What’s immediately striking about MEKKO is that it is an examination of the connections between Native American incarceration and homelessness that we should probably be seeing more of. In fact, according to a paper submitted by Richard Martel (cited in a 2012 report on homelessness amongst indigenous populations in America), “dysfunction is instilled intergenerationally and contributes greatly to an inability to function and thrive in the seemingly overwhelmingly complex society created by the dominant culture.”
Set in Oklahoma, the worst place in the world to be homeless (as one character puts it) because “even the rich are poor,” Mekko (Rod Rondeaux), a native Muscogee, has just been released from almost two decades behind bars. No longer having a home or a family to return to, he finds a new family in the city’s homeless. However, a violent man (Zahn McClarnon) in his new community forces him to return to some of the trouble paths he thought were behind him. Director Sterlin Harjo describes the film as “an experiment,” casting real people from the homeless community in the area, and on this level the film takes on an incredible degree of gritty realism. Rondeaux, previously known as a stuntman and on screen in Meek’s Cutoff, gives a central performance that is both charismatic and weighty, completely inhabiting the titular character and drawing in the energy of the film around him, especially in his relationships with a waitress (Sarah Podemski) and fellow street people. There’s a laid-back observational approach to much of the film, which makes some of the incongruous music jarring, especially with the sometimes awkward flashbacks to memories of a more spiritual time in Mekko’s life. Even at a taught 84 minutes, the final act loses some of its momentum. This indie feature definitely wears its lack of budget and time on its sleeve though, and it’s undoubtedly a significant marking of Harjo as a storyteller to follow.
2015 | US | DIR: Sterlin Harjo | WRITERS: Sterlin Harjo | CAST: Rod Rondeaux, Zahn McClarnon, Sarah Podemski | DISTRIBUTOR: Vendetta Films (AUS) | RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes | RATING: ★★★½ (7/10)