Thursday, November 19, 2009

Off the Rez

The Exiles, Kent Mackenzie's 1961 documentary on American Indians living in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles, got released this week on DVD for the first time.

The film was rescued from obscurity by Charles Burnett and Sherman Alexie, with distribution by Milestone, who championed the release of Burnett's own vintage document on Los Angeles, Killer of Sheep.

The Exiles is an absolutely stunning film as it is, so it's no matter that it doesn't really delve into the politics of the time, but for historical context it may be interesting to know something about the Indian Relocation Act, in full effect at the time the film was made. Under Relocation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs actively recruited young Indians to leave their reservations for promises of job training and assistance in seven big cities (Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Dallas). That might not sound so bad on the surface, but in actuality it was part of the much wider Termination Policy through which the US government sought to decrease funding to and ultimately dissolve reservations – under Termination, the U.S. government broke treaties by ending its recognition of over 100 tribes as sovereign nations. Some of the people in The Exiles came to Los Angeles under Relocation. Again, no matter for the film, which is basically perfect as it is, but if you're interested in wider context, that's part of it.

Oh, also: in addition to being visually beautiful, The Exiles features some great music, such as this huge surf cut:

The Revels Revellion WAV

More info the film and director Kent Mackenzie at
Read a 2008 article about The Exiles at

1 comment:

JMW said...

Pardon the self-promotion, but I wrote about this movie after a screening at IFC in New York last year: