The producer of "Dark Wind" says release of the murder mystery filmed on Indian reservations in Arizona has been delayed by a studio's financial problems, not controversy over the movie itself.
Producer Patrick Markey also rejected criticism by some members of the Hopi Tribe that the movie defames them and invades their privacy."That's absolutely not true," Markey said in a telephone interview from California. "We did months of script revisions to satisfy the Hopi people. We completely turned that script upside down."
The movie is based on a novel by New Mexico author Tony Hillerman, celebrated for his portrayal of Indian cultures, particularly the Navajo.
Markey said he and actor-filmmaker Robert Redford, who was executive producer of "Dark Wind," are seeking a new studio to release the film.
It originally had been scheduled for release last October but financial problems of the Los Angeles-based Carolco Pictures Corp. pushed the release date back to January. Carolco then pulled out altogether, Markey said.
"We just kind of got caught up in that," he said of Carolco, which in January got $55 million from creditors in a refinancing that averted bankruptcy proceedings.
Markey said the producers hope to sign up a new studio to release "Dark Wind" within weeks.
Meanwhile, he said, casting agents are traveling on Indian reservations in Arizona and elsewhere in the West looking for actors for another murder mystery based on a Hillerman novel, "A Thief of Time." The heroes in both Hillerman books are Navajo tribal police detectives who operate in the Four Corners region, home to both the Hopi and the Navajos.
Redford plans to direct "A Thief of Time" himself, and he and Markey will co-produce the film, Markey said.
Regarding "Dark Wind," Markey said he was "happy with it as a producer." However, he said, "Bob is not entirely pleased with the picture."
Part of Redford's dissatisfaction has to do with difficulties in finding Indians for starring roles, Markey said. He added that Redford won't go ahead with "A Thief of Time" if Indians can't be cast in leading roles.
A full-blooded Indian, Gary Farmer, was cast in one major role, as Deputy "Cowboy" Dashee in "Dark Wind." However, Redford was criticized because Lou Diamond Phillips - whose father is part Cherokee - plays Navajo detective Jim Chee.
"It was always his dream to use Native Americans," Markey said of Redford.
Redford got permission from the Navajo and Hopi governments to film on their reservations, but a dissident faction within the Hopi Tribe contends the tribal council lacked authority to act on the matter.
The dissident faction, traditionalist religious leaders of the Hopi village of Shungopavi, is considering filing suit in tribal court against Redford and Hopi Council Chairman Vernon Masayesva.
Village President Ronald Wadsworth has directed the village's attorney, Frances Jue of Albuquerque, N.M., to prepare a suit. She said from New Mexico that the village council would decide soon whether to proceed with the lawsuit.
Jue said the suit would be based on objections to material in a script that included scenes depicting a Hopi village as the site of illegal drug dealing, its religious leader being knocked out or drugged and mistaken for a drunk, and a Hopi ceremonial mask being thrown on the ground.
"What that does is send a massage that Hopi is the center of drugs, a drug capital, if you will," she said from Albuquerque.
Although the film has yet to be commercially released, village leaders have heard of various test screenings and believe the tribe has been defamed and its privacy invaded, the attorney said.
"If a third person sees it, it doesn't have to have worldwide distribution," she said.
The suit would seek to block commercial release of "Dark Wind," and might also seek money damages, she said.
If the suit is filed, it could end up in federal court, she said, explaining, "We'll wait to see if we can get Robert Redford into tribal court."
Masayesva, through staff assistant Lori Minkler, declined comment except to say the matter had been referred to legal counsel.
Markey said the film's producers went to great lengths to modify "Dark Wind" to meet objections about the script. All the scenes objected to by Shungopavi's leaders were in an early version of the script and were cut from the movie as filmed, he said.
"All that is gone from the movie," he said. "People can judge for themselves. This lawsuit just seems to be a way for that traditional group to go after the tribal leaders."