Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published February 26, 2014 at 3:05 PM | Page modified February 27, 2014 at 9:15 AM

  • Share:
           
  • Comments (5)
  • Print

How Sherman Alexie came to produce ‘Winter in the Blood’

An interview with Seattle-based author Sherman Alexie, a producer of the movie “Winter in the Blood,” now playing at Northwest Film Forum.


Special to The Seattle Times

Most Popular Comments
Hide / Show comments
Sherman Alexie is a true national treasure (for both his first and second nations). I... MORE
Sherman Alexie is remarkable. MORE
Excellent post, mikesbike. Well said on all points. A national treasure indeed. MORE

advertising

Most filmmakers under the age of 50 who might have dreamed of turning the late James Welch’s 1974 novel “Winter in the Blood” into a feature probably never met the man.

The co-directors of the movie version of “Winter” (now playing at Northwest Film Forum), twin brothers Alex and Andrew Smith, 46, were baby-sat by Welch.

There is a certain inevitability about the way “Winter in the Blood,” a landmark work that helped kick off a literary wave of Native American writing, fell into the creative hands of the Smiths (”The Slaughter Rule”) and one of the film’s key producers: Seattle-based author Sherman Alexie.

Welch’s tale of a young Native American man (played by Chaske Spencer in the film) whose identity crisis sets him on a boozy, hallucinatory journey in a small Montana town, had an enormous impact on all concerned.

“The novel was the first, straight-up dose of Native American realism,” says Alexie, who spent his childhood on the Spokane Indian Reservation. “There were other books before and from the same time period, but they were overtly spiritual. There was nothing like Welch’s combination of realism and surrealism. He placed the Native American search for identity in the context of all literary searches for identity. It gave my life literary meaning.”

Alexie met Welch — at one time a visiting professor at the University of Washington — while in college and “knew him over the years. He was sweet and funny and had a bit of an edge to him.”

Alexie and the Smiths first crossed paths as young children. The twins’ mother, Annick Smith — co-editor of a celebrated anthology of Montana writing, “The Last Best Place,” and co-producer of Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It” — made a documentary that featured Alexie’s grandmother.

“I’m in it, briefly,” Alexie says. “There’s a shot at a powwow, and I’m stumbling through with my big government glasses on. I was 6 or 7.

“I knew Alex and Andrew when they were babies.”

The Smith brothers grew up with Welch. He was a friend of their parents. The author, who died at 62 in 2003, met his wife, Lois, at the Smiths’ house.

Though they found success in 2002 with the sports drama “The Slaughter Rule,” starring Ryan Gosling, the Smiths did not initially consider adapting “Winter” as a follow-up.

That possibility, says Alexie, “started with a tribute to Welch at the Richard Hugo House. I put together a little festival of short films based on James’ work. The Smith brothers made a film based on ‘Fools Crow,’ another Welch novel. So it was in the back of their minds [to direct ‘Winter’] after that.”

Alexie had no trepidation about the non-Native Smiths doing justice to the material.

“I don’t think there are any other white boys I would have trusted with the story,” he says. “It’s not just their personal connection to Jim but to western Montana and to Indians and non-Indians. They come from a long artistic tradition of looking at the intersection of Indian and white worlds.”

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com



News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

Where in the world are Seahawks fans?

Where in the world are Seahawks fans?

Put your marker on The Seattle Times interactive map and share your fan story.

Advertising

Partner Video

Advertising


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►