"Christmas in the Clouds"

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. ? There is a movie waiting to hit the Cineplexes all over the country, but it lacks funding for marketing and distribution.

This is a movie that will warm people's hearts and provide everyone with more than a feel-good day. The cast is predominantly American Indian, the storyline is a classic case of mistaken identity with Indian humor at the source and the result is wonderful.

Writer and Director Kate Montgomery brought charm, dignity, beauty and quality to the big screen. Audiences are not subjected to political statements or cultural preaching. The result is that people will see American Indians going about the daily process of living.

"Christmas in the Clouds," when it finally hits the theater circuit will be a must see movie for families of all races. This humorous romp with romance, mistaken identity and beautiful scenery at a tribally owned resort in ski country is splendidly directed and the audience is not burdened with quick camera changes, pseudo artistic angles and panning that tends to dizzy the mind.

"Christmas in the Clouds" rightfully won several film festival awards. It was an official selection at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival; the audience award at the 2001 Austin Film Festival; best Native film at the Santa Fe Film Festival; honorable mention at the Lake Placid Film Forum; annual membership screening at Mill Valley Film Festival; shown at the closing night gala at the American Indian Film Festival and voted one of the most popular films at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

So with all those awards and screenings that bring rave reviews, why is it not in the theaters now? Money. A limited national release could cost between $1 million and $2 million. Interest in the movie comes from Landmark Theaters, AMC, Galaxy, Ritx and other chains. Still, Montgomery and the producers of "Christmas in the Clouds" continue to search for the funding to put this movie in those theaters.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Indians in Wisconsin was one of the original producers of this film.

This film could become a holiday classic. It is not too far-fetched to believe we will be seeing this movie on cable for years to come. And to own it on CD or tape will be a good thing to replay during the holiday season.

The setting is in the western mountain ranges at Sky Mountain resort, a rustic resort that invites you to call for reservations. The characters created by Montgomery are endearing, real and humorous, and Montgomery scripted humor into the script without the need for joke lines.

The characters range from a curmudgeon travel writer, Stu O'Malley (M. Emmett Walsh) who comes to the resort to rate it for a travel magazine, and Tina Littlehawk (MariAna Tosca) who carried on a pen pal relationship with Joe Clouds on Fire (Sam Vlahos) a former chief of the tribe whose son is the manager of the resort.

Ray Clouds on Fire (Sam Vahle), who desperately wants to receive a four-star rating, was led to mistake Littlehawk for the travel writer, while O'Malley gets involved in a series of misadventures sometimes while intoxicated. Clouds on Fire and the entire staff try to make Littlehawk's stay memorable while O'Malley is ignored.

As it turns out Littlehawk also mistakes Ray Clouds on Fire as her pen pal and tries to charm him into a romantic interlude. They do fall in love. And the rest of the resort employees are very good support characters keeping the continued misunderstandings happening from scene to scene.

Mary (Sheila Tousey), Ray's assistant, is engrossed in romance novels and is the catalyst for continuing the mistaken identities.

Graham Greene plays the role of a vegetarian chef, who spends most of his time going table to table, more than willing to tell the guests about the meat they are eating. The turkey was a family pet and the buffalo was a cast member of "Dances with Wolves," he tells guests.

Wes Studie plays himself. Studie calls bingo at a special bingo game where Joe Clouds on Fire attempts to win a Grand Cherokee, which is his only goal. Music fans can enjoy the music of Rita Coolidge and her character as Ramona, Tina's mother.

A wonderful music score is also aided by the talents of Keith Secola, Bob Bayless, N. Carlos Nakai and the Navajo Chorus.

And the only use of a Native language comes when Mabel (Rosalind Ayres), a non-Indian resort visitor wants to learn a couple of Native words. She asks the words to hello and is given words that had a reference to flatulism.

Montgomery, who is not American Indian, captures the immense humor that comes out of the American Indian community. She has many Indian friends she says and wanted to create a movie that brought out the humor and passion without having to get mired down in political statements.

"I spoof stereotypes and celebrate Native American wit," Montgomery said.

She added that anyone could relate to the people in the film. "They are just people I think there is more of a need for that understanding. We're all just people."

This film is a way of breaking down Hollywood stereotypes when it comes to American Indians. This movie could have been casted with hot stars from Hollywood and work very well, but it would have to be rewritten. The humor of the American Indian brings the charm to a higher level in this movie and should it not be cast with Native Americans it would not work as well.

Some people who attended the mid year convention of the National Congress of American Indians in Bismarck, N.D. were treated to a showing of "Christmas in the Clouds." The result was unanimous praise for what Montgomery had created.

"Christmas in the Clouds" may not have the same chance as a typical Hollywood movie made about American Indians that stars non-Indians as the lead characters. This is a risk movie that doesn't dwell on depressing issues, or show leathers and feathers continually. It shows American Indians going through situations as they go through life.

It is not a glitzy, technically astounding movie that grabs attention with high tech adventure. It touches the sensibilities of the viewer and offers a romance, minus the sex, that puts class on the screen. This movie will fit most every audience and to spend an hour and a half with the people of the Sky Mountain Resort is well worth the time spent.