Film Review By Justin Eagle Gauthier

mekko jacket
Director Sterlin Harjo presented his film Mekko (2015) at the IAIA Auditorium during the Spring 2017 Institute of American Indian Arts Lo-Rez Residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As with many films released by Indigenous content creators, his viewers were given access to a world and worldview that has never been realized onscreen before. Harjo graciously answered questions about the film following the screening, and the discussion helped affirm that most films need a behind-the-scenes bonus feature to accompany them. ]

While having to live with guilt of a crime he committed in the past, Mekko is forced to become a member of the homeless population in Oklahoma City. Reconnecting with an old friend, Mekko finds community while struggling to remain above the world of drugs and alcohol that pervade the street life. As he yearns for the simplicity and support of his youth through flashbacks about his grandmother, Mekko becomes embroiled in an inevitable showdown with Bill the evil drug dealer who holds the homeless population in thrall. With this confrontation in the offing and a curse on his rural hometown, Mekko must find a path to redemption.

Right from the opening, Harjo does an enviable job of conveying the foreignness of freedom to a newly released prisoner through his deft camera work—yet lead editor Blackhorse Lowe and co-editor Zach Wolf deserve mention for their work throughout this engaging film as well. Even the seemingly meandering shots are impactful and much of that is on account of knowing when to cut. Wolf and Lowe manage to capture moments and remain still for just the right amount of time.

Harjo was partially inspired to make Mekko after volunteering at a homeless shelter in Oklahoma City and meeting with some of the homeless population. After plotting out the story of his film to them, many of the people told Harjo they were interested in acting in his film and the director obliged. The casting of non-actors pays dividends throughout the film as Harjo and crew portray homeless life with a gritty realism. Within this realistic portrayal, there is a tinge of the supernatural handled with subtlety. The results are satisfying and creepy.
Mekko is another contemporary example in a growing collection of films created by indigenous filmmakers. Harjo tells his story with the deftness of an emergent talent and it isn’t hard to recognize the promise onscreen. He is part of a new vanguard of filmmakers, indigenous directors who tell their stories in the truest ways possible.

One day, in the not too distant future, given the proper respect and room for development of his or her craft, a great director from the Muscogee Creek Nation could be simply referred to as “a director” and not “a Muscogee Creek director.” Sterling Harjo is a great director, period.

Menominee Tribal member Justin Eagle Gauthier has been featured in several literary journals. He is currently enrolled in the LoRez MFA program in creative writing studying screenwriting at the Institute of American Indian Arts.