Powwow Highway

Powwow Highway is a 1989 comedy-drama road movie directed by Jonathan Wacks. Based on the novel Powwow Highway by David Seals, it features A Martinez, Gary Farmer, Joanelle Romero and Amanda Wyss. Wes Studi and Graham Greene, who were relatively unknown actors at the time, have small supporting roles.

Powwow Highway
DVD cover art
Directed byJonathan Wacks
Produced byJan Wieringa
George Harrison
Denis O'Brien
Written byDavid Seals
Janet Heaney
Jean Stawarz
Music byBarry Goldberg
CinematographyToyomichi Kurita
Edited byJim Stewart
Distributed byWarner Bros
Release date
  • February 24, 1989 (1989-02-24)
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States


A member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe of Lame Deer, Montana, Buddy Red Bow (Martinez), a quick-tempered activist, is battling greedy developers. On the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation he tries to persuade the council to vote against a strip-mining contract.

Philbert Bono (Farmer) is a hulk of a man guided by sacred visions. He wants to find his medicine, tokens from the spirits. He trades some marijuana for his "war pony" – a rusted out, beat up 1964 Buick Wildcat he names "Protector."

Meanwhile, Buddy's estranged sister, Bonnie, is arrested in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Buddy is the only family member who can help her and her children, Jane and Sky Red Bow.

Buddy does not own a car, so he makes the journey with Philbert. They set out on their road trip, and Philbert's easygoing ways and insistence on frequent stops to pray and eat prove irritating at first to Buddy, but the men reach an understanding as the trip wears on. Along the way, they visit the Black Hills in South Dakota and Philbert reverently leaves a giant Hershey's chocolate bar as an offering to his ancestors.

When they finally reach Santa Fe, they meet up with Bonnie's friend Rabbit. Using inspiration from an old western he sees on TV, Philbert breaks Bonnie out of jail. Their escape almost ends in tragedy, but with a little help they make their way back to Montana.


Several songs by Robbie Robertson, from his 1987 solo album, accompany scenes in the film.

Box office and critical reception

Powwow Highway did poorly at the box office, grossing a mere $283,747, despite mostly positive reviews.

Roger Ebert called Gary Farmer's performance "...one of the most wholly convincing I’ve seen..." Booklist called the sequel novel Sweet Medicine, by David Seals, "a comic masterpiece."[1] In Sweet Medicine, the characters complain about how they were portrayed in the film, and pass on seeing it when they have the chance.


  • Sundance Film Festival – Filmmakers Trophy – Dramatic (Jonathan Wacks)
  • Native American Film Festival – Best Picture (Jan Wieringa, George Harrison & Denis O'Brien)
  • Native American Film Festival – Best Director (Jonathan Wacks)
  • Native American Film Festival – Best Actor (A Martinez)


  1. Booklist, Oct. 1992, American Library Association. Reviewed Sept. 15, 1992 by Ray Olson
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