Filmmaker turns lens on Crow elder Charlie Real Bird

2014-07-18T00:15:00Z Filmmaker turns lens on Crow elder Charlie Real BirdBy JACI WEBB jwebb@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The first time Robin Starbuck heard Charlie Real Bird say, “lichiilish daik,” she had a title for her new film.

The Crow phrase means “going to the horses,” and Real Bird used it in telling Starbuck, a filmmaker and professor of film at Sarah Lawrence College, about his father rounding up the horses on their large spread near the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Real Bird is a member of the Crow tribe and the subject for the film.

The film was already in the works when Starbuck heard that story. Starbuck first visited the Crow Reservation in 2006 when she attended her first Crow Fair. She met the Real Birds the following year.

“The family came up to me and said they were having trouble with their camera and asked me to film Jessie, Charlie’s granddaughter, who was the Crow Princess. They adopted me two years later.”

It was about that time that Starbuck decided there was a film in this family, whose ancestors helped found Crow Fair and brought the peyote ceremony to the Crow Tribe. The 80-minute documentary film will be screened on Thursday, July 24, at 6:30 p.m. at the Yellowstone Art Museum. As part of the screening, Starbuck organized a reception with a prayer ceremony and music, starting at 6 p.m.

Starbuck said documentary films come in two categories, narrative and poetic essay. Hers falls into the latter category.

“What’s impressive about the Crow people is a real complexity of life, which combines cultural practice and the clan system,” Starbuck said. “What’s really lovely about being on the Crow Reservation is that there are these close family ties, clan ties. I wanted to show what it means to have a separate identity but still have an identity that is embedded in the community.”

Henry Real Bird, a former Montana poet laureate, is Charlie’s cousin and two of his poems will be used in the film. The Nighthawk Singers, a Crow singing and drumming group, perform in the film.

Starbuck has shown the film to other filmmakers in New York, but Billings will be the premier of the film for a general audience. She said she wanted to screen the film in Billings so it was close to the Crow Reservation, but at an arts venue where members of the public would feel welcome.

Plans are to include a Q&A session following the film.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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