Back in the ’70s, lots of lefties were paranoid about the U.S. government’s activities. But according to Heather Rae’s documentary, Native American activist, actor and poet John Trudell had good reason to be. The FBI started amassing a dossier on him after he played a key role in the Indians of All Tribes’ occupation of Alcatraz Island from 1969 to ’71. His file had reportedly grown to 17,000 pages by the time he burned an American flag on the steps of the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters in 1979; 12 hours after this incident, Trudell’s pregnant wife, mother-in-law and three children perished in a suspicious fire on a Nevada reservation. While nothing was ever proved, it was one hell of a coincidence.
Equal parts glorified profile and cinematic collage, Rae’s film collects archival news footage, celebrity testimonials (Robert Redford, Jackson Browne) and interviews with Trudell himself to recount his compelling tale. After his family tragedy, he traded protesting for performing, recording a number of spoken-word albums and appearing in a handful of Hollywood films, including Thunderheart, starring Val Kilmer, who also sings the activist’s praises. Yet Trudell is a one-sided, one-dimensional account of his life and work, which suffers further when Rae supplies visuals for his emotional poetry; the random shots of sunsets and birds flying look like they’re from karaoke videos. Rae could have benefited from a little distance from her charismatic subject. (Opens Fri; Quad.)—Raven Snook