BILLINGS - Montanans may recognize a lot of the faces and places in a documentary that airs on NBC Saturday night.
The annual Crow Fair powwow near Hardin is featured prominently in "The World of American Indian Dance," the first American Indian-produced documentary to air on a major television network.
It includes many Crow families taking part in traditional Indian dance and was shot in great part at Crow Fair last summer. The narrator is actor Peter Coyote.
The documentary is the first production of Four Directions Entertainment, the first film and TV production company completely owned and operated by American Indians.
Four Directions crews shot more than 40 hours of dance footage and interviewed dozens of people at last summer's Crow Fair. The dances and interviews are interspersed with archival photos.
"We found in Montana a historic and spectacularly beautiful backdrop to tell the compelling story of America's first performing artists," said Sonny Skyhawk, a Lakota Indian who helped form Four Directions in 2001.
"In a day of dark news and stories about the decline of society, it's a beautiful, artful, good-news documentary," Skyhawk told the Billings Gazette.
Skyhawk's partner is Ponca Indian Dan Jones, who helped Skyhawk with the myriad details of the dance film, which also explores the Indian culture and the importance of various older and more modern dance to different Indian factions. The film also addresses the dilemma of current powwow: as it becomes popular and more commercialized, with handsome prizes and purses, does it still honor the traditional dance and its spiritual significance?
The documentary traces the history of dance, as a sustaining spiritual force and a prism through which old-age rivalries have been played out. The show introduces audiences to native dance and "its beauty, athleticism and competitive spirit," Skyhawk said. It also outlines the demise of the powwow during the Indian wars, and its comeback in 1934.
"Within present dance, age-old themes are explored, such as the conflict of progress versus tradition, spirituality versus commerce, independence versus assimilation," Skyhawk said.
Native dance has its generational divisions and loyalties, just as does dance in the Anglo culture.
"Some young American Indians have abandoned the more traditional dance styles, preferring less restrictive, more interpretive dances," Skyhawk said.
Many tribal elders, he said, are wary about such flashy and secular aspects of the newer dances, which don't carry the religious connotations.