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Rae Presents Reverent Portrait of Legendary Activist

John Trudell is a poet, recording artist and champion of Native-American rights whose art and activism have earned him the respect of high-profile Hollywood players like Val Kilmer, Robert Redford and Kris Kristofferson. Trudell, director Heather Rae's 80-minute tribute to the man and the ideals he's espoused throughout his remarkable life, is a moving account and doting love letter that sacrifices some degree of objectivity in its rush to lionize its hero. Nevertheless, it remains a fascinating character study, especially for those unfamiliar with Trudell's harrowing history.

How harrowing? Twelve hours after Trudell burned the American flag on the steps of FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, his pregnant wife, three children and mother-in-law were burned alive in their Nevada home, allegedly the work of an arsonist. And yet Trudell, one of the key figures in the American Indian Movement's 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island and an outspoken critic of a U.S. government that has routinely violated its treaties with Native American landowners, has never backed down from his lifelong struggle to rage against the machine.

Instead, he set it to music. Encouraged by powerful friends like Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, who offer enthusiastic testimonials in Rae's biopic, Trudell became a recording artist in the early 80s, backing his spoken-word poetry with traditional Native-American drums. Rae makes good use of Trudell's music, which she throws into a reverential mix of interviews with the man and his friends, footage of his protests and speeches and photographs taken from all phases of his life. It's a relatively one-sided portrait, to be sure, but it's also a fitting, informative tribute to a man who lost everything in his pursuit of a brighter future for his Native-American brethren. On the eve of Trudell's 60th birthday, it's about time.

Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5