A Niagara County native's documentary about the important and little-known influence of Native musicians on the development of rock music has been chosen to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
"RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World" was co-created by Tim Johnson (Mohawk), who grew up in North Tonawanda, and Stevie Salas (Apache) who met when Johnson hired Salas as a contemporary music adviser at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Both are executive producers of the documentary.
"This is history that was right under our noses," said Johnson, who now lives on Six Nations of the Grand River outside Brantford, Ont. "It was in our ears and nobody knew it."
While he is careful to avoid leaking some of the surprising information that was uncovered during the years of intensive research and interviews, Johnson said, "Some of the bombshells that are dropped are just unbelievable, and then you will start to understand the contributions of Native people to the world of popular music through the decades."
The film, currently in post-production by Rezolution Pictures, was one of 113 selected from the 13,782 submitted. It will be shown in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.
The film features Native music icons like Charley Patton, Mildred Bailey, Link Wray, Jimi Hendrix, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson, Jesse Ed Davis, and Randy Castillo (Ozzy Osbourne and Mötley Crüe). Other musicians and experts interviewed include Martin Scorsese, Quincy Jones, Buddy Guy, Tony Bennett, Steven Van Zandt, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, Robert Trujillo of Metallica, Taj Mahal, Wayne Kramer of MC5, Ivan and Cyril Neville, John Trudell, Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters, Derek Trucks, George Clinton, Iggy Pop, Marky Ramone, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Slash of Guns N’ Roses, Jackson Browne, Rhiannon Giddens and Alvin Youngblood Hart.
"The thesis and concept for our original exhibit emerged when we were researching Native musicians who had success crossing over into mainstream culture," said Johnson."We discovered that their individual and collective contributions actually influenced and shaped several music genres spanning generations within popular music history."
"RUMBLE," to be released by Rezolution Pictures, was directed by Catherine Bainbridge and co-directed by Alfonso Maiorana; produced by Christina Fon, Lisa M. Roth, Catherine Bainbridge and Linda Ludwick. Executive producers at Rezolution Pictures are Ernest Webb (Cree), Catherine Bainbridge, Christina Fon, Linda Ludwick, and Jan Rofekamp.
Johnson said the Rezolution Pictures creators and researchers worked for four years, "collecting literally thousands of never-before-seen photographs from personal family archives from everywhere you could imagine. They did hundreds of hours of film interviews and collected thousands of still images."
The film was inspired by the popular Smithsonian Institution exhibit “Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians In Popular Culture,” which Johnson and Salas created for the National Museum of the American Indian.
Johnson is a graduate of the Communication program at SUNY Buffalo State College. “I’m very proud to be representing Buffalo and the Niagara region at Sundance,” he said. "I was born in Niagara Falls, raised in North Tonawanda, and lived in downtown Buffalo during the early years of my professional career.”
Johnson said further theatrical releases and television broadcast of "RUMBLE” in North American and European markets will follow the Sundance screening. The documentary is represented for North American distribution by Diana Holtzberg of East Village Entertainment, LLC and by Jan Rofekamp of Films Transit for international distribution.
Rezolution Pictures is an award-winning Aboriginal-owned film, television and interactive media production company, founded in 2001 by Catherine Bainbridge and Ernest Webb, which works to bring cultural diversity to North American broadcasting. Among its many productions was a feature documentary "Reel Injun," about the Hollywood images and stereotypes of Native people, which won multiple Gemini and Peabody Awards. "Reel Injun" has been used by the Screen Actors Guild of America to educate casting directors about stereotypes.