Photo by Anne Staveley
Cannupa Hanska Luger about to destroy 'The Big Chief,' one of his 'Stereotype' sculptures. Photo by Anne Staveley.

This Is Not a Stereotypical Documentary About Stereotypes

Chelsey Luger

“Our biggest challenge was to get out as much information as possible without taking a stance,” says filmmaker Cannupa Hanska Luger.

And that’s precisely what the film This Is a Stereotype achieves, as evidenced by audience  reactions at the premiere of the film in its nearly-finished form at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts during Santa Fe Indian Market last weekend.

Following both the Saturday and Sunday viewings of the rough cut, audience members served as something of a focus group, asking questions like “Why don’t you show the faces of the interviewees?” (The answer: because the filmmakers wanted the viewer to focus only on the content of the dialogue, not on what this diverse group of voices looks like).

The filmmakers (one of whom is my cousin) say they were pleased with audience reactions, and came away with a better understanding of how they might alter the film before its official premiere in October.

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It’s a documentary unlike other documentaries—non-stereotypical, if you will—in the sense that it offers hardly any answers but rather leaves the viewer wondering and contemplating.

“We wanted it to be a catalyst for dialogue,” Luger explained. “That was the most important thing.”

In further discussion with the filmmakers—Luger, Dylan McLaughlin and Ginger Dunnill—they adamantly reminded me that the film is a work of art, not a typical documentary set out to change opinions or provide answers to pressing questions.

They explained that too often, people walk away from documentaries with the sense that they can go to a dinner party and school the next person they meet on whatever topic the documentary covered. Suddenly, they’re an expert. And that’s exactly the opposite of how these filmmakers wanted their audience to come away from this film.


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sonnyskyhawk's picture
Submitted by sonnyskyhawk on
I admire the methodology. Irregardless of how the message is delivered. What is important is dialogue and understanding. We may never rid ourselves of the bigotry and misconceptions of the past, but we have come to a better understanding of ourselves and others, for the future..