by Nick Kurzon
color, 75 min, 1999
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This documentary is about a campaign and election for a new tribal chairman of the White Earth Ojibwe Reservation.
By 1996, millions of dollars that had come through the new casino on the White Earth Reservation seemed to stop at the tribal chairman's desk. The self-proclaimed "Super Chief", Darryl "Chip" Wadnea had been tribal chairman for the past 20 years. The tensions within the tribe had been building as members realized they had not seen any improvements in their social services or any services that should have resulted from a sharing of the wealth. A U.S. Prosecutor is trying to haul Wadnea into court and a Harvard educated reservation school teacher is determined to uncover his corruption.
This long-in the making film project freezes a chapter of recent Minnesota history that's as important to non-Indians as it is to Indians. For Indians, it's a reminder of the frustration of taking on what seemed an insurmountable task: the unseating of a powerful incumbent. The film records the impact of people who were bent on change and fed up with the status quo. For non-Indians, "Super Chief" provides a telling glimpse into reservation life against the larger backdrop of the election.
Nick Kurzon has accomplished what few filmmakers have: gaining the trust of American Indians so that their humor and thought processes are captured. He took things slow, allowing the people to see who he was. They in turn felt confident enough to show emotion and all that was at stake. Those intimately involved with the election provide the most interesting character profiles. Kurzon shows the hard work of the campaign and follows the tensions building like an orchestrated plot to an unpredictable end. He also manages the impossible: perhaps the first public filming in the state of Minnesota of the counting of ballots during a tribal election. This riveting film reveals much about politics and reservation life.
Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Best Documentary New England Film and Video Festival
Minneapolis International Film Festival