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Eight-year-old Little Tree (Joseph Ashton) is a Cherokee orphan who lives with his Cherokee grandmother (Tantoo Cardinal) and white grandfather (James Cromwell) in the Tennessee backwoods, in the mid 1930s. Granma and Granpa teach him "The Way" of the Cherokee people and survive the Depression by making and selling whisky. When discovered, the doting grannies are dealt a shocking blow by the authorities, who confiscate Little Tree and put him in an Notched Gap Indian School, where he receives an education of a very different kind. The saddened and lonely Little Tree manages to find a way out, and returns to his folks in the Smoky Mountians, continuing to learn about prejudice, violence, and death, with the help of his friend and Shaman, Willow John (Graham Greene).

"Far from the hustle and stress of city life, in a natural paradise of emerald firs, wide blue skies, glades and rolling hills is the tranquil setting for this heartwarming tale of family and finding one’s roots. It’s a reflective film, whose philosophy is that experience is the best teacher. The simplicity of a loving Cherokee life in the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains is pitted against a glimpse of a harsh world coloured by cruelty, rules and discrimination. Richard Friedenberg has created a magical world through the eyes of the young half Cherokee boy, in whom values are instilled as he begins the journey from an impressionable child to that of an adult. James Cromwell is superb as Granpa – he personifies wisdom and strength, in an effortless performance of dazzling sensitivity. The strength of all the performances is through understatement - Tantoo Cardinal, Graham Greene and Joseph Ashton all shine. Watch out for Mika Boorem as the little girl, whose natural mannerisms and performance are a stand-out. Mark Isham’s score with its simple lyrical melodies contributes to the mood, while visually there’s much to absorb. Moving, haunting, delightful and sad, Education of Little Tree is a gentle film; one that creates a mood that remains long after the closing credits have finished."
Louise Keller

"Like balm to the burnt out film critic’s soul, The Education of Little Tree is a surrogate for the real thing – a vacation in the majestic wilderness of the Smokey Mountains, away from the whoosh of SFX and thump of stunts, exploding cars and melting cities. It is also a journey into the healing embrace of mother nature, complete with its lessons of growth and survival. Richard Friedenberg has adapted the novel without mawkishness and sentimentality but with plenty of emotion and care. The film – and the terrific cast - carries its virtues lightly and lets the characters take the focus, not the issues. Yet the issues are some of the most crucial for modern civilisation: how can we progress without destroying our humanity and our sense of real values? How can we learn without mistakes? How can we fuse our short term needs with the long term essentials? And how can we shed prejudice? But fear not: the whole family can and should enjoy this film without being browbeaten or discomforted, and it may even help in the education of you and your own 8-year old ‘little tree’."
Andrew L. Urban

"The best American films are those that gently creep up on us, taking us completely by surprise. Such is the case with The Education of Little Tree, a charming, lyrical, bittersweet tale of childhood and cultural identity. Dialogue is sparse, yet within that sparseness, lies a story that is deeply human and profound. Based on the best-selling novel, the screenplay captures the essence of the heartfelt relationship between Little Tree and his grandparents, at the same time detailing the complexities of the character's Native American ethnicity when prejudice in 1930s America was the norm. This is also an extraordinarily beautiful film to look at, with its lush greens and blues permeating every frame for much of the piece. Adding to the exquisite feel of the film is its performances, beginning with the remarkable James Cromwell, one of the most assured and naturalistic character actors working on screen today. Here, he is simply perfect as the wise and loving grandfather, yet it's a performance devoid of caricature. Cromwell uses facial nuance to capture an acting moment that is sublime. Dialogue is unnecessary. As Little Tree's Cherokee grandmother, Tantoo Cardinal is also memorable, while 8-year old Joseph Ashton is a revelation in the complex role of Little Tree. This unexpected gem of a film should be savoured and discovered at every opportunity."
Paul Fischer

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Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0


CAST: James Cromwell, Tantoo Cardinal, Joseph Ashton, Graham Greene

PRODUCERS: Jake Eberts

DIRECTOR: Richard Friedenberg

SCRIPT: Richard Friedenberg


EDITOR: Wayne Wahrman

MUSIC: Mark Isham


RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 24, 1998 (All states, except Brisbane date, tba)

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