Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Have Been "Kissed By Lightning"


I finally got around to seeing Shelley Niro’s feature film, “Kissed By Lightning.” It was actually on the The Movie Network’s OnDemand service, which pleased me to no end. I was hoping it would be visually stunning and provocative, the way all Shelley’s art is, but this – I have to say, I am feeling teary-eyed and awed after seeing it. The images haunted my dreams all last night and I woke up thinking about the film, which gave me the impetus to write this blog.

I think everyone who ever wanted to know about Iroquoian philosophy and our values should watch this film. It was gentle and almost whisperingly quiet, the way Shelley’s art is, but it crept up on me and infused me with its lushly filmed, stunning visuals and the serene poetry of the story. Ostensibly the story of a woman’s journey through grief, it is actually the story of The Peacemaker and Hyenwatha, the two founding figures of our political and spiritual lives. The League of the Haudenosaunee could not exist without this profound friendship and their eternal gift to us, which is not only the Gayanashagowa, the Great Law, but the Condolence rite. The Peacemaker recognized that grief can crush a person until they are unrecognizable, and by giving us this ceremony released us from the dark cloud that descends on us when grief storms into your life.

Much of the story takes place in the winter, and this is not incidental. The Haudenosaunee have been slumbering for over two hundred years, buried in the grief and the perpetual winter caused by colonization. Spring is on its way, hopefully, shown in the mud and the open water of the river, and this is representative of the current of resistence that shapes our lives in our territories. We are waking up.

Much of the film's tone is quirky and humourous, demonstrating the way we love to laugh over things whether silly or profoundly disturbing. The soundtrack was also an integral part of the film experience, at once haunting and exuberant.

One of my favourite scenes happens when Mavis, the main character, and Bug, the guy who has been shyly courting her are lost on the way to New York City. They are sitting in their van at dusk , and while they are discussing what they should do to get themselves oriented back to the I-90, suddenly a group of warriors dressed in the clothing of the Old Days crosses the road in front of them, glancing casually at the occupants of the van before disappearing into the snow-covered bush. Mavis asks, “Did you see that?” and Bug replies, “I think they’re lost.” And so are we – lost in this world that has completely ignored us and tried to make us disappear, but we prevail, and we are lost on the way to finding ourselves again.

So many scenes grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let me go. There were a lot of beautifully filmed shots of geese, flying in formation over the snow-covered landscape, honking at each other – so reminiscent of the geese that aided Sky Woman in her fall from the heavens, a nod to our central Creation Myth. The garishly-dressed and opportunistic Kateri, Mavis’ lost boyfriend’s first wife, representative of what some of us have become. The mud-covered German Shepherd Mutt named “Kitty.” Shelley’s paintings, shown in a gallery, the series called The Peacemaker’s Journey. The American restaurant where they are serenaded by an African-American gospel group who sing a song with the chorus, “Thank You Lord for the Mohawk People.” The arresting image of The Peacemaker standing quietly on a corner in the middle of the urban cacophony that is New York. And finally, Mavis’ encounter with a real-life Jikonsaheh, the Cat-Faced Woman, an elder who lives in isolation in our homeland but points Mavis' way back to herself and her culture, and inadvertently performs a thoroughly modern, allegorical condolence ceremony for her.

This is such a quietly beautiful film. I urge everyone to see it. The pace of it is very slow, and for people who are raised on Hollywood’s idea of what film should be, it may take a while for you to immerse yourself. But sit down and do it. It is worth the journey, and to immerse yourself in a wholly modern Haudenosaunee world-view and artistic sensibility is a privilege not many of us get a chance to experience.