It may seem foolish to review an American Film Institute series by writing about a picture that has already been shown.
But "Annie Mae -- Brave-Hearted Woman" is the kind of film that does not go away. And surely it is the strongest statement ever made on film about the way this country deals with the people we displaced, the Indians.
Annie May Aquash, an activist in the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee and in the 1972 siege of the Bureau of Indian Affairs here, was found dead on the prairie the next year. The FBI said she died of exposure.
It took two autopsies for them to discover that she had a bullet hole in the back of her head.
An FBI executive tells the documentary camera that the woman's fingertips were sent to Washington for prints.
It was not her fingertips. It was her hands. They were cut off and sent East. When the relatives asked for them back, according to the film, they were returned in a box and casually tossed over. "Here."
Marlon Brando, in a statement about Annie Mae Aquash, compares her to Mangas Coloradas, the Apache chief who was murdered in 1863 in an army fort and whose head, boiled and skinned, was sent to a phrenologist in Boston.
Filmmaker Lan Ritz says she started out to do a lyrical film about the Navajo but quickly turned to the politics of being an Indian in America today. Roughly edited, with jiggly hand-held camera, her picture at first seems to meander. But gradually the details build.
We are told of two FBI men who went into an Indian sttlement seeking a thief who stole a pair of boots. Apprently frightened by the "bunkers and trenches," which were in fact the ubiquitous northwestern root cellars, they came in shooting, the film says, and were killed.
We are shown the massive retailiation, the lines of armored vehicles, the helicopters, the automatic weapons, the SWAT teams as a virtual army moves in on what the FBI called a revolutionary group, the American Indian Movement.
In the encirclement of Wounded Knee, federal troops burned the prairie so that no one could sneak in food to the besieged.
The message is that, at least by the '70s, a century after Little Bighorn, the virulence of certain Americans' fear and hatred of Indians has not abated one whit.
Mainstream film treatment of native Amemricans has seen two phases: the kiyi-ing savage and the noble red man, With luck. "Annie Mae" and similar low-budget pictures (like Joel Freedman's "Broken Treaty at Battle Mountain") signal a third phase: the story of an oppressed people. The current series, funded by American Telephone and Telegraph, does well with these films.
An important turnaround movie was "Broken Arrow" -- screening Sunday at 6:30 p.m. -- made in 1950 and starring James Stewart, with Debra Paget in brownface. This has been called the first Hollywood western to depict Indians sympathetically.
There are others, such as "Jim Thorpe, All American" (Monday at 6:30), "When the Legends Die" (thursday at 6:30) and "Little Big Man" (Friday at 8:45).
The series, which last through April 29, features many other notable fiction films on the native American.
There are also such classic documentaries and semidocumentaries as "Nanook of the North" (April 16 at 8:45), Troell's "The Emigrants" (April 20 at 8:45) and "The New Land" (April 21 at 8:30), "The Silent Enemy," made in 1930 and paired with the 1920 "Last of the Mohicans" (April 3 at 9 p.m.) "Indian Massacre" (April 7 at 6:30) and "The Outsider," the story of Ira Hayes, the ill-fated Iwo Jima hero, paired with "Devil's Doorway" (April 22 at 8:45).
One cherring note in recent Indian pictures is the use of actual native Americans as actors. The touching "Three Warriors" (April 14 at 6:30) with McKee Redwing, Byron Patt and Charles White Eagle is a charming example.
We have made some progress, it seems, from 1915, when Ernest Dench could write in his book "Making the Movies":
"The Red Indians who have been fortunate enough to secure permanent engagements with Western film companies are paid a salary that keeps them well provided with tobacco and their worshipped 'fire-water.' It might be thought that this would civilize them completely, but it has had a quite reverse effect, for the work affords them an opportunity to live their savage days over again . . . ."
And so on.