Native American cinema. Despite the films of Chris Eyre (“Smoke Signals”, “Skins”) the voice of the Native American filmmaker has been decidedly absent from world cinema. Given the homogenization of ethnic groups in both television and films for fear of offending anyone it is refreshing to see a film such as “Dancing on the Moon” which embraces living as a Native American in contemporary America even as the story slides into predictable, cliched territory.
Dean (Guy Ray Pocowatchit), along with his best friends Mark (Mark Wells) and Joey (Rodrick Pocowatchit) encounter multiple setbacks as they attempt to make their way to a ceremonial pow wow. Their car is stolen, they run afoul of racists and confront their own inner demons. The major strength of “Dancing on the Moon” is how the pragmatic Dean, the hotheaded Mark and the naive Joey all play off each other so seamlessly. The film has a conversational feel and watching the interplay between the young actors has a certain charm, however, despite the great chemistry the plotline continually lets the characters down.
While engaging in the “American Graffitti” friends bonding over the course of one night type of way, things go from cute to banal in a hurry. The main problem here is that there never is a real sense of urgency for the characters. The true importance of the pow wow is never stressed to the audience so the viewers attachment to their quest is limited. Half of the pitfalls our protagonists encounter are a direct result of Joey’s ignorance (letting the car run out of gas, allowing the car to be stolen, losing Dean’s wallet etc.) which comes off as lazy screenwriting. The film has few surprises for the audience which is a shame considering how well the leads do in their roles. A subplot involving Mark and his animosity towards white people has a clever resolution and one wishes more time had been spent building it up.
Rodrick Pocowatchit’s attempt to convey the sense of comradery on the way to a pow wow is admirable but the problem is the film plays it too safe. It’s so nice to see a Native American film about Native Americans that more time could be spent exploring their culture and how it relates to contemporary America.
All in all “Dancing on the Moon” is a non-offensive, feel good film about friendship in Native American culture. While a great first step in finding a voice for himself Rodrick Pocowatchit’s next feature could afford to take more chances in an attempt to have a greater impact upon his audience.