Race-Based Murder, Mystery and the Dark Side of Small-Town America in LeClair’s “Bridge”
Many are nostalgic for small-town America and what is perceived as traditional American values. However, small-town America isn’t always without darkness. Sometimes murder and mysterious death lie underneath the surface.
Pawnee screenwriter and director Randi LeClair taps into that dark side with “Bridge,” a film-noir short about the killing of two teenage boys—one Native and the other white. Shot in black and white, LeClair said the film is “based on my hometown of Pawnee and the attitudes and different people that I grew up around.”
The town of Pawnee lies within the north-central region of Oklahoma that also serves as the setting for Tracy Letts’s August: Osage County (a dark and comedic play that was the recipient of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama).
While the deconstruction of small-town Oklahoma attitudes might be familiar to some film audiences, the pairing of this deconstruction alongside an examination of Native American race relations will be a new twist to non-Native audiences.
“The story has way more significance, given the racial tension and the climate that we’re in right now,” LeClair said. “I wanted to showcase a part of Indian Country that those outside of Indian Country don’t get to see. When you think of prejudice and racial tensions, it is usually just a black-and-white issue. You don’t get to see the Native side…People unfamiliar with small town Oklahoma will catch a glimpse of the kind of sentiments non-Natives and Natives can have on one another. I really wanted to highlight these unabashedly prejudiced people.”
LeClair developed the script as part of the Sundance Institute’s 2015 Native Filmmakers Lab. Pre-production to secure shooting locations and casting took several weeks, while the primary filming wrapped in three days. The ensemble cast consists of eight actors and nine members of the production crew, with Oklahoma City’s Pickles restaurant serving as the primary set. LeClair’s producer, cinematographer and editor on the film was Kiowa filmmaker Jeff Palmer.
All dialogue takes place within the restaurant, with each scene in the film taking place at a different table, featuring different conversations.
“As this story takes place in a small town, a diner is most likely (and believably) a location where these townspeople with differing opinions on the murders would gather without actually having to interact with one another,” she said. “I also used it as a device to smoothly transition from one conversation to another.”
LeClair’s previous film credits include acting as one of the stars of the 2003 film American Indian Graffiti: This Thing Life by Tvli Jacob (Choctaw) and Steven Judd (Kiowa and Choctaw).
Currently, she is also under a screenplay option for her husband Todd Fuller’s book 60 Inches from Home: The (Baseball) Life of Mose Yellowhorse. LeClair was a participant in the 2010 Sundance Institute Native Filmmakers Lab.
“I hope people enjoy it, but I also hope people open their eyes to our plight in Indian Country,” LeClair said about the film short, “and get a better understanding of things that go on that they don’t get to see on a daily basis—that doesn’t make the news often.”
At press time, the film was in post-production and being prepared for submission to the annual Sundance Film Festival.
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