Almost 50 years ago, Steve McQueen’s Bullitt famously chose genuine locations over sets, too deploying local figures in different roles to give the thriller a gritty sense of realism.
Tangerine, screening at last year’s Sydney Film Festival, employed the same technique to a much greater extent, with Mekko continuing in the best of this tradition to impart swathes of reality to this Indigenous drama set in the less fortunate fringes of Oklahoma City.
Mekko (Rod Rondeaux, former professional rodeo performer turned stuntman for a string Hollywood westerns) gets out of prison after 19 years only to find his family want nothing to do with him. Forced onto the street, a few old and new acquaintances help him out as he struggles with poverty and adjusting to a very different life. Interspersed with local and cultural legends, Mekko’s upbringing and heritage are an intimate part of the story, as well as being intricately tied to the film’s most vivid moments.
These instances, while a backbone to the story, at least for its earlier stages are noticeably infrequent. Choosing to build on its folklore to a much greater extent in Mekko’s latter half, Director Sterlin Harjo’s handiwork is a fascinating and intriguing insight into aspects of Indigenous culture, on numerous occasions related with resounding effect.
The utilization of city locals as cast and crew proffered one of Mekko’s wisest gambles. Visibly in cases none too au fait with being in front of the camera, only occasionally rendering the casting choices distracting, their presence, along with the often heart-rending Rondeaux, imbues whole parts of the film with a taut and palpable authenticity. The city locations further contribute to some of Mekko’s darkest and most human scenes, and together with a number of Native American cast members offer a perspective on what for many will be an unknown world.
Mekko is screening at the Sydney International Film Festival on Sunday 11 June and Monday 13 June, for tickets head to the Festival website