Tears of a Nation

By most estimates, nearly 4,000 Cherokee Native Americans died on the infamous Trail of Tears — the paths from Georgia to Oklahoma that some 17,000 Cherokees were forced to traverse in the late 1830s as part of Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act. And while denouncing and abhorring this regrettable historical stain is perfect fodder for writers like Howard Zinn and James Loewen, it's not the focus of The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy, the docudrama kicking off this weekend's third annual Denver Indigenous Film & Arts Festival.

Instead, Trail of Tears documents the level of "civilization" that the Cherokee Nation established while still on its native land; the inter-tribal rifts that resulted from the Removal Act and the differing opinions about the future of the Cherokee people; the horrific conditions and tragedies that occurred on the 1,200-mile journey; and the new life that began for the Cherokee people in Oklahoma — thousands of deaths later.

"We think this is such an important film," says Jeanne Rubin, the festival's director. "There's a lot of complexity to that whole historical era that is very well documented, and there are some emotional aspects to it, as one might suspect. But it's not accusatory."

James Garner and James Earl Jones, both of Cherokee ancestry, narrate parts of the film, as does Cherokee actor Wes Studi, who provides on-screen narration in his native language. Today's free screening starts at 7 p.m. in Sturm Hall, 2000 East Asbury Street on the University of Denver campus. The rest of the fest's fifteen films — all of which are by or about indigenous peoples and run Thursday through Sunday — will screen at Starz FilmCenter, 900 Auraria Parkway. Times and prices vary; for information, call 303-744-9686 or go to www.iiirm.org.
Sept. 27-Oct. 1

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Drew Bixby