During his lacrosse playing days Neal Powless earned his share of accolades. The Iroquois, who is a member of the Onondoga Nation, was a three-time all-American while playing at New York's Nazareth College. He also represented the Iroquois Nationals at four world championships. And he played for professional clubs in Rochester, Syracuse, Columbus, Buffalo and New Jersey. These days, however, Powless is earning praise as a co-producer of Crooked Arrows, a movie centred on a American Indian lacrosse club. Powless, who works as the assistant director of the Native Student Program and Academic Affairs at Syracuse University, was originally brought on board to serve as a consultant for the movie. But after suggesting some script changes, and getting Natives on board, he was made a co-producer of the film.
How did you go from being a consultant to a co-producer of the movie?
Part of my contract was that we make certain changes to the movie. As that process moved forward they realized I was easy to work with. Things really shifted for me when I made some phone calls and called in some favors. We were able to fill up five buses (of Native people) who came and were the extras in the crowd scenes for the big game. When they saw I could do that and had the support of the Native groups I became a co-producer.
Was there any reluctance to make some of the changes you were recommending?
It was an interesting give and take. They knew the Hollywood aspects they wanted. And I knew the cultural aspects that were necessary. It was good because mostly everybody realized that we needed to make these changes. They all decided they needed to do something but they weren't sure what.
What is this movie going to do for the way American Indians are perceived?
My goal is that this movie will change the perception about (Natives). People see the rez as a place they would never go to.
What concerns did you have about making this movie?
One of my main concerns was for the kids in this movie. I didn't want them to go back to their communities when it was all over and not be able to hold their heads up high.
We've had plenty of baseball, football, basketball and hockey movies before. Why do you think a lacrosse movie hadn't been made before?
That's a good question. I know one of our producers, Mitchell Peck, was a high school state champion in lacrosse. He got into the movie business and decided I'm going to pitch this idea. It took about eight years but it finally got done.
What was the best part about making the movie?
Things that need to be changed were changed. These kids have reason to be very proud. It was fun, exciting and a lot of work. We were working twelve to fourteen hours a day for two months. But I loved every minute of it.
Why do you think this is more than just a typical sports movie?
It is a lacrosse movie. But it's also a Native movie. And it includes a lot of different values that people who go to movies aren't used to seeing or hearing. It's a rekindling of ideas - of family values and community values.
What will this movie do for lacrosse in North America?
It's a tough sport and it's expensive. You have a stick that costs x amount of dollars. And you have pads that cost x amount of dollars. And in some cases there are fields that you have to rent. For the sport to grow you have to have the ability to fund programs that don't necessarily have a lot of money.
Why do you think this movie is important?
In the past, other than a few movies, Natives were looked at as being from a time gone by. The kids in this cast don't reflect that. They're traditional and people can see there is a different way to do things. And people can see us as more than just people who are behind casinos.
Tell me a little bit about the lacrosse camps you are involved with.
I usually do 2-3 camps a year. I help out when I can. But this year I'm still promoting the movie and I've been reluctant to say yes to anybody because I don't know if I'll be there. We're going to have the European premiere of the movie in Amsterdam next month and I'll be there for that.
Do you think there will be a sequel?
It's hard to say. How do you follow up the story of Crooked Arrows with a sequel? How much of the story gets lost and people say that we've already heard that. If the audience is calling for it, we'll consider it. I know the guys in the cast are calling for Crooked Arrows 2. So I don't want to say it's out of the realm of possibilities.
There has been some criticism you used actual lacrosse players instead of actors. Your thoughts on that.
It was a movie that pays homage to lacrosse at a high level. The majority of the lacrosse guys in the movie are at that level. The acting could have been better or cleaner. But I think all the Native players carried their performances rather well. And some of them are now getting calls for other roles. If they are bad actors, why are they getting calls now for other jobs?