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From Chris Eyre, 'Edge of America'

RAPID CITY, S.D. - There is proof positive that thousands of extras, bloody battles, sex, fiery scenes and exploding objects do not always make your emotions rise to the surface.

Independent films may not top the box office money-making list, but they often reward the attentive viewer. Chris Eyre, noted filmmaker in Indian country, has turned another page in his growing career by bringing audiences "Edge of America."

It is a film made for Showtime which was introduced at the Sundance Film Festival. Eyre has become a fixture at Sundance; this was his fifth film at the festival. Previously, his film "Smoke Signals" was an award winner at the festival.

"Edge of America" may not ever be the blockbuster movie that America wants to see about Indian country. It doesn't glorify the romantic notion of American Indians, but it does make the point that there is a culture while showing real people living their daily lives, just like the rest of the world.

"Edge of America" is a humorous yet emotional look at what happens when African American culture meets American Indian (Navajo) society.

Kenny Williams, played by James McDaniel, is an African American from Texas who arrives in Navajo country to teach at Three Nations Consolidated Reservation School.

He is coerced into taking over the losing girl's basketball team and helps players with the skills of the game while allowing the players to discover themselves. The team had never won a game, but ends up in the finals of the Utah state tournament.

This is not a film about basketball, and especially not about a savior coming to an American Indian community to rid them of their demons. This is a movie about real people that just happens to be set on a reservation.

Williams learns more about himself from the locals than they learn from him. There was enough stereotypical nuance and language to go around, but it was all part of the learning process, part of the fun.

Screen writer and co-producer, Willy Holtzman, nominated for a Pulitzer prize for his play "Hearts" in 2003, captured the heart of reservation life and contrasted it against the African American experience.

"You are angry because you are a black man in America. Well we are Indian, get over it and get on or get out," said Annie Shorty (Irene Bedard) in an emotional scene that epitomized the clash of the cultures.

Williams' coaching style at times insults and interferes with the Navajo culture. He makes mistakes, but he learnes, sometimes the hard way.

This film touches on family, community, celebrations, hardships, and the importance of being grounded within an environment that is nurturing while at the same time, unforgiving.

"Did you know the basketball is round like Mother Earth," asked Mother Tsosie, played by Geraldine Keams. Mother Tsosie, a traditional weaver and spiritual leader, is a grounding force in the community. While others lose their grasp on reality, Mother Tsosie settles the storms.

"I weave my whole life, soon I make a mistake, but I make it on purpose; otherwise my spirit is trapped. A flaw keeps us on the ground," Mother Tsosie said.

Cuch, a bus driver and mechanic, played by Wes Studi, teams up with Annie Shorty (Irene Bedard) to convince the reluctant Williams to be the new coach. Shorty and Cuch weave their magic throughout the film to educate Williams about the ways of the reservation. Studi turns in a humorous, steady performance. Bedard, lovely as always, is visible for most of the film with unspoken acting that is right on the mark. When Bedard is given lines she delivers with grace and authority.

After "Edge of America" finally gets moving (it suffers from a slow start) it grabs the audience's attention as it weaves its way through the fibers of Indian country and the two cultures. There is no hero, no knight in shining armor and everyone wins in the end. It's the type of film the entire family will enjoy and with the exception of some contemporary language, it is a film that should be seen by everyone.