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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Exiles

Last night I ventured over to The Billy Wilder Theatre at The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles to see Kent Mackenzie’s rarely seen 1961 feature film “The Exiles,” the story of Native Americans searching for identity in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles.

In the late 1950s many Native Americans moved to Los Angeles settling in the Bunker Hill section of downtown (presently home to high-rise office structures and apartments, and the Walt Disney Hall). Prior to the 1950s Bunker Hill was home to wealthy Angelenos, but by the 1960s it had deteriorated into a run-down neighborhood, a skid row of its time. Mackenzie’s film chronicles a group of exiles, Native Americans who left the reservations, over a twelve-hour period during a weekend night. Pregnant Yvonne finds solace in going to the movies and dreaming of a better life for her unborn child, while her husband and his friends go bar hopping, drinking, gambling, and carousing, and spending the predawn hours overlooking the cityscape beating drums, singing and dancing, and experiencing the cultural bond that holds them together.

It’s gritty. It’s realistic. It’s honest. It’s a glimpse into a group of Native Americans who are struggling with poverty and boredom, while missing the open space and slower paced life of the reservation. Each character takes turn narrating their story; their hopes and dreams.

“The Exiles” was shown at the Venice Film Festival in 1961 and won accolades but never received distribution. It’s currently being shown in limited release across the country (and in France), and will hopefully be released on DVD soon.

Here's the trailer:

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