SXSW Review: American Interior

Getting back to your roots takes on a whole new meaning, as Welsh musician Gruff Rhys journeys off the beaten track on an American road trip to reenact the historical journey undertaken by his 18th Century ancestor John Evans.

John Evans’ set off on a fantastical journey In search of a lost tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans, which begun in 1792 and continued onwards for several years. John Evans’ trekked across the American northwest with just $1.75, along his journey he lands himself in the middle of an inter-continental feud, gets arrested and gets himself hunted by assassins. All of which unknowing at the time lands him a hidden place in the history books being the first to map the long winding Missouri river. Which set the groundwork for the first year of the Lewis and Clark expedition, as it is believed that Lewis and Clark had used Evans’ maps as a baseline for their venture into the unknown.

Having been simultaneously co-directed by Gruff Rhys the feature length documentary, partly shot in Black and White, combines a subtle coating of comedy with a range of interestingly wacky visual effects including animations, puppetry and an intriguing colorsplash technique. The documentary is whilst interesting also rather comedic as Rhys takes the audience through his adventure with his unphotographed relative, mostly by recreating him into a muppet style puppet which accompanies him on his journey through the American Interior.

The narrative feature also provides before unwitnessed insight into native american history as Gruff journeys through the various tribes settlements along the Missouri river. Along the river Gruff meets groups of Native American descendants each as heritage honoring as the next, the descendants take Rhys through some of the ancient traditions of their tribes including spearfishing, their settlements and the their forever fading languages of their natives. As well as looking at the history of Native American culture the documentary also uncovers the effect that Welsh traditions, language and culture have had on America, even considering the elusiveness of the Welsh speaking Native American tribe.

The journey takes the audience from Baltimore to St. Louis and up along the Missouri river, all in the footsteps of John Evans and it is one of the most superb culture based documentaries in recent history. Its also a can’t miss if you are deeply interested or intrigued about Native American and Welsh cultural histories. Although it is also good fun for the average viewer with its spiced in layer of comedy.

Watch the trailer for Gruff Rhys’s American Interior below which will be released in UK cinemas on May 9th although a US release date has yet to be announced.

About the Author

James Rush is the Founding, News & Chief Editor for TFM.

Posted in Festivals, Hot Docs, Movies, Popular, Reviews, SXSW Film Festival