We sat down with acclaimed filmmaker David Sutherland to talk with him about his unforgettable portrait of Robin Charboneau, a 32-year-old divorced single mother and Oglala Sioux woman living on North Dakota’s Spirit Lake Reservation. His film, Kind Hearted Woman — a special co-presentation of FRONTLINE and Independent Lens — premieres April 1 & 2 at 10 PM (check local listings).
What led you to make this film?
I was trying to reach out to another forgotten corner of the American landscape, to put a face on a Native family so that we could see them close-up with all the detail that illuminates the rich reality of their lives.
How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
I talk to them in my own voice. Everyone needs to adapt their own personality and talk to everybody the way they are – from your heart. People will understand that. I came back – if I said I was going to be there and return again and again, I kept my word and I did that.
What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?
There’s a scene with Darren (Robin’s boyfriend) lifting weights, while his narration talks about how he would love to romance Robin. In the background, a song plays in which a native man sings such lyrics as, “I am just an Indian Marlboro Man.” The scene really showed Darren’s warmth, his vanity, his romantic side and other elements of his personality.
Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
While filming, I was most moved by the scene where Robin speaks for the first time publicly about a lot of the abuse she suffered in her life and trying to heal from it. In her speech, she integrates her poetry with the horrors of her life experience, and tells the audience she’s just now learning how to love and how to be a good mother.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
I’ve lost all my ambition. The only thing that keeps me motivated is that I love doing it. And when I stop doing it, I miss it.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
Public media has embraced me, represents what I stand for, and has given me several opportunities in my career. Public television has always presented my work in a way which is meaningful and hit an audience that responded to it.
What are your three favorite films?
Raging Bull, Red Rock West, and No Country for Old Men.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Many people tell you that it’s impossible and that it’s an impractical dream. I think that may be true, but it you really want to do it, you can do it.