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ERIC Number: EJ867167
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 22
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
ISSN: ISSN-0161-6463
Conventionalism as a Virtue: A Study of "Powwow Highway"
Heil, Douglas
American Indian Culture and Research Journal, v33 n2 p23-44 2009
Academia has long grappled with the relationship between filmmaking form and content. Film history courses are driven, in part, by aesthetic innovation, and it is not uncommon to study the editing advances made by D. W. Griffith and the silent-era Soviet filmmakers, the exploration of deep focus photography by Orson Welles and Gregg Toland, the shift to location shooting by the Italian neorealists, the implementation of jump cuts and freeze frames by the French New Wave, and the long-take sensibility of experimental filmmaker Michael Snow. The interest in formal innovation is complemented by skepticism toward conventional Hollywood form. The 1989 independent film "Powwow Highway" uses the most conventional Hollywood narrative structure of all while carrying content that is highly unconventional in nature: drawing on Cheyenne history and cultural traditions that are slowly being forgotten, the film argues that people live by the wrong values. In packaging oppositional content with conventional and accessible Hollywood form, the movie connects with a wide range of students, sparking an emotional response and an intellectual curiosity (fueled, seemingly, by that emotional engagement). At eighty-seven minutes, it is also remarkably flexible, fitting perfectly into an hour and a half class session and capable of inspiring productive discussion in four different arenas: (1) courses centering on Native American culture; (2) race, class, and gender courses; (3) film and literature classes within literary studies; and (4) screenwriting. For educators seeking to bridge theory and practice by offering students the option to write a script or produce a production in lieu of a research paper, "Powwow Highway" offers a helpful template. This article explores how dramatic structure is used in "Powwow Highway" and how this structure accommodates unconventional, personal content. Through understanding the relationship between form and content, this article seeks to inspire the creation of further work that generates curiosity, reflection, and commitment to cultural and social issues outside the experience of the mainstream viewer. (Contains 2 figures and 61 notes.)
American Indian Studies Center at UCLA. 3220 Campbell Hall, Box 951548, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1548. Tel: 310-825-7315; Fax: 310-206-7060; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A