On Thursday, an award-winning film based on a classic James Welch novel makes its Wyoming debut. Winter in the Blood follows the story of a Blackfoot man, Virgil First Raise, through his journey of self-discovery. The movie is directed by brothers Alex and Andrew Smith.
Andrew Smith says, growing up, the novel was highly influential for both him and his brother. Unlike many stories, Smith says, the protagonist’s motivation in Welch’s novel is extremely underplayed and when it came to translating the themes of the novel to film, Smith says one of the primary challenges was finding a way to turn internal psychology into on-screen action.
“I think that’s one of the great breakthroughs, is that Welch was also saying well, you know, I know this is a traditional way of storytelling, but I’ve got a different way of approaching this kid, this guy," says Smith. What if he’s directionless? What happens to a character who’s directionless?”
Though the film, like the novel, is set during the 1970s, Smith says the film speaks to the current realities of Native American communities. “It definitely feels relevant and it brings up a number of those pervasive issues like domestic violence, and certainly self-destruction through substance abuse. And poverty of resources, as well as, literally, of choices,” he says.
Smith also says the history of indigenous peoples in the West has been especially easy to overlook because of the troping of Cowboys and Indians, and he hopes the screening provides audiences a window into a community they might not have considered. “There are communities and lives that exist and are living in a kind of daily reality that we all have that often people just dismiss or ignore or want not to think about.”
Smith points to Native Americans, like those in the film, who rely on cattle ranching for their livelihood. He says ranching is still commonly associated with cowboys even though they learned their trade by watching indigenous people survive in the West. For this reason, Smith calls Winter in the Blood an “inverted Western”.
Lead actor Chaske Spencer, of Twilight fame, will join Alex and Andrew Smith in a panel discussion following the film. Winter in the Blood screens at 7 p.m., Thursday, September 24 at the University of Wyoming’s Education Auditorium.