Saturday, November 19, 2011

Diane Glancy's film Dome of Heaven Is an Authentic View of Great Plains Life, Both Cherokee and Anglo

A private showing of this terrific film Nov. 18, 2011 was a highlight of the American Literary Translators Association conference in Kansas City. Diane Glancy is best known for books of poetry and prose relating to her Cherokee heritage, and this film does continue her explication of contemporary American Indian concerns. Cherokee characters are central to the film, but also this film gives an authentic portrait of small town life on the Great Plains. The film (and novel) Winter’s Bone tells truth through fiction regarding the Ozarks, and Cedar Rapids portrays upper Midwest life. Dome of Heaven has equal authenticity and quality. Glancy, who lives in Kansas City, was not present because she was attending the Los Angeles Skins Film Festival to present the film.

Small Great Plains towns often include Native populations as well as descendants of European settlers. I grew up in small town Kansas grasslands, not far geographically nor culturally from Vici, Oklahoma, the setting, in a family of mixed backgrounds. The film is shot on location, and local people participated as actors, extras, and musicians. I recognized the cafĂ©, school, court, church and bar, and always the sky. The film is based on Glancy’s book Flutie, about her experiences as a visiting writer in Vici public schools. She wrote a script from the book at a Sundance Native American Screenwriting workshop. For more on the making of the film, see Glancy’s website

The story revolves around a Cherokee veteran (Wes Studi, a subtle and strong performance) of World War II and his German war bride (Sylvia Kofler, a Kansas City writer and perfect fit). Their two children are Flutie (Thirza Defoe) and Franklin (Noah Watts). Franklin works with his father in a local garage as an apprentice mechanic; although he is bright, he has dropped out of high school. His sister Flutie wants to go to college, but she is morbidly afraid of speaking in front of people. She must overcome this phobia in order to pass high school and attend college. There are romances, arguments, tragedies, two marriages (Franklin's) and hope. The Greek myth of Philomela is another layer of the plotline. Well placed ambient shots of the area, including Southwest Oklahoma State campus, create the sense of the land being a character as well.

I viewed the film with a group of academics—people whose critical faculties are sharpened by decades of grading student papers and critiquing literature. Not an easy audience. Yet there was not a dry eye by the end of the movie. I heard others comment about the  well crafted dialogue, the use of silence as counterpoint to the panoramic views of the plains, the acting, the pacing, the musical score, and more. Country western is on most radio stations in that region, and the Randall family of Vici has listened well. Their ballads complement the script. Through a Looking Glass of Lawrence, Kansa, filmed and edited the movie, and their skill is apparent. I appreciated seeing the film with outsiders, because I was lost in the film’s verisimilitude. Dome of Heaven especially captures the humor. Glancy incorporates the overlapping Cherokee and rural humor, which is understated, self-deprecating, instructive, and inventive. A neighbor sees the father Mr. Moses driving a tractor down a road followed by a ten-year-old driving a truck (early driving is commonplace), but the kid’s head cannot be seen. The neighbor deduces that Mr. Moses is training the truck to follow. One of Flutie’s suitors creeps into her bedroom late after a night of drinking beer at the Cedar Shack. His hasty morning retreat, under the eyes of father and brother, is a classic.
Glancy brings skills of a trained writer to her script. After receive a graduate degree at the University of Iowa, she has published about 30 books of fiction, poetry, non-fiction prose, and drama. Among her awards are two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Minnesota Book Award, an Oklahoma Book Award, an American Book Award, and the 2011 Best Native American Film at the Trail Dance Independent Film Festival (Duncan, Oklahoma). Her most recent poetry is Stories from the Driven World (Mammoth 2010). A new collection of nonfiction, The Dream of a Broken Field (University of Nebraska Press 2011). For a clip, see: