Do you ever get an idea about something; and no matter how you try to put it aside, it just keeps tapping you on the shoulder? Here I am. You know you want me.
Such a thing happens to me now and again. I am going to write about one such time. It began a few years back. I was in Tucson, saw a film on cable which I enjoyed-- great scenery, good story, interesting characters. For awhile I didn't think more about it. Now and then I'd remember different pieces and wonder would I like it as much a second time? Was it still on cable? Even more importantly-- what the heck was its title? I had forgotten.
Sometimes in a video store, I would browse through their older titles. I thought it had to be older. I then got a bit more serious in following its trail, brought up Google, and typed in some possible key phrases from the story-- trapper, search, kidnapping, Indian Chief, girl, boy, snow, pioneer times... hmmmmm. (In case you haven't tried this, Google actually can come up with film titles with this method.)
Frustrated and getting nothing that sounded right, I would put the search aside, but the impulse to look would return at the most unlikely times. I looked online through Hallmark movies to see if it might have been one of their made-for-television films but nothing rang a bell.
From experience, I can tell you that you simply cannot go up to a kid at a video rental counter and say, I saw this movie about an Indian who kidnapped a brother and sister and... They will simply look at you as though-- why didn't my shift already end?
Fortunately Google forms no such prejudices, and eventually I hit on the right combination of themes and up popped a title that sounded right-- Winterhawk. It had been made in 1975 and been on American Movie Classics off and on. It had come out on VHS tape at some point, and there were more than a few old copies floating around. In Amazon's market store, I ordered one that seemed best-- okay, cheapest-- after all, we are talking about buying a used VHS tape of a movie I had only seen once a few years back.For a little while, I thought I had followed this trail to its end. When the tape arrived and in viewable condition, I was happy. There was this niggling feeling in the back of my head that some reviewers, those who saw the original theatrical release, had seen a longer version which they said was better; but the VHS tape was the one I had seen on cable.
Curiosity about the historical basis for the story began to nudge me. I have quite a few books on various Native American tribes, but an online trail was easier to follow. The story involved the Blackfeet people in about 1840 and happened during a smallpox epidemic. That epidemic was real. The Blackfeet, with their reputation as fierce warriors and great horsemen, are of the linguistic Algonquin group, and had come out from the Great Lakes area. They, as with many other tribes, found their power when they became part of the Great Plains horse cultures. They hunted and lived mostly in small bands of 20-30 but came together for the Sundance and other medicine ceremonies. There are today three divisions of the Blackfeet. Bloods and North Blackfeet are in Canada, and the Piegan have a reservation in Montana. They were and are a proud people. I have been on their land, visited their museum, and even camped along one of their creeks.
The film's story is a simple one of a chief trying to save his people from an epidemic, of his interaction with a brother and sister he kidnaps in his attempt, and his relationship to a trapper who has been like his blood brother, but who is now tracking him to retrieve the kidnapped siblings. The movie is of the animals, the land, and the peoples, white and Native American, who lived there at that time. It is about a trail.
As a woman, I liked another aspect to the story. When do we live for others and when do we choose for ourselves? Do we settle for safety or take the risk of moving out for an unknown love or culture? That is the crux of the problem the young woman faces in the end of the movie. One that many people face in their lives-- shall I be practical or shall I take the risk?
So was my personal trail over once I had the VHS tape and had researched the history of the story? Not quite. When I saw that the star, who played Winterhawk, had a site online, I thought I would write relating how much pleasure that film had given me and asking if there ever was a DVD to please let me know. He wrote back and said he had enjoyed making it. Oh and yes, he did have a DVD he could sell. Would I like to buy it?
Although I was happy with the quality of the VHS tape, a DVD will enable me to share the film with my grandchildren more freely. I also thought, given economics are behind most 'creative' decisions, perhaps some concrete interest in this film might encourage someone to find that extended version and bring it out. I wrote back and said you bet your boots. Okay, I didn't say that, but I did order it.
The actor said he wrote a sequel, Winterhawk's Land, which has not yet been picked up, but he's still hopeful someday he might get financing for it. I am too because there was a simple nobility and beauty to this story from which I think our times can especially benefit.
I am not, as such, reviewing Winterhawk because I realize the subject matter is very personal to me with my love of nature, my interest in Native American cultures, and my appreciation of beautiful photography. I was willing to overlook a few aspects that someone else might not be so forgiving about. For me, it was a beautiful movie which touched my soul.
The purpose of my writing about this search is not that everyone go looking for a DVD of a nearly forgotten movie, but that we all have trails we are called to at various times. Some are about big things and some small. Some we are wrong to give up on and some we need to recognize are going nowhere. Wisdom is having the discernment to recognize which is which. I am glad I stayed with this one.