"The Exiles" is another cinematic gem rescued from oblivion by the good folks at Milestone Film and Video. Directed by the late Kent Mackenzie, not long after he graduated from the University of Southern California, the film give us a rare glance at life of Native Americans in the big city, providing us with a unique and very important document of our times.
The movie adequately opens with numerous beautiful, historical photos - mostly portraits of Native Americans throughout time --, and right away we are told that "white men sent Indians to reservations, but some went to the city," and we immediately meet one of the several characters that we'll see in the next 72 minutes. We follow them in what turns out to be great part of a day in their lives, beginning when pregnant Yvonne arrives home one afternoon, where she finds several mostly unemployed men, bored as they could possible be, wasting time in nonsense. From then on, we follow them into their night rituals. The women mostly stay home or go to the movies; the men, however, have or apparently have all the fun. They go gambling, partying, drinking, getting high, and skirt-chasing. They do this until the sun rises, and repeat this destructive cycle every day.
"The Exiles" is an unpretentious, sincere film, done with the heart, and the director apparently allowed the actors - mostly Native Americans -- to be themselves and play their culture. This exceptional movie depicts a well-known, sad part of our society, with defeated human beings, with defeated minds, as the main characters. It doesn't matter where the plot takes place - the city or the reservation --, the stories are always the same. This is especially revealed in the long scene in which the boys go to party on a hill in the city Los Angeles known as Hill X, in which they drink and play the drums all night long, as they did in their reservations. This is their way to reminisce about their culture, their parents, their childhood, and their land.
"The Exiles" also captures a part of Los Angeles that is gone, because the whole film takes place in that city, mostly in a place known as Bunker Hill. We get to see how the neighborhood was during the early sixties, including the famous Angel's Flight, which was located in that area. Angels' Flight was out of business for a while, but it was recently rebuilt as a tourist attraction. Sadly, the neighborhood didn't have the same luck: it was demolished to make way to corporate buildings, which constitute the current landscape of downtown Los Angeles. This story is identical to the fate that a place known as Chavez Ravine had. It was a happy site, mostly populated by Mexican immigrants, which was demolished to build Dodger Stadium -- in short, the history of brown people. In addition, there are scenes filmed in Grand Central Market, in Downtown Los Angeles, a place which, for some reason, has been able to survive and thrive all these years. For us, who live in this weird and controversial city, it is important to see all this visual historical records.
In addition of the film, this magnificent two-disc DVD set is loaded with historical extras, featuring several shorts by Kent Mackenzie, including "A Skill for Molina", "Story of a Rodeo Cowboy", and "Ivan and his Father." It also includes the documentary "Bunker Hill: A tale of Urban Renewal" by Greg Kimble, and "White Fawn's Devotion: the First Native American Film. Furthermore, this remarkable DVD set also features audio bonuses, like "The Leonard Lopate Show," with Sherman Alexie and Sean Axmaker, as well as interviews with these two personalities. Finally, there is also a DVD-ROM, with downloadable material, including "The Exiles" scripts (including the final version), publicity material, production history on "Bunker Hill," "The Making of The Exiles" (MacKenzie's Master Thesis), and much more. (USA, 1961, B&W and color, 72 min with additional material).
Reviewed on November 9, 2009 by Eric Gonzalez from [...].