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New Costner film grabs the hearts of Native Americans


Washington - Crowds swarmed outside the Uptown Theater Friday night because they had to -- HAD TO -- see heart-throb actor Kevin Costner.

But many of those who paid up to $100 for the world premiere of "Dances With Wolves," Mr. Costner's epic new film about a Lakota Indian frontier before the encroachment of white settlers, came because they had to see the movie.

Mixed in with an audience of members of Congress, football players and models were those like Bill Achord. He came from faraway Lincoln, Neb., where there's a large Lakota community, because he was so anxious to see the movie. "I saw the preview months ago, and it brought tears to my eyes."

The premiere, attended by others from the movie -- including Mary McDonnell ("Matewan") and Robert Pastorelli (the house painter on "Murphy Brown") -- and many Native Americans, was a benefit for the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, scheduled to open in 1998, and its Resident Associate Program.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Costner, who makes his directorial debut with the nearly three-hour film set on the Great Plains of South Dakota, was adopted by members of the Lakota (Sioux) tribe in a traditional ceremony on Capitol Hill.

At the opening, Mr. Costner said he was attracted to this 1860s tale because "I'm a lover of great stories, whether they're couched in baseball or history."

Native Americans at the premiere applauded the movie, which celebrates the Lakota culture, including its nearly lost language. "It was the inverse of the way the story is normally told," said Michael Mahsetky, a full-blooded Comanche. "For the first time I felt proud being an Indian."

Said LaVonna Weller, a Caddo Indian who is an education specialist at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, "He did it with a good heart and that I certainly appreciate."

Asked whether "Dances With Wolves" is better than "Field of Dreams," in which he also starred, Mr. Costner said, "Movies are like children. I have unconditional love for all of them."

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