Sunday, August 27, 2006

This Time, the Indians Tell Their Own Story

TULSA, Okla.

Chuck Foxen

From left, Jeri Arredondo, Tamara Podemski and Cody Lightning in “Four Sheets to the Wind.”

The writer and director Sterlin Harjo.

IT would be tough organizing a respectable traffic jam in this part of town, especially in the dead heat of a summer afternoon. So the motley collection of cars, vans and movie equipment — and the tiny trailer advertising “Indian Tacos” — that have been assembled for a film shoot draw the kind of attention they never could in Hollywood or New York.

But this isn’t Hollywood or New York. The sound department, so to speak, is set up in the shade of a corrugated iron awning, outside a bar that looks as if it were decorated by a tsunami carrying a load of uncapped Sharpies. The producers, Chad Burris and Ted Kroeber, are lugging folding chairs around. But then everyone is doing something that isn’t in his or her job description. Shooting comes to a halt for the passing of the occasional tractor-trailer because the production can’t close the streets. (“Not without paying cops $300 a day to do it,” Mr. Burris said.) A few days earlier, an apparently inebriated man fell off his porch across the road from the set, crying: “Kill my life! Kill my face!” The crew wanted to work it into the script.

“Four Sheets to the Wind,” the debut feature by the writer and director Sterlin Harjo, is a coming-of-age story, set in Tulsa and nearby Holdenville. Almost the entire cast and many of the crew members are American Indians. “Among ourselves,” said Mr. Burris, an Oklahoma native and Chickasaw, “it’s more like ‘Induns.’ ” Not coincidentally, interpretations and definitions become knotty factors in an Indian movie, something rare enough that unfair expectations and obligations naturally attach themselves to it.