, just people, no different to any other.
If there seems a certain similarity to The Exiles—Kent MacKenzie’s acclaimed but still relatively little-known 1961 drama following a group of young Indians in Los Angeles—it’s only because stories centred on Native Americans remain so rare. Yet Eborn’s is never quite a Native American story, rather a human story that happens to revolve around Native Americans: it’s appropriate, in a sense, that it should be directed by a Swede and funded by Danes; the only community to which anyone, maker or viewer, need belong is that of global humanity. “Most people think we still live in tipis,” remarks one youth in the film’s opening moments, “Fuck, we have houses man.” It’s a lovely line, as offhandedly funny as it is importantly declarative for the movie to follow: these are, lest we forget, just people, no different to any other.
It’s as close to a statement of intent as Eborn gets, and it’s telling that it’s not she who makes it: she takes a minimal presence—at least narratively—acknowledged only in the direct gaze of children fascinated by the camera’s stare. Visually, conceptually, her presence is felt every step of the way. The South Dakotan panoramas that characterise Nadim Carlsen’s crisp digital photography owe a debt to the western genre; indeed the various scenes of horse-wrangling and gun-shooting invoke a particular cinematic Americana that positions these characters at a curious point both within and without wider US culture. If a point of comparison has to be found—and it hasn’t; this is a film happy to exist on its own terms—it’s Sweetgrass with its similar sense of figures on the peripheries of a greater icon, integral to it and yet somehow so separate too.
The South Dakotan panoramas that characterise Nadim Carlsen’s crisp digital photography owe a debt to the western genre; indeed the various scenes of horse-wrangling and gun-shooting invoke a particular cinematic Americana that positions these characters at a curious point both within and without wider US culture.
But make no mistake: Eborn’s film is no sweeping political statement nor outspoken indictment of the mistreatment that led to this community’s relegation to the sidelines of society. It is, simply and unassumingly, a document of these lives, a faithful representation of a chosen collection of characters and the issues that affect them, as they see fit to espouse. What truths of people and the differences between them that emerge are those that emerge incidentally; Eborn’s role here is only to film, and film she does with verité vibrancy, her one intrusion that of cinematic concession. Her layering of confessional audio atop silent scenes, primarily those that see her subjects walking down roads in the bright light of day, seems almost to make us privy to interior thought, as though extending the camera into the minds of these people at their invitation.
In essence, that’s precisely what Pine Ridge is: as much an allowance to enter individual headspace as a permit to peruse the titular community. What may emerge from Eborn’s portrait is a remarkable rendition of the human condition, but it’s born of nought more than the basic goal to understand these specific individuals and the ties that bind. Maybe the highlight of the movie’s magnificent music, a crucial aspect of its hypnotic cinematic allure hinged on Chris Douglas’ pitch-perfect score, is Barbara Keith’s breathtaking version of “All Along the Watchtower”, a joyously unique take on an oft-heard song. To not talk falsely is the ultimate, solitary aim of Eborn’s presentation of these people, who are each like no other in the world. Whether happy or sad, to truly see them makes you feel so good.
[notification type=”star”]95/100 ~ AMAZING. Pine Ridge is a remarkable rendition of the human condition.[/notification]