Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.’s assured feature debut plays like a much-needed corrective to decades of problematic depictions of the indigenous community on film. “Wild Indian” grapples with the full weight of the pain and suffering that has been inflicted on Native Americans and a drama that is unafraid to challenge the pat depictions of indigenous characters throughout movie history.
“I hope people will see this film as an expression of what’s in the hearts of Native people,” says the director, for whom the film’s virtual Sundance premiere was a kind of homecoming, after screening his shorts “Shinaab” and “Shinaab, Part II” in Park City. “We’re not usually thought of as real people in cinema even though we have a place in the lexicon of movies.”
“Wild Indian” centers on an Anishinaabe boy who is abused as a child and murders a classmate in cold blood. The legacy of the violence radiates into the character’s troubled adulthood. The finished film emerged after more than a dozen drafts of the script, with each iteration drilling deeper into the ways that its protagonist’s problems mirrored larger social issues.
“The theme of traumatized people continuing a cycle of trauma underlined everything I was writing,” says Corbine.
In addition to showcasing Corbine’s assured hand at the helm, “Wild Indian” serves as a showcase for lead actor Michael Greyeyes. “He just exudes a certain confidence and there’s this iconography to the way he looks,” says Corbine. “I knew he could go to deep, dark places.”
Corbine tried to interest Greyeyes in the part when he was developing the movie through the Sundance Labs, but the actor was busy with another project and couldn’t participate in the workshop. But the stars aligned when shooting commenced and what flowered was a beautiful partnership.
“Lyle is extraordinary,” says Greyeyes, complimenting Corbine’s “beautifully sophisticated approach”: “Lyle had a clear, intuitive sense of how to speak to me. We talked a lot about issues we face in our families and our communities, so there was that shared past that we were both able to draw on. He pushed me. He really challenged me to try things.”
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