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Odanah native's film to debut at Sundance

Corbine Jr.


Lyle Corbine Jr. remembers clearly the day his mother brought home a copy of the Bill Murray film "Lost in Translation."

He was maybe 13 years old, and the movie connected with the Bad River native in an unexpected way.

"Bill Murray is a guy who makes a friend in Japan and it's about their friendship, them coming together in their loneliness, and the end was really sad and it kind of shook me," Corbine said.

"I really think that night changed the course of my life," he said. "I was feeling pretty alienated in my own life like they were. I was living in Onalaska and there were no other Native people around. So I was really culturally disconnected as well."

Corbine, 31, who attended elementary school in Ashland, already was a budding writer at 13. But seeing that movie set him on a new path as a screenwriter — a path that has led to this weekend.

Corbine's first feature-length film will debut Saturday to a sold-out audience at the Sundance Film Festival, where it is among 10 movies competing, chosen from thousands of submissions from across the globe.

Corbine already has received critical acclaim for two short movies he wrote, "Shinaab" and "Shinaab, Part II," but his new movie, "Wild Indian," is propelling him to new heights. "Variety" magazine named him one of 2021's 10 Directors to Watch, he recently signed a deal to direct some television commercials, and he's now pitching two scripts he's writing to major studios in Los Angeles.

Oh, and he's also developing a friendship with Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford.

But the road to his mentorship with Redford was long and bumpy. It began in Bad River, and no one knows where it will end.

'Feeling disconnected'

Though he grew up in Odanah and his parents still live there — father Lyle Sr., who goes by Mitch, is general manager of the casino, and his mother Carole Livingston, is a psychologist — Corbine bounced around Wisconsin and Minnesota as a teen and young man.

He ended up dropping out of high school in Brainerd and searching for a path.

"I found, in the four different high schools I went to, I was just feeling pretty disconnected by that point," he said. "I always knew I wanted to be an artist and felt I could do that without a formal high school diploma."

Corbine was writing prose, dabbling in screenplays, and struggling with the same thing every other writer goes through: finding his writing voice.

He got his equivalency diploma, started taking classes at a community college, and then got accepted into the University of Minnesota, where he began studying English and philosophy.

He kept writing and also was a musician, considering a probably notlucrative career as a classical guitar player, when he took a chance at a local competition.

"The first one I made was a little student film for the 48 Hour Film Project in Minneapolis. You would have 48 hours to write, film, edit and deliver a fully executed film, and then they would screen it a week later," Corbine said. "We did that every year for about five years – they were all really bad. They all look terrible now."

Pretty bad, but also pretty life-changing.

Corbine dropped out of college and dove headfirst into writing, finding the discipline to put pen to paper for eight hours a day and paying the rent working in retail, cleaning houses and taking other odd jobs.

"Those first six or seven years I made 20 or so (films)," he said. "I messed around with a lot of different styles; I tried zombie films, a knockoff of a film called "Drive," some arthouse films. It was all just a way of developing films that I really enjoyed — the really visceral raw style I was trying to develop."

Though today he strongly identifies himself as an Indigenous filmmaker, Corbine for a long time refused to delve into Native life in his work, for fear of being pigeonholed.

But there were stories of that Native experience that needed to be told, some drawn from his own life and some from lore.

His first short film accepted at Sundance was "Shinaab," — the abbreviation for Anishinaabe — a 2017 movie about a Native man in Minneapolis who is haunted by a sense that he doesn't belong.

It's a metaphor for Indigenous people's own sense of alienation in what used to be their own land — a theme that recurs in Corbine's life and work and continues in "Wild Indian."

Two years later, Corbine had a second short film, "Shinaab Part II," accepted at Sundance.

The doors finally were opening for him.

Young talent

Corbine's father, Mitch, said it was apparent even when he was in elementary school that Lyle had a gift.

"He was always pretty talented about writing and was always well spoken about his thoughts," Mitch Corbine said. "He was probably 13 or 14 when he really started taking a serious interest in the arts."

Plenty of kids dream about making it big as a musician or actor or celebrity. For all but a tiny handful, that's all it will ever be — a dream.

And life as a teen on an Indian reservation tends to crush dreams.

But if he's nothing else, Lyle Corbine is persistent, Mitch said. He remembers his son showing him his first films, some only a few minutes long, and being impressed — even if Lyle wasn't.

"He's always tough on himself," Mitch Corbine said. "And you have to put it in perspective. He was young, trying to figure out the equipment, the messages he was trying to get across. I've just learned to watch and talk about what he's producing and encourage him."

All those not-great short movies were the dues Lyle paid to get where it is today.

"As my short films got better and better, I met more and more people and ended up getting a fellowship through the Sundance Native and Indigenous Program in 2015 or '16," Lyle Corbine said. "From there I kind of started meeting the right people."

What he was producing finally was getting noticed.

'Wild Indian'

Even as those short films, the "Shinaab" movies, were starting to make waves, Lyle was working on another project.

It began in 2014, when he was living with his then-girlfriend in Berkeley, California.

"That's when I started feeling really disconnected and I was writing just really about my relationship with my cousins and how I was disconnected from my family," he said. "I kind of felt, what would it be like if one of my cousins comes to visit? Initially it was about me and my cousin trying to get along in Berkeley. I really had no expectation that the film would do anything."

Again, he persisted. He figures he wrote 20 different drafts of what became "Wild Indian," gathering suggestions from friends who read it.

Still, the screenplay wasn't going anywhere. That's when he injected a bit of darkness into the script, perhaps taken from a distant memory of his own life: What if the main character and his cousin had a hidden secret? What if they had killed another kid years ago, and hidden their crime and grown up with that guilt burning inside them?

"It ended up going into the story when it felt like the stakes of the story weren't high enough," Lyle said. "So I added that story element to make the tension even greater."

It worked. He brought the raw script to the Sundance Writer's Lab in 2017 and "started getting real notes from real wellknown screenwriters.

"It's just you and your script trying to make it work, getting it to a place where you can get it produced," he said. "A year later I went to the Sundance Directors Lab, which is a month-long process at the Sundance Resort."

There, real directors started picking the script apart and Lyle began putting it back together.

The meeting

It was at Sundance that Lyle and some actors were test-running the scene in which his main character and cousin reunite for the first time, seeing what worked and what didn't.

"We were talking it out and all of a sudden this driver walks into the house and says Robert Redford will be here in like 20 minutes. And we're all like, 'Are you serious?' And 20 second later he walks in," Lyle Corbine said. "He's just quiet and smiles and says, 'Hi, I'm Bob.' So we just pulled a chair up for him and it was like, 'OK, go, do the scene.'"

They did, and Redford offered the first of what would become several critiques of his work.

"Immediately he wasn't Robert Redford the actor, he was like Robert Redford my mentor, here to help us with the scene and to teach us," he said. "It was one of the most surreal moments of my life. You don't really know what starstruck means until you see such a recognizable face. It's like he's a friend, but he's never met you before."

The premiere

"Wild Indian" will premiere Saturday at Sundance, which is being held online this year because of the pandemic.

All 5,000 tickets already are sold, as are 70 tickets to a theater in Minneapolis where it also will debut — on the same screen where Corbine's first 48-hour film showed.

The movie stars some well-known actors — Jesse Eisenberg, nominated for an Oscar as Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network," and Michael Greyeyes, a Cree Indian who plays the cousin.

"Greyeyes delivers a gripping, enigmatic performance as a modern Native American man who has done terrible, unforgivable things," a Sundance summary of the movie says. "With a strong and compelling visual style that evokes both fascination and dread, 'Wild Indian' considers the cost of survival in a world as cruel as our own."

So with real actors and a real shot at the sort of prize that can launch a career, will "Wild Indian" finally put some money in Corbine's pocket?

"Probably not this one," he said with a laugh. "It's a small film and even though it has some big names, they came on because they liked me and the script. They took basically no pay to be in the film because they just wanted to help out. Everyone's first film is a small film. It's a step toward making the films I really want to make — Hollywood films and historical set pieces."

Meanwhile, he'll keep plugging away from his home in Mille Lacs, Minn., at his two current scripts, an action film and an historical movie. He just won a two-year fellowship at the Jerome Foundation, which funds experimental arts in Minnesota, and he'll soon be directing commercials, so he doesn't have to worry about putting food on the table.

And his father is confident, given his persistence, that Lyle will end up writing something special.

"Whether it's kids that are bullied or kids that are oppressed or whatever, those types of things seem to be what he's able to get feelings across about," Mitch said. "He likes to talk about why people do what they do and how they react in certain situations. He likes to learn about people. And I'm just really, really proud that all his hard work is finally being recognized."

Read more:

Odanah family says movie reopens wounds left by death of 11-year-old, Page 3A.

Local animal shelters swamped by 63-cat hoard

The Bay Area's two primary animal rescues are grappling with too much of a good thing after they persuaded a local family to surrender its hoard of more than 60 cats.

The colony was found living in a Northwoods home — the family was guaranteed anonymity in exchange for giving up the cats — and the animals now are being cared for by Helping PAWS rescue in Washburn, the Chequamegon Humane Association in Ashland and another Northwoods shelter. The cats were in bad condition but now are being treated for illnesses and some even have already been adopted by new owners.

"Imagine 63 cases of fleas, 126 ears with ear mites and other infections, 63 tummies full of a variety of parasites," said Gretchen Gerber, a Washburn veterinarian who works with Helping PAWS. "And that doesn't even begin to measure the task of treating all of the individual illnesses: sinus infections, pneumonia, diarrhea, a crumpled ear here, an injured eye there. Did I mention 63 spays-neuters?"

And even as the cats are going to new homes, those involved in the rescue are hoping the situation will help others to come forward and ask for help to prevent more animals suffering as these did.

The call for help

The local rescues got involved in early January when a volunteer at Helping PAWS connected with a member of

the family that owned the cats.

"That family member had commented that they would like to reach out for help but wasn't sure how to do that," Gerber said. "So it was the Helping PAWS volunteer who made the initial introductions."

Once Helping PAWS became aware of the size of the colony, it reached out to CHA for help in both crating and transporting the cats and then housing them as they were being cataloged and treated.

The conditions the rescuers found at the home were not surprising, given the situation.

"Only the two gals they knew were allowed to go in, but it was bad," said Ann Riederer, a volunteer and board member with CHA. "You can't have (63) cats in the house and have it not be. But she loved these cats. She had them all named and knew how old they were. They really think they were doing the right thing for them."

That's the difficult conundrum the rescues face: This is not the first hoarding situation they've encountered, and it surely won't be the last.

Getting help

Hoarding is considered a psychiatric disorder by physicians, defined as "the accumulation of a large number of animals and a failure to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care and to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals and the environment."

In the most extreme conditions, scores of animals can be found packed together in small homes with feces and urine covering the floors and walls and sick or even dead animals posing a health risk to both owners and other animals.

Cats are the most often-hoarded animal, according to "Psychiatric Times" magazine, and hoarders typically have an "unshakable belief that they are saving, rescuing or caring for their animals, which they see as being well or happy."

CHA Executive Director Kari Olinger, who once was part of an intervention with an owner of more than 200 animals, said pet rescuers often turn into amateur counselors in such situations.

"A lot of them are afraid of judgment and prosecution," she said of hoarders. "We tend not to prosecute here, or to turn it over for prosecution, because we would prefer to help. They're afraid to get in trouble and in the meantime the problem gets worse and worse and worse."

Worse and worse because once you have one tomcat and a fertile female in the house, well, kittens always come next.

"What do you do when the local vet wants $300 to spay one cat?" Riederer said. "The average person can't afford that. We want to give this family credit for doing the right thing. They're not terrible people or anything. They started out taking in cats and became overwhelmed."

That's the message all the rescuers involved want to spread: Call for help before it gets overwhelming.

New homes

Riederer said both shelters and authorities have a role to play in preventing the suffering — by both animals and people — that inevitably comes with hording.

"In the past, shelters would a lot of times not take privately owned animals," she said. "That has changed now. We want to help you do the right thing. You can't just let it go and hope for the best."

And Olinger believes more local officials need to be aware of the problem and act on it.

"Some towns and municipalities have limits on how many pets you can own. I think Ashland and Washburn do," she said. "But as you get in more rural areas, they don't have those policies or rules. Most people who are hording are out in the country where no one will notice. It's tricky situation."

The situation is made trickier still by the animals themselves. Often, hoarded pets revert to almost feral behavior and develop their own mental health issues.

"While cats are social animals with certain social needs, cats also have a strong requirement for personal space," Gerber, the veterinarian, said. "Cats that have to live together in a concentrated small space experience extreme stress. And extremely stressed individuals are much more susceptible to illness and also by their close proximity, are more likely to transmit contagious illness."

That was the case in this situation. But the cats were surprisingly well socialized and will be ready for new homes as soon as their medical problems are resolved.

"Only a very few have been extremely shy and lucky for us, an adopter stepped forward who specifically wanted to help with the less-adoptable individuals," Gerber said. "A lot of these kitties are already living their happily ever after; five from Helping PAWS are homed already."

And while Gerber and Olinger both consider this a success story with a happy ending, both also will be recovering from the hoard for some time. Helping PAWS takes in about 120 cats in a typical year, so this influx consumed six months of resources — and left Gerber with aching fingers from performing 35 volunteer spay and neuter operations.

"That means we will have to budget much more carefully for the next couple of months," she said. "But helping such a large number of deserving pets gives all our volunteers and supporters a really great feeling. With the Packers loss over the weekend, we really needed a big win and I think this is a really big win, especially for the kitties."

Changes sought in Ashland policing




Sandy Gokee has some advice for new Ashland Chief of Police Bill Hagstrom.

Gokee, a Red Cliff tribal member, said Ashland police and all other officers in the region need to become more aware about Ojibwe ways.

"It's kind of a buzzword, but cultural sensitivity training and understanding of the history between non-native authority and natives is needed," she said. "Even the term 'off the reservation' is a term meaning that an Indian was liable to be shot or arrested for being off the reservation without a permit."

Gokee said that phrase was an indicator of how generations of mistrust have developed.

"There are people of my parents' generation who would show up to the jails when they were arrested with black eyes and broken arms, and that's not how they were when they went into the police car," she said. "These aren't things that happened in the distant past."

Gokee has been an outspoken advocate for open conversation between the Native American and nonnative communities since her 14-year-old cousin, Jason Pero, was shot and killed by an Ashland County Sheriff's deputy in 2017.

It was a shooting that didn't have to happen, she said.

"Law enforcement is supposed to be protecting us, not shooting us down when we are in crisis mode," she said.

Hagstrom, who has served about a month as chief after being appointed as interim head in July when former Chief Jim Gregoire stepped down, doesn't disagree with Gokee.

In his first interview since taking over, he talked about his goal of getting everyone in the department through crisis-intervention training and other priorities he has for his officers.

Training is tops

Last year, about half of the Ashland department was able to take advantage of a grant to take crisis-intervention training.

"We still have to get the other half done, but the problem is, there are so many other demands for training,"

Hagstrom said.

Police cannot and should not be the only people involved when someone in the city is having a mental health or a drug or alcohol-induced crisis, Hagstrom said. A program involving community mental health professionals called the Chequamegon Accountable Community for Health is key to solving those problems.

"It is unique in Wisconsin," Hagstrom said. "It is bringing local health providers together to build safety plans for clients."

Police can access those safety plans and by having the correct information, they can prevent emergency detentions and wind down potentially dangerous situations.

Hagstrom said he also wants to reinstitute a drug-prevention program in the schools, which have been without a police-involved drug program since DARE ended in the early 2000s.

The programs he was looking at were more evidence-based than DARE, and included programs like Know Meth which targets methamphetamine use — one of the area's biggest threats, Hagstrom said. And reinstating copled drug-prevention programs also allow school kids to get to know police officers personally.

"When they have an issue later in life they will feel comfortable talking with them, because they have a relationship with them," he said.

Cultural training and awareness is crucial to an evolving police force, Hagstrom said.

"There are trainings that are available today that never were before," he said.

Serving minorities

Hagstrom understands that a disproportionate number of minorities are arrested by police, here and across the country. But he noted that many crime victims are also minority members.

Hagstrom said the most immediate thing he could do to address the concerns of the minority community is to seek more training for his department.

Laura Nagro, an Ashland resident and chairwoman of the county committee that oversees the county sheriff's department, wants any attempt to address minority issues to be a two-way conversation. She has called for community members to voice their concerns about local policing.

"We have a public that wants to talk about this change. We have leaders in Police Chief Bill Hagstrom and Sheriff Mick Brennan who want to talk about this, and that is what we have to have," she said. "In a democracy that is what carries us through. It is not finger pointing and looking for someone to take the blame, but to take the time to listen to each other and work things through."

Ashland City Council Member Wahsayah Whitebird, who is also a Bad River tribal member, said his constituents want more than just talk. He said the region falls very short of things like assistance for homeless people and drug users, services he called restorative justice.

"We should be looking to expand the services we offer to those people, trying to get them off the road towards prison," he said.

Whitebird is particularly distressed that the city is spending $4 million on a new police building while doing nothing for homelessness.

"And that is not just Ashland County, it is most counties in northern Wisconsin," he said.

Whitebird also said police here and everywhere need to be problem-solvers, not simply authorities who throw people in jail.

"That has been a longterm way of how we have treated homelessness, drug use and minor criminal activity," he said.

But it is not just policy changes that are needed, said Gokee.

She said police need to learn the hard truths that Native Americans have learned all their lives.

"They are not taught those things in school. You will learn the hard truths by learning from us, having real candid conversations," she said. "When you come as human beings, not as authority, but as a fellow human being, that is when those conversations can happen."


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