AFI Movie Club: SMOKE SIGNALS – American Film Institute
Smoke Signals Film Still - Adam Beach and Irene Bedard



SMOKE SIGNALS marked the theatrical debut of director Chris Eyre – a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Nations – and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” 

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Watch Wes Studi announce SMOKE SIGNALS:

Movie Trivia About SMOKE SIGNALS


SMOKE SIGNALS is distinctive for its Indigenous cast and crew who tell an authentic story from their perspective. The film marked the theatrical debut of director Chris Eyre – a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Nations. 

Photo: Actor Adam Beach and director Chris Eyre at AFI Conservatory screening of SMOKE SIGNALS 


DID YOU KNOW? The SMOKE SIGNALS soundtrack features music by Ulali – a women’s a capella group comprised entirely of Indigenous singers – and Jim Boyd, a Native American Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. 

DID YOU KNOW?  Despite a relatively limited release – opening on only five screens domestically – SMOKE SIGNALS’s box office more than tripled its production budget.

DID YOU KNOW? SMOKE SIGNALS was written by Spokane-Coeur d’Alene author Sherman Alexie, who adapted a story from his own 1993 collection, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” 

DID YOU KNOW? In addition to recognition within the Indigenous community and beyond, SMOKE SIGNALS earned the Audience Award for Drama and the Filmmakers Trophy (Drama) for director Chris Eyre at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. The film also earned Special Recognition for Excellence in Filmmaking from the National Board of Review. 

DID YOU KNOW? In 2018, SMOKE SIGNALS was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, recognizing director Chris Eyre’s enduring debut feature as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” 

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.

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

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-What is the significance of the title – and what do fire and smoke represent throughout the story? 

-What is the significance of hair within the story and to the Indigenous tribes, as seen in the film? 

-With so many Indigenous talents involved in bringing SMOKE SIGNALS to the screen, what are the differences in how they’re represented versus other depictions? 

-Before viewing SMOKE SIGNALS, did you have preconceived expectations about the representation of Indigenous cultures? Where were those formed and how did SMOKE SIGNALS confirm or subvert them? 

-Beyond even the cultural representations, how does SMOKE SIGNALS present an alternative version of the “American West,” as seen so often in cinema? 

-Why is it important for marginalized groups to tell their own stories?   

-What role does humor serve in the story? 

-In what ways were the specific cultural references familiar and/or universal? What themes transcend their cultural provenance? 

-How would you rate SMOKE SIGNALS? 

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Comments (3)

Dennis Hallowell

So when Thomas was growing up watching “Dances with wolves” all those times did he ever think to himself: ” Hey that looks like Victors mom” ?

Jenny Doyle

I saw this film for the first time tonight, and I absolutely loved it.
Great story, great acting. Great music in it.
Funny, sad, significant and sensitive to many important issues.
It had me thinking of my own Dad, stirred up a lot of emotions, and also having read about Adam Beach’s experience in his own life, how hard it must have been for him in certain scenes.
No wonder this movie is held in such high regard.
This type of movie, doesn’t date, and remains relevant today.

Carlos Vargas

One of the best movies I’ve ever seen… great acting and dictation by the actor telling the story.

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