LOS ANGELES - When film director Chris Eyre and veteran producer Scott
Garen were approached by National Museum of the American Indian director
RickWest to create a short film for the museum, they knew they had a
daunting project before them.
What West wanted from the two was about the tallest order that any
filmmaker could possibly be asked: a signature film that would encompass
and be representative of the American Indian experience throughout the
"It was enough to make you want to run for the hills," joked Garen of the
Eyre concurred and said he realized almost immediately that "it was a very
Complicating matters even further, the filmmakers were told the film had to
check in at under an hour's length so it could be shown at the museum every
What resulted was perhaps one of the most sweeping short films ever made -
"A Thousand Roads," which took about a year to create. Against a backdrop
of panoramic landscape cinematography, the film contains four vignettes
written by Garen and Creek writer Joy Harjo.
The vignettes capture moments in the lives of four people, ranging from a
little girl who goes to live with relatives in Barrow, Alaska to a medicine
man in the foothills of the Peruvian Andes.
Born in Portland and raised in rural Oregon, Eyre is of Southern Cheyenne
and Arapaho ancestry and now makes his home in South Dakota. Eyre said he
knows firsthand the varied experiences that American Indians experience in
Eyre and Garen hadn't met before West placed them together for the
"Thousand Roads" project. However, they worked so well together on this
project that they decided to form a production company.
That production company, which they named Seven Arrows, seeks to take a new
approach to American Indian filmmaking. Eyre explained that in normal
circumstances, film companies come to tribes and individual American
Indians with a story or a specific script in mind.
Seven Arrows, the pair noted, seeks to do things the other way around. They
plan on meeting with individual tribes to, in Eyre's words, "find out what
their stories are and how they should be told."
Both men bring diverse experience to the project. Eyre is perhaps best
known for his groundbreaking directorial work on the film "Smoke Signals,"
based on a Sherman Alexie short story, which was the first mainstream movie
made by an American Indian director with Natives as central characters.
Eyre has also directed several adaptations of Tony Hillerman novels for
PBS, which follow the adventures of two Navajo Nation police officers.
Though Garen has written and directed various film projects, he is best
known for producing documentaries. His work stretches back to the late
1970s with his involvement in a CBS project called "Between the Wars,"
which featured 16 documentaries broadcast nationally that touched on
various aspects of life between the two world wars.
Recently, Garen has produced a number of documentaries for HBO, including
the critically lauded "Crank: Made in America" as part of the cable
network's "America Undercover" series.
In the case of Seven Arrows, the two men will serve primarily as executive
producers. They plan to start meeting with tribes to find out how best to
tell their stories. Though they will entertain script ideas from tribal
members themselves, they will also look to tribal members to "interface,"
in Eyre's words, and help develop stories.
Garen said that the format does not matter.
"It could be a documentary that works best for an individual tribe, or it
could be a dramatic feature; we don't know yet and won't until we meet with
In fact, Eyre said their experience on "A Thousand Roads" prepared them for
different kinds of formatting. The film used very few professional actors,
one exception being Mohawk actress Alex Rice, who has appeared in several
films. The actors were generally culled from circumstances similar to the
characters they play, including the use of an actual Quechan medicine man
as the lead actor in the vignette that takes place in Peru.
"That's why Scott and I jokingly called it a 'hybrid' ... a
pseudo-documentary and a pseudo-dramatic film, but after a while I said to
him, 'You're right: it is a hybrid,'" said Eyre.
Both men said they are unsure as of yet what scope the project will take.
Eyre said he thought he could "juggle" Seven Arrows along with his
television and film projects, and does not rule out getting behind the
camera for a Seven Arrows project.
One thing Seven Arrows will certainly offer to tribal members is training
opportunities. The two men said that tribal members will be culled to work
on the project in all areas of production.
Though Eyre frets that this project may be "ahead of its time," it's a
chance that he's willing to take.
"We want to provide a place and opportunity for Native filmmaking to come
into its own and hopefully bring it another step into the mainstream."