The Only Good Indian

Director: Kevin Willmott
Screenwriters: Thomas Carmody

Institute History

  • 2009 Sundance Film Festival


With this outstanding revisionist western, Kevin Willmott stakes out new territory in a genre that seemed completely settled. Fancifully configuring the symbols of the genre, he creates a fascinating parable of American history.

At the outset, young Nachwihiata lives a peaceful existence with his agrarian family until a band of white marauders attacks their homestead. They forcibly remove him to a white Christian boarding school, where Native children are assimilated into the dominant culture. Renamed Charlie, he chafes under the lie of his new identity and, before long, runs away. He’s soon captured by bounty hunter Sam Franklin, an assimilated Indian who now only aspires to round up other Indians for reward money. The plot thickens when Sam and Charlie are pursued by a cruel, grizzled sheriff, who also wants the bounty on the missing boy. Like a true warrior, Charlie faces repeated tests of his courage and self-awareness, discovering the painful contortions of identity and despair to which many of his race are consigned, and the conflicts that remain even after the Indian Wars have supposedly ended.

Willmott constructs a fascinating plot, laced with intriguing twists and ever-higher plateaus of suspense, infused with gothic devices that underline the horrors involved. The Only Good Indian is a worthy fictional account of an essential American story.

— Shannon Kelley

Screening Details

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