Indigenous Voices on Screen
Evan Adams’ character, Thomas Builds the Fire, exclaims, “Hey, Victor!” repeatedly to Victor Joseph (played disarmingly by a young Adam Beach), and with those two words introduced a brand new, signature catchphrase into the contemporary Native American vernacular. Smoke Signals is Chris Eyre’s adaptation of the Sherman Alexie novel of the same title—it focuses on Beach's character as he sets out on a mission to retrieve his father’s ashes, leaving the Coeur d’Alene Reservation for the southwest. Smoke Signals is memorable for its honest and hilarious performances based on the realities of Rez life, and for its nearly all-Native cast.
Produced by the Chickasaw Nation, this feature film shines a light on the remarkable life of the Chickasaw storyteller best known by her stage name, Te Ata, which means ‘Bearer of the Morning.’ Directed by Nathan Frankowski and produced by Paul Sirmons, the film features several award-winning Native actors, including Q'orianka Kilcher as Te Ata and Gil Birmingham as Te Ata’s father, Thomas Benjamin (T.B.) Thompson.
Featuring first-time actors from Pine Ridge in a film that boasts a mostly-Native cast, the debut feature film by Beijing-born director Chloe Zhao is certainly ambitious. Songs My Brothers Taught Me was also produced by Forest Whitaker and Irene Bedard (who also appears in the film) and covers the emotionally wrenching story of a young Native man who desires to strike out for a career in Los Angeles after his father dies. However, his departure would mean leaving behind his younger sister and single Native mother. The film received accolades at Sundance and positive reviews from Hollywood publications.
Considered one of the top 10 Canadian films of all time, the film is based on a 500-year-old story. Told in a traditional style and rich with stunning vistas, it vividly portrays the peoples of the Eastern Arctic and a warrior who strives to battle an evil spirit. Directed by Zacharias Kunuk and starring Natar Ungalaaq and Sylvia Ivalu, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner was the first film to be written, directed, and acted entirely in Inuktitut.
Following a Native lacrosse team that has to fight its way through a competitive prep school league tournament, Crooked Arrows was directed by Steve Rash and stars Brandon Routh, Crystal Allen, and Gil Birmingham. In it, the team’s coach helps bring his rez into the modern age by taking on prep schools—but that doesn’t mean his Native players have to forgo training in traditional ways. It’s a great film to inform the growing number of lax fanatics across the country of what true passion for the Creator’s Game is all about.
In Thunderheart, directed by Michael Apted, Val Kilmer plays a mixed-race (Native and white) FBI agent investigating a murder on the Sioux Reservation. This thriller is intense. Native visionary John Trudell steals some memorable scenes as a supporting cast member. His ‘freedom speech’ features the choice lines, “It’s in our DNA,” and “We choose the way of earth.”
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