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Pow Wow


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  • Sometimes this interference takes on a certain grandeur, as in the sequence that shows the vast irrigation system that brings water to the desert community. Other times civilization just appears banal and tasteless, as when some of the wealthy suburbanites cruise around complacently in designer golf carts. In both cases one senses a distance from the exciting history that some of the interviewees describe, making Pow Wow a film about empty spaces in more ways than one.

  • It's casual and discursive, almost to a fault. The film is organized with cryptic chapter headings—“Warfare,” “Transition Zones,” “Dream Voyages”—that imply certain narrative movements that don't always pan out, and if the line of thought starts to drift, Devor uses the words of a historian, rephrased throughout the film, as a cover: “There's an associative power to time…this constant dialogue of the past and the present about the future.”

  • Sean Kirby’s cinematography looks deeply into faces and landscapes alike, examining domestic life and outdoor leisure, subterranean waterworks and high-tech fences, majestic vistas and plasticized suburbs with a rapt and avid eye. Adam Sekuler edits with a quietly lacerating wit, and Devor, calmly winning the participants’ confidence, sets the movie’s tone with a sardonic sequence in a perversely oblivious country-club party of Native American inspiration.

  • Structurally, the resulting work is at once jarring and hypnotic, juxtaposing the lux interiors of sprawling McMansions with the endless, fiery night skies of the Inland Empire. Each player, sourced from disparate edges of this scattered desert community, is regarded with the same cool gaze, free to speak their truth... even if the resulting yarn weaves them just enough rope.

  • Devor’s exquisite doc made me realize I’m simply a sucker for films that exhibit tension between a formal cinematic aesthetic (lovely to look at) and the surreal (often nearly experimental) occurrences going on in the frame.

  • There’s plenty of irony to mine in the plaid-pants lifestyle and retiree mindset, but the tone remains circumspect (there are dead bodies found amid the palm groves, after all), and the results inconclusive, as if Devor got necessarily lost looking for his thesis but wisely kept the camera rolling.

  • As the number of narrators increases and their stories begin to merge, the film develops into a seductive stream of consciousness given direction by this place’s wrinkles both past and present, each couched in surreal, dreamlike images that only add to the sense of growing intoxication.