"The desolate image of modern man cut off from any meaningful tradition, preserving identity only through group difference and hostility toward the patterns of environment, is, as people used to say, an 'eye-opener'... It [THE EXILES] is a work conceived in the tradition of Robert Flaherty - but instead of recreating a culture that has dissapeared, MacKenzie shows us the living ruins...In the future, those who are interested in the American motion picture, are likely to refer to 1961 not in terms of the big Hollywood productions, but as the year of THE EXILES and Sunday."[Pauline Kael]
"Mackenzie lived only long enough to make one other feature, but this film's lower-case urban poetry suggests a major talent...It can hold its own next to John Cassavetes' Shadows, which came out a year earlier...It has beautiful high-contrast black-and-white photography, a dense and highly creative sound track, and moving portraits, and it;s refreshingly free of clichés and platitudes - all the makings of an instant classic."[JONATHAN ROSENBAUM CHICAGO READER]
THE EXILES chronicles one night in the lives
of young Native American men and women living in the Bunker Hill
district of Los Angeles. Based entirely on interviews with the
participants and their friends, the film follows a group of exiles —
transplants from Southwest reservations — as they flirt, drink, party,
fight, and dance.
Filmmaker Kent Mackenzie first conceived of The Exiles during the making of his short film Bunker Hill—1956
while a student at the University of Southern California. In July 1957,
Mackenzie began to hang around with some of the young Indians in
downtown Los Angeles. After a couple of months, he broached the subject
of making a film that would present a realistic portrayal of Indian
life in the community.
Mackenzie spent long hours making friends and earning
the confidence of these Indians who finally agreed to re—enact a scenes
from their lives for this picture. All of the actors, some of whom were
recruited on the spur of the moment during the shooting, play
themselves in the film.
The Exiles was directed and photographed by
a group of young filmmakers — Mackenzie's college mates, fellow
employees, and friends holding down a variety of day—to—day jobs in the
motion picture industry. Much of the picture was shot on "short ends,"
the leftovers of 1,000—foot rolls (varying from 100 to 300 feet of
stock) discarded by major film producers.
In collaboration with cinematographers John Morrill, Erik Daarstad, and Robert Kaufman, the shooting of The Exiles
began in January 1958 and the first trial composite print was privately
screened in April 1961. Premiering in the Venice Film Festival that
year, the film received acclaim from many critics but tragically never
found commercial distribution.
It was Thom Andersen's compilation documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself
which kicked off the rediscovery of this lost masterwork. Andersen
contacted the daughters of Mackenzie to receive permission to use
footage to illustrate the lost neighborhood of Bunker Hill. Although
the original negative and fine—grain (interpositive) existed for the
film, it was decided that a theatrical distribution of the film could
put the materials at risk. So Milestone, in cooperation with USC's film
archivist Valarie Schwan, brought the film to preservationist Ross
Lipman and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.