Words from a Bear
“They came from nothing into sound and meaning.” This statement, uttered by the self-proclaimed “Priest of the Sun” John Big Bluff Tosamah in Navarre Scott Momaday’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel House Made of Dawn (1968), suggests the way that words, like medicine, can heal broken spirits and bring into being a more centered sense of selfhood. But it can also be interpreted as a reflection of the way that Native American cultural identity has asserted itself, through artistic works and literary texts like Momaday’s path-clearing book, as a force to be respected and reckoned with. Few people have been as central to that assertion — that bringing into “sound and meaning” of long-silenced voices — as the subject of Words from a Bear, director Jeffrey Palmer’s affectionate tribute to the widely admired author of House Made of Dawn and several other important publications. As this documentary reveals, Momaday, who was born during the Great Depression to Kiowa and Cherokee parents, nurtured his abilities as a writer from an early age and learned the value of developing a personal, respectful connection to the land and its finite resources. Fittingly, Palmer peppers his film with panoramic vistas of landscapes, which are visually lyrical extensions of Momaday’s writings, passages of which are read by the author in a distinctive timbre that is truly transporting. In addition to those mesmerizing shots of the Great Plains, a mixture of elements — black-and-white photographs of Momaday as a child, recordings of him participating in the Civil Rights movement and earning the respect of his peers, animated sequences inspired by his paintings, and newly shot interviews of high-profile admirers (such as Jeff Bridges and Robert Redford) waxing poetic on his singular talent — are brought to bear on a bear-like man who, though physically restricted to a wheelchair, stands tall among America’s most respected literary giants. Having soaked up the oral traditions of his tribe and the teachings of his elders, Momaday has become a fount of wisdom in his own right, inspiring young writers and artists the world over to embrace their cultural identities and resist the assimilative tendencies of mainstream society, which sometimes robs people of their distinctive voices.
Written by David Scott Diffrient
Saturday, April 13
Lory Student Center Theatre
Reception to follow
Film subjects Dr. N. Scott Momaday and his daughter Jill
Momaday will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A
with Ty Smith, director of Colorado State University’s
Native American Cultural Center.