‘INAATE/SE’: Film Review

Adam and Zack Khalil’s documentary uses the ancient Seven Fires Prophecy as a springboard to explore contemporary Native American culture and society.

The title of Native American filmmakers Adam and Zack Khalil’s new documentary provides some clue that it will not adhere to traditional non-fiction film standards. An impressionist effort inspired by the centuries-old Seven Fires Prophecy — an Ojibwe story which predated and accurately predicted the tribe’s contact with Europeans — the film is an imaginative if challenging examination of the tribe’s past and present. At the risk of typos, here’s the full title of the film that recently received its world premiere at Doc Fortnight 2016: INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it flies.falls./].

The filmmakers employ a wide variety of stylistic devices in this experimental work, including animation, distorted sound effects, archival footage and low-resolution video, that will keep the viewer disoriented. And speaking of disorienting, there’s also a cameo appearance by Bret Michaels, the lead singer of Poison, who was appearing in an Indian casino during shooting.

The Bottom Line

Stylistically audacious if at times baffling.

The film, which concerns the Ojibway tribe in the town of Sault Ste. Marie, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, includes a number of interviews, presented in both traditional and non-traditional fashion. The most colorful subject is “Wild Bill,” a grizzled elderly man who shoots a gun through his window while drinking heavily, all to the strains of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.”

But we also hear from the curator of the Sault Historic Sites, which include the impressive, 210-feet tall Tower of History, who displays vintage artifacts and photographs relating to the tribe’s local history.

More strangely, there are periodic appearances by a mysterious figure dressed like a priest, wearing a grotesque mask on his face and an “I Heart Bingo” cap on his head.

The prevalence of drugs and alcohol among the Native American population is addressed, but not dwelled on. Also touched on are themes of assimilation, with one commentator observing, “I think people get mixed up about what’s tradition and what’s culture.”

But for all its thoughtful and imaginative elements, INAATE/SE proves a frustratingly bewildering cinematic experience. Without the background information and context that those familiar with the subject matter have, the average viewer might well tune out long before the film is over.  

Venue: Doc Fortnight 2016
Directors-directors of photography-editors: Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil
Producers: Carolyn Lazard, Sam Richardson Alexandra Lazarowich, Sarah Kerr
Composers: Zach Khalil, Austin Sley Julian

Not rated, 68 min.