Dreamkeeper (2003) poster

Dreamkeeper (2003)


USA/Germany. 2003.


Director – Steve Barron, Teleplay – John Fusco, Producers – Ron McLeod & Matthew O’Connor, Photography – Jon Joffin, Music – Stephen Warbeck, Visual Effects Supervisor – Nicholas Brooks, Visual Effects – Double Negative, Giant Killer Robots, Glassworks, LA Maison & Revision Effects, Special Effects Supervisor – Tim Storvick, Production Design – Ken Rempel. Production Company – Hallmark Entertainment/RTC Television Germany.


Eddie Spears (Shane), August Schellenberg (Grandfather Pete Chasing Horse), Gil Birmingham (Sam), Scott Grimes (Red Headed Stranger), Sheila Tousey (Janine). 1. Chaske Spencer (Eagle Boy), Gloria Eshkibok (Cave (Ugly) Woman), Kimberly Norris Guerrero (Pretty Woman). 2. Sean Wei Mah (High Horse), Sage (Blue Bird Woman/Mae Little Wounded). 3. Alex Rice (She Crosses the Water), Michael Greyeyes (Thunder Spirit), Griffin Powell-Arcand (Thunder Boy). 4. Scott Grimes (Tehan), Delanna Studi (Talks a Lot), Nathaniel Arcand (Broken Lance). 5. John Trudell (Coyote), Gary Farmer (Iktomi), Geraldine Keams (Iktomi’s Wife). 6. Dakota House (Dirty Belly), Floyd Red Crow Westerman (Chief Iron Spoon), Tantoo Cardinal (Old Pawnee Woman). 7. Teneil Whiskeyjack (Quill Work Girl), Mato (Little Brother). 8. Misty Upham (Columbia River Chief’s Daughter), Saginaw Grant (Old Medicine Man), Lawrence Bayne (Voice of Raven). 9. Travis Dugas (Ekuskini).)


At the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota, Shane is in trouble with local heavies over owed money. Shane’s mother insists that Shane drive his aging grandfather Pete to the All Nations Powwow in Albuquerque. As they set out, Pete tells Shane stories of American Indian legend and bravery:– 1:- The warrior Eagle Boy went on a vision quest. During the quest, Eagle Boy fought and killed the snake woman Uncegila and took her heart, which granted him riches, women and the ability to see the future. 2:- The young Lakota warrior High Horse desired the beautiful Blue Bird Woman but her father refused to give her hand. In his despair, High Horse’s only recourse was a suicidal ride into the enemy Crow camp. However, this had unexpected results. 3:- The Mohawk woman She Crosses the Water was wooed by a Thunder Spirit who had fallen in love with her. She joined him in the sky but had to return to Earth when she she became pregnant and gave birth to a son – only to be given the stipulation by the Thunder Spirit that the son must never be struck. 4:- The redheaded white child Tehan had been adopted by a Kiowa tribe. Amongst the tribe, Tehan was ridiculed for his pale looks. He left feeling rejected, only to be captured by white men. His half-sister Talks a Lot mounted a determined effort to rescue him. 5:- The tricksters Coyote and Iktomi cause mischief. 6:- Dirty Belly is the laughing stock of a Pawnee tribe, until he finds an abandoned dun pony that tells him how to become a successful warrior. 7:- The Cheyenne maiden Quill Work Girl dreamt about having seven brothers and then discovered them in the wild. They adopted her but then the buffalo chief came wooing Quill Work Girl as its bride. 8:- A great sickness came upon the people of the North Columbia River and the only hope, as told by a raven, was for a woman of the tribe to give herself to the Earth. 9:- The Blackfoot hunter Ekuskini pursued the ghost of his father through the wilderness.

Dreamkeeper is a tv mini-series from Hallmark Entertainment, the production arm of the Hallmark cable channel. Hallmark has produced a number of other genre mini-series, as well as adaptations of numerous classic stories, for television. (A full list of Hallmark’s genre productions is at the bottom of the page). Director Steve Barron had made two other Hallmark productions previously with Merlin (1998) and Arabian Nights (2000).

Dreamkeeper is a rare screen venture into American Indian mythology. Aside from the incorporation of American Indian supernatural elements into the odd horror film – Shadow of the Hawk (1976), Wolfen (1981) and in particular The Manitou (1978) and Nightwing (1979), or the Native American mysticism in films like The Doors (1991) and Disney’s Pocahontas (1995) – we have rarely ever seen American Indian myth on screen before. Indeed, Dreamkeeper may be the first ever attempt to depict American Indian myths and legends on screen.

Dreamkeeper tells nine different stories, each seemingly drawn from a different tribal background. The episodes are contrasted with a modern wraparound segment that shows the disparity between the mythic heroism and the impoverished condition of the modern Indian. All of this is depicted on screen with what one has no doubt is a high degree of cultural authenticity. Indeed, screenwriter John Fusco, who also penned Crossroads (1986), Loch Ness (1996), The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016) and The Shack (2017), as well as such Western/Indian themed films as Young Guns (1988), Thunderheart (1992) and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002), has been adopted by Oglala-Lakota tribes and speaks their language. (In fact, the Pine Ridge, South Dakota reservation where Dreamkeeper starts out from is the Oglala-Lakota home territory). The mini-series has been cast with real Native Americans. Among these in particular, Eddie Spears, the young unknown actor who plays Shane, is very good.

Native American myths and legends in Dreamkeeper (2003)
Native American myths and legends

The series is extremely well written and impressive. Like his previous Hallmark mini-series Arabian Nights, Steve Barron creates a work that tells a variety of stories and weaves a strong framing story around them using a storyteller as narrator. August Schellenberg’s “I will tell you what happened tomorrow if I am still in this world” is very similar to Scheherazade’s storytelling cliffhangers in Arabian Nights.

Barron uses the narrative format with a great fluidity, weaving in and out of stories, using aspects of one to reflect and occasionally intersect with the other. There becomes a decided playfulness to this – a bullet shot in one tale flies across and pierces the radiator of the pickup truck in the present, or characters are seen to be sitting behind the hill as Shane and grandfather drive past below; while Eagle Boy’s wrestle with the snake Uncegila is intercut with Eddie Spears diving into the water to rescue the people in the vehicle that crashed into the lake.

Some of the stories are briefer than the others – the Iktomi and Coyote piece never amounts to anything, nor does the final episode with the hunter Ekuskini pursuing his father’s ghost through the snows. Particularly imaginative is the story of She Crosses the Water and the Thunder Spirit, which Steve Barron shoots in artily abstract visuals, surrounding the actors with what looks like a series of impressionist watercolours come to life. The episode is full of striking images of the two meeting in a swirl of blue impressionistic colours and the ghost warrior rowing across the sky in his canoe, just like something out of What Dreams May Come (1998). There are some wonderful images in the Quill Work Girl story of the tree growing to the heavens and the maddened buffalo battering against its roots and Quill Work Girl and her adopted brothers going on to become part of the heavens. Steve Barron’s camerawork, even though shot for the small screen rather than the big screen, is wonderfully expansive, with cameraman Jon Joffin shooting beautiful widescreen shots of pony and buffalo stampedes across the plains or of tribes massed up to go into war.

Scott Grimes in Dreamkeeper (2003)
Scott Grimes (centre r) – a white child among the Kiowa tribe

Steve Barron’s other genre productions are:– the computer romance Electric Dreams (1984), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), Coneheads (1993), The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996), Rat (2000) about a man who turns into a rat and the superhero comedy Supervized (2019), as well as the tv mini-series’ Merlin (1998), Arabian Nights (2000), Delete (2013) and Around the World in 80 Days (2021). Barron also founded Canada’s Mainframe Entertainment, the world’s first commercial computer animation company and the producers of tv series such as Reboot (1994-2001) and Beast Wars: Transformers (1996-9).

Hallmark’s other works of genre note are:– the sf mini-series White Dwarf (1995), The Canterville Ghost (1996), Gulliver’s Travels (1996), Harvey (1996), the Christmas musical Mrs Santa Claus (1996), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1996), the children’s horror Shadow Zone: The Undead Express (1996), the medical thriller Terminal (1996), The Odyssey (1997), the cloning thriller The Third Twin (1997), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997), the monster movie Creature (1998), Merlin (1998), the sf film Virtual Obsession (1998), Aftershock: Earthquake in New York (1999), Alice in Wonderland (1999), Animal Farm (1999), A Christmas Carol (1999), the tv series Farscape (1999-2003), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1999), The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1999), The Magical Land of the Leprechauns (1999), Arabian Nights (2000), the modernised Hamlet (2000), Jason and the Argonauts (2000), Prince Charming (2000), the mini-series The 10th Kingdom (2000) set in an alternate world where fairy-tales are true, the medical thriller Acceptable Risk (2001), The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells (2001), Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (2001), The Monkey King/The Lost Empire (2001), My Life as a Fairytale: Hans Christian Andersen (2001), Snow White (2001), the series Tales from the Neverending Story (2001), the fantasy adventure Voyage of the Unicorn (2001), the Sherlock Holmes film The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire (2002), Dinotopia (2002), The Hound of the Baskervilles (2002), the Christmas film Mr St. Nick (2002), the Christmas film Santa Jr (2002), Snow Queen (2002), the modernised A Carol Christmas (2003), Children of Dune (2003), the children’s monster film Monster Makers (2003), Angel in the Family (2004), A Christmas Carol (2004), Earthsea (2004), 5ive Days to Midnight (2004) about forewarning of the future, Frankenstein (2004), King Solomon’s Mines (2004), the Christmas film Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus (2004), Dinotopia: Quest for the Ruby Sunstone (2005), Hercules (2005), the thriller Icon (2005), Meet the Santas (2005), Mysterious Island (2005), the disaster mini-series Supernova (2005), The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb (2006), the alien invasion mini-series Final Days of Planet Earth (2006), Merlin’s Apprentice (2006), the bird flu disaster mini-series Pandemic (2006), the disaster mini-series 10:15 Apocalypse (2006), the psychic drama Carolina Moon (2007), the psychic drama Claire (2007) and the ghost story Something Beneath (2007).

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