The 13th annual Human Rights Watch international film festival came to a close last night with a sold-out screening of the movie, Skins. The two-week long festival featured heroic and often heart-wrenching stories of activists and survivors from around the world. From Ciudad Juarez in Mexico to an Arab village in Israel to the hard streets of New York, the festival put a human face on threats to individual freedom and dignity. It elevated film to a medium of truth, change, and political struggle.
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival comes at the height of a season of big-budget war movies. The nation’s No.1 or 2 box-office hit has been a large-scale war film for seven out of the past 22 weeks.
Well, today we are going to speak with the filmmaker of Skins, the film that closed the Human Rights Watch film festival last night.
Skins explores the love/hate relationship of two Oglala Sioux Indian brothers living on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. Pine Ridge is the poorest county in the United States–a ramshackle town plagued by alcoholism, unemployment, and domestic violence. It is nestled under the shadow of Mount Rushmore, near the site of the Wounded Knee massacre.
The story of Skins is centered around Rudy, a policeman on the Pine Ridge reservation struggling to "clean up the public image of his people." He is also a vigilante with his own brand of justice; he beats up two murderous local punks and burns down the white-owned liquor store in an effort to wipe out the community’s rampant alcohol abuse. Rudy’s older brother, Mogie, is a teen football star and Vietnam veteran turned alcoholic. He accused Rudy of assimilating and flaunts the Indian stereotype that Rudy abhors. But in the end, Rudy’s vigilante impulses and Mogie’s social outrage merge and find their expression in one spectacular act of protest art.
Skins is the second movie of director Chris Eyre. Eyre’s debut film, Smoke Signals, was the first full-length feature film written, directed and performed by American Indians. It garnered widespread praise, including the Sundance Film Festival’s Trophy and Audience Awards.
- Chris Eyre, Director, Skins and Smoke Signals. Smoke Signals won the Filmmaker’s Trophy winner as well as the Audience Award.
- Marquetta Shields, daughter of Leonard Peltier. Marquetta grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She currently works with the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee.
- Excerpts from Skins