Hollywood filmmakers David Mueller, Bob Hicks and Lynn Salt wisely chose deadCenter Film Festival for the world premiere of “A Good Day To Die,” their documentary examining the rise of the American Indian Movement and its intrepid co-founder, Dennis Banks.
“We feel that (Oklahoma) is a very appropriate place to unveil the film because this is Native American country,” Mueller said.
Appropriate indeed, because the film — which premieres at 5 p.m. today at the Kerr Auditorium — promotes awareness of the little-known movement that eventually secured a better future for American Indians everywhere.
Produced in just over two years, “A Good Day To Die” combines archival footage with interviews documenting both the rise of the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) and the life of Banks, its co-founder and leader.
“It’s a history that hasn’t been told and desperately needs to be told,” Mueller said.
Now retired and living in Okmulgee, the film’s associate producer, Bob Hicks, is of Creek and Seminole heritage and one such beneficiary of Banks’ hard work.
“I wanted to make a contribution in the sense that everything that I saw on the screen dealing with Native Americans was always being played by non-Indians,” Hicks said.
“I thought rather than griping about it, I should learn how to make the movies and make a movie about it.”
Originally from Okemah, Hicks traveled to Los Angeles in 1979 and received a degree from the American Film Institute.
Mueller said that Hicks’ 25-minute student film “Return of the Country” pushed the envelope in filmmaking.
“Bob’s film was an inspiration to me and Lynn, too, because it really broke ground,” Mueller said.
“It was a very progressive perspective at the time. I think it’s a very important film that will be recognized in the future.”
Salt is a 30-year veteran of the movie industry. “A Good Day To Die” is the product of her passions for recording history and championing American Indians in the arts.
She originally wrote the script intending for it to be a feature film, but after meeting with Banks, it was decided to turn it into a documentary.
The trio hopes the film educates the public about a neglected chapter in American history and the figure at the center of it, Banks, whom Salt compares to Martin Luther King Jr.
“He was the most significant figure in starting the American Indian Movement and I don’t think people know that,” Mueller said. “He’s a remarkable human being with a heroic story.”
Saturday, I covered the deadCenter Film Festival in downtown Oklahoma City, and I talked for a bit with Elvis Mitchell, former film critic for the New York Times and host of radio program The Treatment and Turner Classic Movies show Under the Influence.
Mitchell was at the festival to be a part of a panel on film criticism, which followed a screening of “For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism,” which I reviewed here.
As a current/aspiring critic myself, I was eager to talk to Mitchell and get his perspective on the profession, which is steadily becoming a less viable source of income, thanks both to newspapers’ financial struggles and the egalitarian nature of criticism on the Web.
Mitchell was equal parts optimistic and glum. On the one hand, the ability for almost anyone to become a critic online opens up the playing field.
“The great thing about now is that criticism isn’t monolithic anymore,” he said.
On the other hand, with alternative weeklies increasingly becoming a part of larger corporations and with newspapers struggling to keep staff — especially critics who can be easily replaced by wire services — the ranks of employed critics are dwindling.
“The idea that a market like Detroit doesn’t have a film critic is kind of terrifying,” Mitchell said.
Although it’s becoming harder and harder to make money doing it, criticism has always been a risky financial source, Mitchell said, and if you love it, it’s more likely you’ll be good at it.
And, “If you’re any good at it, people will notice you,” Mitchell said.
Now that’s encouraging, even if there are plenty of other things to not feel so positive about.