AFI Movie Club: BARKING WATER – American Film Institute
Barking Water Film Still



BARKING WATER is a redemptive road trip film in which two aging former lovers set off on a final journey in an attempt to confront their complicated past and for the latter to reconnect with his estranged family. The film was written and directed by Sterlin Harjo, a member of the Seminole Nation.

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Watch Chris Eyre announce BARKING WATER:

Go “Behind the Scene” with writer/director Sterlin Harjo:


DID YOU KNOW? BARKING WATER marks writer/director Sterlin Harjo’s second feature film, following FOUR SHEETS TO THE WIND. Both of these features were shot in Oklahoma, where Harjo grew up.

DID YOU KNOW? Casey Camp-Horinek who plays Irene was recognized for her performance when she won the Best Actress Award at the American Indian Film Festival in 2009.

DID YOU KNOW? Writer/director Sterlin Harjo belongs to the Seminole and Creek Nations in addition to being a founding member of the 1491s, a five-member Native American comedy troupe.

DID YOU KNOW? Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo was partially inspired to make BARKING WATER based on a first-hand experience in which his grandmother became very sick but was adamant about not wanting to stay in the hospital. Harjo also said that he “wanted to make a film about an older couple for a while. I wanted to make a film that explored the truth of an older couple’s relationship – one that wasn’t all happy and stress free, but one that was real.”

DID YOU KNOW? Sterlin Harjo shot this low-budget road movie in less than three weeks in Ponca City, White Eagle, Pawhuska, Holdenville and Wewoka in March of 2008.

DID YOU KNOW? The filmmakers shot BARKING WATER in sequence and cinematographer Fred Schroeder had the cameras ready at all times to capture footage. Writer/director Sterlin Harjo said, “I wanted the filming to be as spontaneous as the road trip that the characters were taking, so we basically took the trip with them.”

DID YOU KNOW? BARKING WATER had its World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and was selected for screening at the New Directors/New Film series in New York City. It was also the only American film that played in the Venice Days section of the 2009 Venice Film Festival.

DID YOU KNOW? The film’s title BARKING WATER refers to the English translation of Wewoka, a city which was founded by Black Seminoles and is currently the capital of the Seminole Nation.

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

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-How do the filmmakers take the usual tropes of a road trip film and flip them on its head?

-In what way does Sterlin Harjo use Oklahoma as a backdrop throughout this movie? How does it almost become a character throughout the film?

-How did Harjo go about giving moviegoers an authentic feel for the setting?

-Why do you think the filmmakers decided to focus on the story of an older couple? How is their relationship an unconventional one?

-Why do you think Irene decides to do Frankie one last favor by taking him on one final road trip?

-Why are there so few films representing the diverse experiences of Native Americans? How does the film buck stereotypes in its portrayal of contemporary people from the Seminole Nation?

-How does the film raise questions of belonging and nationhood for Native American communities in Oklahoma?

-Why is it important that stories are told from the perspective of Native American filmmakers rather than through a white lens of an outsider looking in? How has Sundance’s Indigenous Program been critical in supporting Native American filmmakers?

-How would you rate BARKING WATER?


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