Institute History

  • 1997 June Screenwriters Lab


Rosie wants to be good. A ten-year-old Native Indian girl living in a small prairie town, Rosie wants to be good in the old fashioned way of her Indian ancestors whom, she was told, were kind to one another. But kindness does not factor in Rosie's world. Her father, George, is an alcoholic sinking deeper into his addiction. Her mother, Val, is filled with bitter anger at her husband. Russell, Rosie's older brother, teeters on the cusp of teenage rebellion and self-destruction. Lynn, her old sister, covers hurt with a mask of indifference. Rosie's little sisters just like to play. The townspeople are prejudiced, and the cops brutal.

When George returns home drunk one too many times, Val has him committed to a mental institution. Rosie believes that if she cleans the house and makes everything just right, maybe her mother will get her father out of the hospital—"the nut one," as Rosie calls it. But Rosie's kindness elicits another wave of rageful self-pity from her mother. Rosie decides instead to rescue her father, and takes off to the hospital, many miles away.

Arriving late in the day, Rosie has missed visiting hours. With night falling, she sneaks into the hospital and discovers her father in a drooling, electric shock-induced stupor. Chased by orderlies and nurses, Rosie flees the hospital and heads for the woods. Lost and alone, Rosie does what she believes she should do: she makes the best of it. She finds shelter, food and recreation. Surrounded by the beauty and peace of the natural world, Rosie believes she is happy. At least she is being good.

Meanwhile, the family is devastated by Rosie's disappearance. Russell sets out on his motorcycle in search of her, but gets no further than a fight and a night in jail. On his release, he spends precious time trying to retrieve his bike from Blue Horse, an old Indian man who has been living a life on the street and running from his own fears for years. Lynn, Rosie's sister, meets up with Blue Horse and together they return to the reservation.

In the woods, Rosie meets an old Indian woman who has lived alone in the bush for decades. In a self-imposed exile away from whites, her Indian community and her family, Emma lives by a code entirely her own. Emma teaches Rosie the ways of Indian medicine, but Emma is no sentimental grandmother. A realist in a tough world, Emma gave up any illusions of goodness many years before, after she was raped, then later when she killed the brutal husband who beat her and her child.

Ultimately, Rosie must confront her make-believe world and her concept of what it means to be an Indian. As Rosie grows, so does Emma, who responds to the girl's love. Russell learns about being a man in the Cree way, Blue Horse confronts his grief, and Lynn shares some of the pain that is hidden generation after generation in Indian country but is seldom named. And even George and Val find some hope.


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