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Film / Dreamkeeper

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A grandfather who believes in tradition. A teenager who believes in today.

Dreamkeeper is a 2003 film written by John Fusco and directed by Steve Barron. The main plot of the film is the conflict between a Lakota elder and storyteller named Pete Chasing Horse (August Schellenberg) and his Lakota grandson, Shane Chasing Horse (Eddie Spears). The plot unwinds as the two travel from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to the fictitious All Nations powwow in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a trip the grandson takes only under duress. Along the way, the grandfather tells his grandson various Indian stories and legends to help him understand and choose the "good red road"; i.e., to embrace an Indian identity.

The film opens with Eagle Boy, a young man who is on a vision quest. It then cuts to the present, where a 17-year-old Lakota named Shane Chasing Horse is living on the Pine Ridge reservation. He is in trouble because he owes some money to a local gang — money he used to buy a beautiful ring for Mae Little Wounded, a girl he likes. Meanwhile, his mother asks him to drive his grandfather, Pete Chasing Horse, a storyteller, down to the powwow. Shane is reluctant. However, when the gang comes after him, Shane changes his mind and heads out to the powwow with his grandfather, who agrees to give him his truck once they reach the powwow. Grandfather tells Shane the story of a young Lakota man who tries to win the hand of Bluebird Woman. He also tells the story of how a thunder spirit falls in love with a Mohawk woman and brings her up into the ethereal world of Sky Woman, and of how she raised their son back in her village until he was struck by one of the villagers and brought back to live with his father. Later, when a young redheaded man who is eager to learn about Native culture and hoping to be adopted by a Native American family asks to ride with them to the powwow, Shane says no. His grandfather then tells him the Kiowa story of Tehan, a white man who lived among the Kiowa and fought bravely alongside them, and Shane relents and lets the redhead ride with them. Shane’s grandfather then tells how Eagle Boy follows the advice of a shining spirit elk, and seeks out an old woman who can give him weapons with which to slay the mighty serpent Unceliga. He is repulsed when the ugly old woman embraces him, but reacts quite differently when she transforms into a beautiful younger woman. She reproaches him, but gives him what he needs. Eagle Boy slays Unceliga, whose heart instructs him and grants him great power and prophetic visions.


Eventually, the gang members who are after Shane catch up with them, but accidentally drive their car off a cliff and into a lake while chasing him. Shane dives in and saves them, and his struggle is contrasted with Eagle Boy’s underwater battle with Unceliga. The gang members ride with them for a ways, until they and the redheaded hitchhiker leave them in order to travel with a group of attractive young women who are also headed to the powwow.

As they travel, Shane’s grandfather tells Shane many other stories: several are about the trickster Coyote and Iktomi the spider. Another is about a young Pawnee man and his mother who are scorned by the rest of their tribe until the young man finds an unwanted dun pony who brings them good medicine. As Shane and his grandfather look up at the stars, the grandfather tells the story of the Quillwork Girl and her seven star brothers, which is about a Cheyenne girl who puts her faith in a dream and searches for seven brothers, but who must then contend with the Buffalo nation. The next story is about a young Chinook woman who sacrifices herself in order to cure her village of a terrible sickness, and the next is about a young Blackfoot hunter who cannot let go of the memory of his father.


Shane and his grandfather continue their journey, losing their truck along the way and continuing on horseback and on foot. The two become closer. However, it then turns out that Shane’s grandfather has led them not to the powwow but to Shane’s father’s (Sam Chasing Horse) trailer home. Shane is disgusted, but is persuaded to stay the night. The next morning Shane finally makes peace with his father.

Filming lasted four months and took place mainly in Canada. Representatives of the Lakota, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Blackfeet, Mohawk and Crow tribes came on board the film to evaluate the authenticity of the production during filming and to suggest changes. One of the advisors was shocked to see that the crew had managed to get rare Cheyenne leopard dogs for one scene. Some scenes involved shooting a stampeding herd of 1,500 buffalo.

Visual effects supervisor Nicholas Brooks states that in order to create the heavenly, otherworldly look of the land of Sky Woman in the for the “Legend of She Crosses the Water and the Thunder Spirit," the filmmakers decided not to film the actors against blue screen. Instead, the color and texture of the scenes were later altered, sometimes in a rather arbitrary manner controlled by the computer, which Brooks says lent the sequence a particular psychological feel.

  • Abhorrent Admirer : The Old Woman in the cave that utilizes Eagle Boy’s essence to free herself of her old shell. She is quite hideous with warts, skin tags, and dark patches of sunken skin. One of her eyes is also deformed.
  • Bland-Name Product: The All Nations Powwow is a stand-in for the Gathering of Nations.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Shane does this to Sam when they are reunited.
  • Cool Big Sis:
    • Talks A Lot acts like one to Tehan.
    • Quillwork Girl becomes this to the Youngest Brother.
  • Cool Old Guy:
    • Shane’s grandfather, Pete.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Grandpa Pete can be pretty snarky…
    '''Grandpa: Who the hell's chasing us?
    '''Shane: Just some guys, Grandpa.
    '''Grandpa: They must be after Three Moons, my war horse.
    '''Shane: No, they're after my ass!
    '''Grandpa: Better off with my horse.
    '''Grandpa: It has been said that the young people of today are our warriors of tomorrow. I look at you and say, 'we're in big trouble.'
    '''Shane: You know, sometimes you can be a mean old man.
    • Shane can be pretty snarky too. His encounter with the Red Headed Hitchhiker is rife with this. Also his initial encounter with his father is pretty snarky too.
    • The spirits in the opening sequence with Eagle boys singing are very clearly annoyed with him for making so much noise. One of them even asks, “Is your name No Ears?”
    • Dirty Belly’s grandmother is pretty Snarky herself, “What does Chief Loud Mouth say today?”
    • Coyote and Iktomi
    • Sky woman when referring to the Thunderspirit in the story of She Crosses the Water
  • Delinquents: Shane has shades of this. Verdel’s gang is definitely this.
  • Disappeared Dad: Sam, Shane’s father.
  • Incest Subtext: Sort of the case in Quillwork Girl and her seven brothers though no one makes a pass at ANYONE and Quillwork Girl is completely unrelated to the brothers. While she is doing some work around the teepee, the brothers are watching her from a distance. One of the older brothers comments on how good her cooking is, how efficient she is at curing meat and how impressive her quillwork is when another brother complains, “Yeah but did she have to be so fine looking? A sister should be fat and ugly.”
  • Distressed Dude: Tehan becomes this when the white soldiers “rescue” him and bring him back to their fort where he is forbidden from making contact with the Indians. His sister Talks A Lot gets a group of men together to help save him.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Thunder Boy is the child of a spirit and human woman.
  • Informed Ability: The youngest brother from Quillwork Girl and the Seven Brothers. The Eldest Brother reprimands him for “using his strange gift” to bring Quillwork Girl. It’s implied that whatever he dreams comes true.
  • Interspecies Romance: The Thunder spirit is-well a spirit and She Crosses the Water is a human woman.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Shane. He isn’t especially nice to most people he encounters. When Verdel and his crew’s car plunges into the Rio Grande, Shane wastes no time in diving and saving their lives. Mind you, only moments earlier they had been trying to kill Shane and his grandfather.
    • Broken Lance is also this from the story of Talks A Lot and Tehan. He’s a real dick to Tehan for being white and stealing their ways of life. When the American soldiers are approaching the camp and the tribe is forced to evacuate, Broken Lance stays behind-not for some macho reason as the audience is lead to believe initially- but to give the women, children, and elders a head start in evacuating. He also fully understands that he will not come out of the confrontation alive.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: She Crosses The Water and the Thunder Spirit
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Kills Enemy, Blue Bird Woman’s father. Red Deer, High Horse’s best friend, even lampshades it. “Find yourself another woman, one whose father’s name is not Kills Enemy!”
  • Troubled, but Cute: Shane
    • Eagle Boy too.
      • A good portion of the male leads fit this trope.
  • Vision Quest: Eagle Boy is on one when the movie begins.