Independent Spirit

John Hult

John Hult

The discussion that followed the SD Art Museum’s screening of The Business Of Fancy Dancing last month wasn’t planned.

It just happened.

Although Museum director Lynn Verschoor tries to find a discussion leader for each of the films in the Film Series, she hadn’t found one to speak after Sherman Alexi’s semi-autobiographical tale of an American Indian author who is confronted by harsh realities upon his return to the reservation.

“After the film, a sort of spontaneous discussion broke out,” she said.

Much of the discussion focused on the film’s powerful visuals–Verschoor called Fancy Dancing “a visual poem”–but she also said that discussions help the audience to understand the stories being told.

“We’re all just struggling to understand these things,” she said.

The opening film of the spring series had quite an effect.

“Nobody moved,” Verschoor said. “Everyone just sat there because there was this incredible, powerful music at the end. It was incredible.”

Verschoor described standing in the doorway of the Museum’s basement theater, attempting to discern the proper time to flip the light switch. A few minutes later, people started getting up, but many of them were not walking out.

Professor Emeritus C.E. Denton and Dean of Libraries Steve Marquardt are part of the unofficial film selection committee Verschoor set up four years ago when she became Museum director. Marquardt said that the Brooking series provides students with a convenient way to see lesser-known films.

“One thing we have over the Sioux Falls Film Series is that you don’t have to drive a hundred mile road trip,” he said.

“We would applaud what they’ve done, but we wanted something that’s here on campus for our students to see without traveling,” Denton added. “Then I think we wanted something that was significant.”

Verschoor is proud of this semester’s selections.

Like last fall, all of the films shown this spring focus on American Indian issues and filmmakers. But while many of the fall’s selections were older films that gave a glimpse into the past, the spring’s films are all the work of independent American Indian filmmakers.

“I think this spring series has some of the best films that we’ve had so far this year,” Verschoor said. “We try to focus on independent films–new films–that students might not be able to see in the theaters. They aren’t really commercial successes.”

All of the films that remain this spring are fairly new. This Thursday the Museum will host

The Fast Runner (Antanarjuat), which first appeared at the Cannes Film Festival last fall. Antanarjuat is the film version of a story passed down through the ages by the Igloonik people of the Canadian arctic.

On April 10, the spring film series will conclude with SD native Chris Eyre’s Skins. Eyre’s previous work includes Smoke Signals–which, like Skins, was filmed in SD–and Things We Do.

Verschoor says that she hopes to find a discussion leader for the last film, which follows a sheriff on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She said that the film deals with many harsh realities of reservation life, including poverty and alcoholism.

“For Skins I think I’m going to find someone, because it’s going to be a pretty hard film,” Verschoor said.

Marquart said that the films presented by the series do offer unique opportunities for students to see interesting characters, exotic locations and an altogether different cinematic experience than what they could have at the local theater.

There’s an added bonus to choosing the Art Museum over the Brookings Cinema 5, however.

“They’re not expensive and the popcorn’s free,” Marquardt said.

Denton quickly chimed in with the clincher:

“And you can just keep coming back for more–you don’t just get one tray.”