By Barb Nahwegahbow
TORONTO—A documentary that celebrates the influence of Native American music and musicians on almost every genre of music won the coveted Audience Award for Best Canadian Documentary at the 24th annual Hot Docs International Documentary Festival. Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World had its Canadian premiere at Hot Docs on May 2. The award comes with a $50,000 cash prize for Montreal director Catherine Bainbridge and co-director Alfonso Maiorana, courtesy of the Rogers Group of Funds.
When audience votes were tallied after the final screening of the festival on May 7, it was determined that Rumble was also the winner of the Hot Docs Audience Award. It’s worth noting that Hot Docs screened 228 films for a record-breaking audience of 215,000 people over the course of 11 days. Almost 3,000 films were submitted to Hot Docs for consideration. Four Canadian Indigenous films were in this year’s festival.
The late John Trudell, poet and political activist, is interviewed in the film. Native Americans were erased from the history of music in North America, he says. Rumble puts Native American music and musicians back into the history books of Turtle Island in a way that is entertaining and thus, more palatable to the viewing public.
There are lots of surprises in Rumble. For example, did you know that Jimi Hendrix was Native American? Or that Ozzie Osbourne’s drummer, Randy Castillo was Native American? Or that the single biggest influence on crooner Tony Bennett was a jazz singer by the name of Mildred Bailey (1907-1951) who was an enrolled member of the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation in Idaho?
On-screen interviews with musicians like Tony Bennett, Steven Tyler, Taj Mahal, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson and many others talk about the influence Native American music and musicians have had on their music. Archival footage and recordings of Native American music build the case that contemporary music has Native American roots.
In an on-screen interview, Robbie Robertson says Native American musicians operated under the rule, “Be proud, you are Indian, but be careful who you tell.”
There weren’t any surprises, however, for Toronto-based journalist and author Brian Wright-McLeod, Dakota and Anishinaabe, the acknowledged expert on Native American music. He wrote the book on which the film is based. The Encyclopedia of Native Music published by University of Arizona in 2005 documents recorded Native music from 1905 to 2005 in traditional, powwow, flute and contemporary genres from the Arctic regions to the US-Mexico border.
“I’ve been trying to get this film made for the last ten years,” said Wright-McLeod.
He’d met Rumble’s Executive Producer, musician Stevie Salas, when he was doing research for his book on Native American music. Salas is from the Apache Nation and has toured with Rod Stewart and opened for the Rolling Stones. They worked together on a show for the Smithsonian and continued their conversations about a possible documentary.
At its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Rumble won the award for Masterful Storytelling.
“The fact that it’s winning awards just shows that people are hungry for information and are appreciative of good solid facts,” said Wright-McLeod. “Especially when it comes to something with popular culture attached to it with a good history behind it.”
“It’s not about race, it’s about humanity and music is the soul of humanity,” stated Rumble’s director Catherine Bainbridge during a discussion with the audience following the screening. “It’s the culture. It’s our connection with the divine. It’s everything.”
Rumble will be screening at the Hot Doc Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto starting July 28. In the meantime, you can contact Brian Wright-McLeod at www.brianwrightmcleod.com for information about purchasing The Encyclopedia of Native Music and its companion CDs called Soundtrack of a People.