By Flo Dwek
Director: Catherine Bainbridge, Co-Director: Alfonso Maiorana; 2017; 102 min
This revelatory documentary – an award winner at Sundance Film Festival – brings to light the profound and overlooked influence of Indigenous people on popular music in North America. Focusing on music icons like Link Wray, Jimi Hendrix, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Taboo (The Black Eyed Peas), Charley Patton, Mildred Bailey, Jesse Ed Davis, Robbie Robertson, and Randy Castillo, RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World shows how these pioneering Native American musicians helped shape the soundtracks of our lives. Review originally published at Kino Lorber Inc. Watch the trailer here.
“RUMBLE celebrates the unsung Native American and First Nation musicians who helped shape Rock and Roll in this rollicking and thoughtful documentary about the rarely acknowledged Indian role in the history of North American music. Featuring interviews with George Clinton, Martin Scorsese, Buffy Sainte-Marie and many more.” – AFI DOCS
“A master class in the mixing of cultures…Sharing the same spirit of “20 Feet From Stardom” and “Searching for Sugar Man.” -NYT Movie Review
“It was a Shawnee who introduced the power chord to rock and roll. But American Indians’ massive influence on rock and pop history has largely been buried — until now.” -Daily Beast
“THE MISSING CHAPTER IN THE HISTORY OF MODERN MUSIC, AND SUCH A VITAL ONE.” -Time Out
MEET THE FILMMAKER: CATHERINE BAINBRIDGE
By Flo Dwek
RUMBLE Director, Catherine Bainbridge
WIFV: What inspired you to tell this story and make it into a film?
BAINBRIDGE: Stevie Salas (Apache) and Tim Johnson (Mohawk), two of the executive producers of RUMBLE, originally created an exhibit for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian about the indigenous influence on American music. Their exhibit in Washington, DC was a huge success, with crowds lining up around the block–eventually opening in New York City as well.
That exhibit was the inspiration and spiritual foundation for RUMBLE, the movie. Stevie and Tim came to us at Rezolution– because we have made indigenous themed films for over 20 years– with the idea for the documentary. We jumped at the chance.
It is rare when a great idea comes your way, especially when a great idea that crosses over into the mainstream comes your way. We knew RUMBLE had the power to touch a very wide audience with a story that has never been told–so we jumped in with both feet–and never looked back.
WIFV: Childhood influences are a big part of the stories in this film. What particular cultural, artistic and musical traditions influenced your own childhood?
BAINBRIDGE: I grew up listening to Hank Williams with my Dad. We would sing our hearts out in the car on those long drives that are part of Canadian life. Hank Williams is one quarter Choctaw and part of the story of country music that is on the cutting room floor!!
I still want to help tell the story of the White, Native and Black origins of country music–my Celtic ancestors mixing with Black and Native people to create one of America’s greatest musical genres!!
WIFV: Why has this remarkable story always remained an insider secret–until now?
BAINBRIDGE: Native people had to hide their identity for much of early American history. If you identified as Native in violent early America you could be killed–because it meant you still had claim to the land. You could be 90 percent Native and 10 percent Black but you were still classified as Black. Why? Because it stopped you from ever claiming to be Native and claiming the land that was stolen.
That is how it was in racist America when “The Blues” was born. So, naturally, we haven’t heard the full story–of the mixing of Native and Black–and White, too.
There would be no blues and jazz without African Americans– there should be no misunderstanding about that. Period.
But blues and jazz is the result of the experience of African American people in America–and that history included indigenous people–totally!!
WIFV: What is the main take away you hope viewers will have after seeing and listening to so many indigenous performers and their amazing music?
BAINBRIDGE: America needs to look at the foundations of the country–and to tell the full history. Once we tell our origin stories inclusively, (the story of all of us) we can build a nation (America and Canada) on strong foundations. Right now, our foundations are weak and our countries are weak because we do not know who we really are.
We definitely have Christian roots to our countries–but we also have 10,000-20,000 years of indigenous knowledge about our home here in America as well. And we can sense that. Anyone who has been out on the land knows that.
WIFV: What drove your approach for absorbing so much material–all the archival footage, anecdotes and marvelous interviews–distilling it, and shaping it all within a valuable historical and social context?
BAINBRIDGE: I approached it like a woman. I am a gatherer. I work well in groups of women who also like to gather. That’s not to say that women directors can’t be hunters–they absolutely can be!!
But I approached this movie like a gatherer and I was honored to work within a group of strong, creative women gatherers–who were the center of the research and archives.
Women are very good at putting their ego aside. They are good at listening to various points of view–to deep listening–both of which are really important skills in good research and archival searches.
Also, women are good at hiring the best and then getting out of their way. And I think women can do that easier than guys, sometimes, because guys are too caught up in being “the big guy” in the group.
That said, we loved working with our guys too–they were awesome. I adore all of their testosterone and smarts!!
WIFV: What part did you play in guiding the content, look and length of the edited sequences?
BAINBRIDGE: I was there every step of the way. That said, I had lots of help. We had two editors and one story consultant. Those three people were central to getting the great stories out.
Documentary is about telling a good story or several good stories. Nothing more. So having people who are deft and smart about telling good stories on your team is crucial. I learned a ton from all of them.
WIFV: Are you producing any RUMBLE-related educational materials or games to raise awareness of indigenous music and its influences on popular music?
BAINBRIDGE: PBS and Vision Maker Media have plans to distribute the film and provide lesson plans for educational institutions.
Also, we will have a partnership with the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, a non-profit organization that Stevie Van Zandt established. (Van Zandt is best known as Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist in the E-Street Band, host of the venerable Underground Garage radio show out of NYC, and an awesome actor in The Sopranos and Lilyhammer). The foundation will create lesson plans to introduce K-12 students across the country to RUMBLE and to broader issues of Native American life. They have done similar programs with the Ron Howard film, THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK. And Beyoncé and Santana clips will accompany lesson plans for the PBS series, Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music.
WIFV: What was the most difficult aspect of making RUMBLE?
BAINBRIDGE: People’s schedules!! Every star in the film (Iggy Pop, Slash, Steven Tyler, and so on) were so generous and so positive about being in the film. But their schedules are insane. That was the hardest part of making the film–finding a moment in a star’s busy schedule and nailing it down.
WIFV: What life lessons have you learned from making this film? What makes you “rumble”?
BAINBRIDGE: I learned that good filmmaking is about telling a good story–an entertaining story–with tragedy and joy–and especially with music. I learned to trust simple storytelling.
WIFV: What would you do differently, knowing what you know now–after doing all the research and sharing this powerful story with the world?
BAINBRIDGE: I would have discussed each story a bit more before a shoot–there are so many choices about what part of a story to tell. I really liked discussing the story with my creative colleagues. I think we all felt quite empowered near the end of the process, when we were very adept at discussing the stories we were telling.
WIFV: What advice do you have for emerging women filmmakers?
BAINBRIDGE: Work with people who respect women.
Work with people you admire.
Seek out brilliant people to be your collaborators.
WIFV: Thank you very much! We are honored to share your thoughts on our Women in Film and Video (WIFV-DC) website.
BAINBRIDGE: Thank you so much, and all the very best to the WIFV community!!