News from the Locarno Festival

Pow Wow

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A reconfigured desert, California’s Coachella Valley attracts a rich motley crew of characters, from the country clubbers pow-wowing it up in the Indian Wells Country Club, former site of a thriving Native American village, to washed-up celebrities, Austrian socialites, maintenance workers, survivors, and the Natives themselves. In a series of “ethnographic encounters”, they speak of the desert as a place of freedom, of changing beliefs, testifying to life then versus life now. A throughline is provided by the true story of one of the West’s last great manhunts in 1908, which saw the Native Willie Boy on the run after he killed his lover’s father in self-defense (and provided the material for Abraham Polonsky’s 1969 movie Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, shot on location in the community). With its odd characters, unique settings, and framings – the film’s major motif might be that of the golf cart, aka the contemporary horse – Robinson Devor’s first feature since 2007’s Zoo might come across as a California variation on Ulrich Seidl, but Devor’s subjects are much more grounded in their environment(s), and he has elected to bridge the past and the present through an experimental associative time, making for a dizzying, intelligent documentary chronicling an American joy that’s slowly dying out.

Mark Peranson

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