It took only about three weeks for Rapid City resident and independent filmmaker Michael Linn of Linn Productions to shoot the film ”Imprint” on the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
It was a short amount of time to weave Lakota cultural elements with a dramatic and suspense-filled storyline that twists and turns like a few of the daunting roadways that cut through the reservation. Bottom line: Folks who see this film are going to feel scared, but not disgusted by gore.
”We want people who don’t typically see scary movies to come see this film,” Linn said. ”It’s not going to insult your intelligence.”
Chris Eyre, also a Rapid City resident, grabbed the production reins. Eyre, Cheyenne/Arapaho and the award-winning director and producer of critically acclaimed Native films ”Smoke Signals” and ”Skinwalkers,” worked the production end of the film with Linn’s mother, Carolyn Linn.
”We made this 100 percent at home and by ourselves,” Eyre said. ”It’s amazing what you can do with local resources.”
Tonantzin Carmelo, of Tongva descent, played the lead role as Shayla Stonefeather, an Oglala Lakota attorney who prosecutes and convicts Oglala teen Robbie Whiteshirt for murder. The Native community has openly opposed the prosecution. Her body language and facial expressions reveal her discomfort and possible shame for prosecuting one of her own people.
Shortly after the trial, Stonefeather receives a phone call from her mother, played by Carla-Rae Holland, asking her to come home and spend time with her dying father. Meanwhile, for the past two years, she has been haunted by the disappearance of her drug-using younger brother. And after her arrival in Pine Ridge, she learns that police killed Whiteshirt when he tried to escape.
In short, Stonefeather’s homecoming marks the beginning of sinister noises, ghostly interactions, strained confrontations – both otherworldly and with Whiteshirt’s older brother – and an outcome that reveals her brother’s fate. She also experiences a personal renaissance in her attitude toward her culture and people.
The film will leave a lasting imprint on the moviegoer.
The characters in the original script for ”Imprint” were non-Native. Linn co-wrote the script with Keith Davenport starting in 2003.
”I couldn’t even imagine it in its old form,” Linn said. ”I am excited that we [Eyre] decided to collaborate on this project.”
Linn met Eyre during the screening of ”Smoke Signals” about 10 years ago. He said that Eyre had suggested they work on a project someday.
The hard work between the cast and crew paid off. Reviews of the film are upbeat and downright witty.
Carmelo said that she was being groomed for the lead role long before anyone contacted her. When Eyre asked her to take the role, she scrambled to make last-minute arrangements to travel to South Dakota. Even with little time to prepare for the role, she managed to fully embody Stonefeather’s persona.
She credits Davenport for helping her to understand her character’s relationship with the other actors, and the language coaches for helping her speak some Lakota. ”I was in really good hands with them,” she said.
The cast features numerous Lakota actors from Pine Ridge and nearby reservations. Michael Spears played Tom Grey Horse, a tribal police officer and Stonefeather’s former flame who comes to her rescue. Charlie White Buffalo played the catatonic father, Sam Stonefeather. He also doubled as a Lakota language coach and cultural adviser.
Chief Dave Bald Eagle was also hired as a Lakota language coach, and Larry Pourier as a cultural adviser.
”I didn’t want it to be from a white person’s perspective on what a white person thinks Native spirituality is, so I spoke to a lot of different people,” Linn said.
The homegrown film was shot on the 777 Buffalo Ranch near Hermosa at an old homestead, eight miles from the main highway. It was rumored that some of the cast and crew thought the location was haunted.
Carmelo confirmed those rumors, explaining that on two occasions a light went out on the set during the filming of suspenseful scenes. ”When the lights went out I was extra scared,” she said.
Linn said that the temperature on the heaters kept increasing and the propane kept shutting off, but he speculated that a prankster was possibly up to the mischief. ”I am such a skeptic on that sort of thing,” he said.
”Imprint” first premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, in March. After some additional editing, it previewed at the 20th Century Fox Studios Zanuck Theatre in West Los Angeles in May.
Since the premiere in May, the film has undergone more editing. Eyre said the next public screening takes place at the Indian Market in Santa Fe, N.M., Aug. 17 – 19. From there, it will be ready to hit the film festival circuit.