The Exiles deserves some clarification, and thankfully there is some to be had. Its director, Kent MacKenzie, only made two features, this being one. Also, the film had basically never been shown to the public due to lack of distribution, until a 2008 restoration finally saw it released. Now, does all this mean the film is important enough to make the list? Never mind how good a film it may be; is its importance enough to essentially force the editors to include it on a list of must-see films? I ask because I had assumed this to be the case when The Exiles was added in the new edition, reading the blurb in the Book about it, but now, after seeing the film myself, I’m left asking that very question. And the more I think about it, the more an answer keeps popping up in my head: no. No it’s not.
The film is simple enough: a pseudo-documentarian account of the lives of young 20-something Native Americans who have left the reservations in favor of a more modern life in one of the districts of Los Angeles. It’s not a film that’s really meant to entertain, but educate, and provide cultural context and juxtaposition. The film starts off, for instance, with a slideshow of classical Native Americans, those who have lived in the 19th century when they had a bit more freedom and self-worth, set to tribal thumping of drums and a voiceover explaining the film to follow. It’s the film to follow that is the main point; we see how these modern day Indians live their new lives in L.A., separate and distinctly different from their ancestors, and it is meant to evoke thoughts and considerations in our minds… only it doesn’t, mainly because the film isn’t wholly nonfictional. The authenticity of the film is called into blatant question by the fact that this film exists in the form it exists in, as well as the fact that most of the audio was overdubbed in post, so don’t go into this thinking it’s a pure documentary, because it very clearly isn’t. It’s the fact that the film tries to play itself off so much as a nonfiction film that’s annoying; not because the film is doing so, since other films have gone that route and managed to pull it off, but because there is pretty much nothing else going for the film other than that. When the only thing going for your film is that it’s a real life account, and then the film turns out to not exactly be even that, then what do you have? Well… you have The Exiles; that’s what.
This is a great example of a film that might’ve deserved its spot in the National Film Registry, but that doesn’t mean it gets a free pass onto the list (or at least it shouldn’t). Frankly, given some time and a clear level-headed train of thought, I could probably make a pretty darn good case against this even being added to the archives at the Library of Congress; it’s a perfect example of a film, that was simply hard to find, not being important or worth enough to bother preserving for all time, either for its importance or for the simple fact that it may be lost if it were not to be. Well, no, it won’t be lost; it was just restored and released to the public, so there’s plenty of copies around. And besides, even taking into account the Book’s passage detailing how this film heralded a change in the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood (which I could also probably make a good case against), this film frankly doesn’t have the importance needed to select it for preservation, or if it does, it’s not enough to warrant its selection a mere year after it was restored. This really comes down to this not being a good enough film in almost any regard to bother seeking it out to watch. Besides the ethnicity it covers, this film’s been done before, and would be done plenty of times after, in better shape and form, so if you really need to have this experience before you die, then at least go with a better one.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10