Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: Questions on ‘The Last Conquistador’

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Independent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup. Today, he raises some questions that came to mind as he watched the most recent POV film.

So, I’ll repeat what I said in my Monday post that I think The Last Conquistador is a really good film, but, starting here, I want to position myself as a gadfly to the POV filmmakers. I’m partly inspired by Lars Von Trier‘s Five Obstructions, a documentary about how he has a fellow filmmaker make the same film over and over, but having to overcome new obstacles each time. To Von Trier, discord and disruption lead to greater creativity.

So, in that spirit, and in the general spirit of constructive critcism and open dialogue, I want to push the POV filmmakers a little. I’ve got a feeling they’ll push right back.

And so here are two questions I’d like to pose about the film:

1) Was I alone in thinking from about the mid-point of the doc that there was a really obvious solution to the impasse? Just build another statue that honors the Native Americans, one that can be placed close to the one of Oñate, without marring that statue’s place, but serving as a counterpoint? Would that have cost too much money? If so, I’d still have liked to have heard this discussed. By showing Houser during the credits, discussing a similar idea with a new statue on the Mexican-U.S. border, I suppose this issue is addressed, but it feels like an after thought. Was this never really part of the discussion during the building of the original statue?

2) By using a voice-over that articulates the Native Americans’ position, while showing images of the white people at a fundraiser, wasn’t that pushing the filmmaker’s editorial voice too far? I felt that this was the one instance when the filmmakers went over the line, and turned what’s a pretty balanced narrative into a piece of advocacy. It’s ironic that this also happens to be one of the more enjoyably comical moments in the doc, but perhaps at too much of a cost? I wonder if other POV-viewers shared the same questions, and if the filmmakers would mind chiming in on the matter.

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • seigrela

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    After watching the documentary on Onate I wondered how would the Jewish people would feel about a statue of the Furer. Granted, the situations are not quite the same, but to the people involved – the native americans, both were holocausts.

  • Danielle Caron

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    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    The first thing that came to mind, as I watched this fascinating (and sad) documentary was “How would Europeans in general react if Germany was to erect a giant statue of Hitler in the middle of Berlin?”. Similar situation, smaller scale.
    Moreover, towards the end of the film, the artist made a comment that I found quite astonishing (did I dream?), by saying that he wasn’t aware that art could have such a power. I am puzzled. I don’t know of any artist being unaware of the power of art. That’s pretty much one of the first things we learn at art school or in art books, etc. So I am really surprised of such a statement. It sounded quite strange.

  • Joan Karnuth

    FOREIGNID: 16756
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    You may use HTML tags for style and links.
    It is ironic that the statue is heroic but the historical person is not.
    The Indians probably cannot afford a competing statue. The Anglos probably would not fund a competing statue.
    I hope the Indians can find ways to make the truth known to the rest of us, possibly using the statue as a focal point. Like, an Indian version of “yellow ribbons.” Maybe a PowWow, a peace pipe ceremony, sand painting, or whatever Pueblo Indians do to honor/memorialize their dead. Perhaps those Indians who spend a lot of their time among the Anglos can think of new, unique symbols which would be understood by both cultures.
    South Africa’s Truth Commissions have shown that while sharing the truth is painful, it is also a healing work.