Review by Camden Ferrell
Accounts of Native American genocide and oppression are too often overlooked, and that is why film’s like Sanjay Rawal’s Gather feel increasingly necessary in today’s cultural landscape. This documentary had its premiere in June at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Despite its very abbreviated runtime, this is a culturally and historically informative doc that is full of great interviews and powerful messages.
The food sovereignty movement asserts that those who produce and distribute food should also have some control over its policies of production and distribution. This documentary follows the movement of Native Americans who are attempting to reclaim their cultural identities through obtaining food sovereignty. The documentary features many indigenous people and how they relate to this growing movement.
Rawal has a very firm grasp of the execution of this film. From the start, it’s well-organized, and its confident in the creation of this narrative. He is able to allocate time efficiently between all of his subjects, follow a cohesive narrative progression, and create thematic ties through the many subjects. It helps the film stay focused and reinforce its message without any meandering moments that distract from the film’s main purpose.
The film has a few different storylines throughout, and they’re all unique and significant in their own ways. However, the most interesting moments of the movie are when it follows an indigenous high school student and her scientific research about the buffalo that are important to her people and also when it follows a group of young adults from the Yurok tribe and their struggles to maintain their culture through salmon fishing. These stories are important, and the subjects have a great screen presence, they’re unique, and they are very well-informed.
The documentary makes sure to include subjects from different generations as a way to highlight the continued oppression of Native Americans throughout history. Rawal uses great rhetoric to illustrate the many injustices indigenous people have faced as well as how their culture was nearly eradicated due to the genocide perpetrated by the United States. It’s a checkered history lesson that is heartbreaking, but it’s one that makes a strong case as to why food sovereignty is the next step for Native Americans to reclaim their culture and their health.
The main flaw of this film comes from the limitations that are imposed by its 74-minute runtime. The topic at hand is really delicate, and it deserved a more thorough exploration because of its importance. The documentary could have very well been two hours with more than enough material, and as a result, the film doesn’t feel as fulfilling as it could have. However, the only benefit to its short length is that it maintains a decent pace that doesn’t falter whatsoever.
Regardless of your heritage or cultural background, this is a film that has a brilliant universal message. It’s a necessary movie for this growing movement, and this film exhibits the many ways in which this movement is essential for indigenous people all over the country. This movie is a great starting point for further independent research to inform yourself of this dire issue and how important it is to preserve these diverse cultures.
Gather may not be an all-encompassing documentary, but it tells essential and fascinating stories. The message is powerful, and it features some great subjects. It’s a perfect movie for today’s day and age, and it’s one that is definitely worth checking out.
Gather is available on iTunes and Amazon September 8.