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About the Film
Year Released: 
Running Time: 

With a rare film that only a literate filmmaker could create, Heather Rae demonstrates sophisticated craft and builds an Indigenous aesthetic essential to the intellectual exploration of the power and fragility of an Indigenous icon, John Trudell. From the first frames, Rae constructs an impressionistic biopic, weaving images, thought, music, and human energy into cinematic power.

With Trudell's lifeline as the narrative thread, viewers journey in and out of modern Indian history and politics, exploring the earth-infused philosophy and motivations of Trudell's radical acts and thought, as well as reliving the loss and heartache that prompted his activism to evolve abruptly into artistic expression. Complementing Rae's stunning images are Trudell's poetic musings, set to electric guitars and drumbeats echoing from the earth and blurring lines between the conscious and the unconscious.

John Trudell's cogent words deconstruct an all-too-familiar world, and he prepares his listeners often by saying, "If I say anything you don't agree with, let's just leave it at that, that we don't agree." With this in mind, Rae gently sculpts the space between all things John Trudell and the rest of us, slowly and deliberately revealing the soul of a rare man who is one of the most influential Native activists of our times.

— Bird Runningwater, Sundance Institute

Poster Image: 
Production Info
Reported or Estimated Budget: 
“Mainly economics. This film basically was not financed, not in the sense that we started out with a budget and went forward. There were bits of funding that came along the way and ultimately a grant from Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT), which is a member of the [public broadcasting] Minority Consortia. That grant enabled us to really begin the finishing of the film but didn't bring it all the way, so the last two years of completing and marketing the film have been greatly challenging.” - "Trudell: Filmmaker Q&A." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <>.
Other Interesting Production Info: 
Trudell took 10 years to make.
Categories About the Film
activism and social justice
art and culture
history and memory
state violence and security
Racial/Ethnic Affiliation: 
Filmmaking Team
Writer's Name: 
Russell Friedenberg
Elyse Katz
Gilbert Salas
Primary Cast: 
John Trudell, Robert Redford, Kris Kristofferson, Amy Ray
Exhibition/Distribution Info
Balcony Releasing, Deckert Distribution, PBS, Sundance Channel, Native American Public Telecommunications
Box Office Earnings: 
Where to find it/How to get it: 
Streaming (Netflix or other online sites)
  • Premiered/ Nominated for Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival
  • Won Documentary Special Jury Award at Seattle International Film Festival
Personal Film Review and Cultural Context: 

In her first film, Heather Rae (director of Frozen River and former Director of the Native American Program at Sundance) turns John Trudell, a spoken word artist and Native American activist who rose to prominence in the early 80’s and a man once labeled by the FBI as “extremely eloquent and therefore extremely dangerous” human, in a manner that is dreamy yet stark. Over the course of a decade, Rae documented the many facets of Trudell’s life, mixing interviews with footage of news segments, poetry performances and live coverage from concerts.  The dynamic between Rae and Trudell, though occasionally uncomfortably close, provides a platform for Trudell to reflect. Like a diary, Trudell talks about his legacy as an activist and the tragic loss of his family, a gut-wrenching moment that seeks to demystify much of the controversy and media attention surrounding it. The incorporation of John’s raw voice over the music of his Native American tribe is striking, and though occasionally heavily stylized, Trudell is an exceptionally intimate and poetic film.

Krystal Caban