participant in the Real Bird familys Battle of the Little
Bighorn Re-enactment awaits his turn to ride in Sean Kernans
documentary Crow Stories. (Sean Kernan)
During Sean Kernans second visit to the Crow Indian Reservation,
after he had decided to make a documentary about the Crow people,
he was asked by a tribal member what he wanted to say with his film.
I dont want to say anything, Kernan answered.
I want to listen.
He was true to his word. Crow Stories, which will
be shown on Oct. 5 at the Yellowstone Art Museum, contains no narration,
only the words of people Kernan chose to profile.
Stories opens with Pat Hills evocation of what
it meant to be a Crow Indian in the pre-reservation days.
For long stretches of the film there are no words at all, just
lingering depictions of landscape, broken by the sound of the wind,
a train whistle in the distance, or a barking dog, reports Last
Kernan, who lives in Connecticut, is primarily a photographer
and writer who has also made one documentary before this one. He
said in an interview that he has always been drawn to other
universes, other worlds that are unfamiliar.
Thats why he has done projects about Tibetan monasteries,
maximum-security prisons in Alabama and West Virginia, and a boxing
club in Kampala, Uganda.
He didnt go to the Crow Reservation intending to do any
sort of project. He merely accompanied a friend who was going there
in 2009. Kernan said he spent a week in Crow country, mostly just
observing and listening to people, but he also took some photos
and a little bit of video.
When he returned home and thought about the trip, and looked
at the photos and video, he said he decided, almost immediately,
to go back and do more filming. He said he ended up making six or
seven trips to the Crow Reservation, usually for a week to 10 days.
He tried to remain loose and receptive to what was going on
around him. There were occasions when he made plans to film something
in particular, but something better would happen every time.
To make good art you have to let yourself get bored,
he said. And when he did, something completely unexpected
would happen. I learned to rely on that.
On one trip, some people he was with said they needed to go
buffalo hunting in preparation for a sun dance ceremony. They spent
three days trying to track down the man who had the key to the fence
around the buffalo pasture, and by the time Kernan had to leave,
disappointed, there had been no hunt.
But on his next visit, he said, I hardly stepped off the
plane when somebody said, Come on. Were going buffalo
That hunting trip, into the Bighorn Mountains, is chronicled
in Crow Stories, as is the visit to a meat processing
plant where the bison is cut up and packaged.
On another occasion, at an arrow-throwing contest, one man told
Kernan that his cousin, Kevin Dust, was a champion arrow thrower.
Where was he? In France, as it turned out, and hed been there
for 20 years, appearing in a Wild West show at the Disneyland in
Kernan managed to visit Dust in Paris, and Dust ended up appearing
in two long segments of the documentary.
He also visited with Joe Medicine Crow, the tribal leader and
war hero who died in March 2016 at the age of 103. In the film,
Medicine Crow shares some life lessons, speaking in Crow and English.
There is music in the film, too Ettinge Little Owl spontaneously
breaking into song outside his home, and a performance of Prayer
by Christian Parrish Takes the Gun, a Crow rap artist whose stage
name in Supaman.
Crow poet Henry Real Bird recites his poem, Rivers of
Horse as the backdrop to Kernans footage of a herd of
ponies galloping through a high mountain meadow.
Crow Stories has been shown around the country and
once in France since it was completed late last year, but the screening
at the Yellowstone Art Museum, at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 5, will be the
first in Montana.
Kernan said he is a big fan of the YAM, which he makes a point
of visiting on his trips to the Crow Reservation, and it was he
who suggested the screening to museum Director Robyn Peterson.
Unfortunately, he said, he will be at a month-long writers retreat
and wont be able to appear at the screening, but he hopes
to be able to drop in via Skype and answer questions after the film