Young, successful and Native American

Filmmaker: `Smoke Signals' was only the beginning of Chris Eyre's desire to bring real Indians and real stories to movie screens.

September 02, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

The economy's good. The audiences are more adventurous. The distributors are scrounging for product. And the success stories are coming one after the other.

Yes, says Chris Eyre, it's a great day to be an independent filmmaker.

Eyre should know. As the director of last year's art-house hit "Smoke Signals," starring Adam Beach and Evan Adams as a pair of Coeur d'Alene Indians on a road trip that reveals a lot of what it means to be a Native American in the 1990s, he's spent the last year basking in the glow that only success can bring.

"In that year, I did have quite a bit of attention," says Eyre, who will be lecturing on independent films at Goucher College this evening. "I had offers from all of the studios. What I tried to do was set up my projects and have them lined up for the future."

Those projects include a film for New Line pictures that Winona Ryder has expressed an interest in, as well as "The Carlysle Indian School," a film for Showtime about a boarding school set up in 1879 in an attempt to better assimilate Indian youth into American culture.

Those are in addition to a pair of films set to begin shooting in the fall under the banner of Eyre's Riverhead Entertainment production company: "The Doe Boy," a coming-of-age story about a Cherokee Indian named Hunter who suffers from hemophilia, and "Angels," with Ethan Hawke and Sarah Polley as a pair of lovers struggling to establish some sort of identity for themselves ("It's sort of like `Badlands,' has kind of a '70s feel," Eyre says).

That lineup would represent a full dance card for even the most experienced filmmaker, but the 30-year-old Eyre doesn't sound overwhelmed. Not only is he doing what he loves, but as an American Indian (Cheyenne/Arapaho), he realizes he's blazing a trail for others to follow.

"It's more about making Indians prevalent in movies than it is about doing anything political," he says over the phone from his New York production office. "The fact of the matter is, as far as Indians in the movies, [Hollywood studios] haven't even scratched the surface."

Eyre is confident that will change -- not only as filmmakers like himself continue to make their presence felt, but also as audiences become more and more accepting of diverse story lines involving diverse types of people.

"The bottom line is, a movie has to be entertaining," he says, "and it has to be funny. I'm not into making movies about Indians exclusively. I'm into making movies about people, with stories that are nourishing.

"I really do believe that movies can change people and change the world for good," he insists. "My generation, and the generation after me, is the most tolerant of any generation in terms of crossing cultures. I don't think kids of this current generation think as much about race as my parents did."

Chris Eyre

What: Filmmaker's lecture on "How Stories Change the World"

When: Tonight at 6: 30

Where: Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium, Dulaney Valley Road, Towson

Admission: Free

Call: 410-337-6333

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