Native American Heritage Month Viewing Guide – American Film Institute

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Native American Heritage Month Viewing Guide

This November for Native American Heritage Month, please join us in celebrating these groundbreaking and remarkable stories that have been honored with AFI AWARDS, selected for AFI Movie Club and screened at AFI Festivals.

BARKING WATER

Written and directed by Sterlin Harjo, a member of the Seminole Nation, BARKING WATER (2009) 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. Learn more about BARKING WATER in the AFI Catalog. Watch our exclusive “Behind the Scene” conversation with Harjo.

BLACKFEET BOXING: NOT INVISIBLE

As the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women epidemic affects tribal communities, a group of Blackfeet women tackle the threat head-on by practicing and training in self-defense. The film won the Audience Award for Best Short at AFI DOCS 2020. Watch trailer for BLACKFEET BOXING: NOT INVISIBLE (2020).

DAUGHTER OF A LOST BIRD

Kendra grew up in white suburbia knowing little of her Native American heritage. The search for her birth mother leads her to face a legacy of family trauma and joy as they unpack how the Indian Child Welfare Act and Indian Adoption Project has affected both of their lives. Watch DAUGHTER OF A LOST BIRD (2021) trailer.

DEAD MAN

Starring the incredible Gary Farmer as the outcast “Nobody,” this postmodern Western follows the journey of a fatally wounded accountant and Nobody, who believes the accountant is the reincarnation of a famous poet. Learn more about DEAD MAN (1995) in the AFI Catalog.

DRUNKTOWN’S FINEST

Set on a Navajo reservation, DRUNKTOWN’S FINEST (2014), directed by Sydney Freeland, follows the intertwined lives of three young Native Americans – a soon-to-be father who is about to start basic training, an adopted daughter of Christian missionaries and a transgender beauty pageant contestant. Learn more about DRUNKTOWN’S FINEST in the AFI Catalog. Watch our exclusive “Behind the Scene” conversation with Jeremiah Bitsui.

HANK WILLIAMS FIRST NATION

A remote Cree community is shaken when one of its own, 75-year-old Martin, abruptly decides that he must visit the grave of his longtime hero, Hank Williams. As the travels gain human-interest-story-of-the-week status in the U.S. press, the news trickling back home provides a unifying spark to the little community. Learn more about HANK WILLIAMS FIRST NATION (2004).

HOCHELAGA, LAND OF SOULS / HOCHELAGA, TERRE DES ÂMES

HOCHELAGA, LAND OF SOULS (2017) is a poetic tapestry of stories across time, all stemming from an excavation dig in Montréal following a deadly sinkhole during a college football game. Historian Baptiste Asigny unravels the history behind this site, which he believes is Hochelaga, an ancient Iroquois village, where his Iroquoian ancestors met the French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1935. Learn more about HOCHELAGA, LAND OF SOULS.

HOSTILES

In a phenomenal performance, Wes Studi portrays the ailing Chief Yellowhawk as he is escorted across the 1890s American West in a perilous journey to his home in Montana. The knockout supporting cast includes Adam Beach, Q’orianka Kilcher and Tanaya Beatty. Learn more about where to watch HOSTILES (2017).

LITTLE CHIEF

Written and directed by Erica Tremblay, LITTLE CHIEF (2019) was selected to screen at the Sundance Film Festival and AFI FEST 2020 in the Shorts section. The film shows just another typical day at a rural elementary school on a reservation in Oklahoma. It’s a world that is stacked against them, but Sharon shows up each day to guide her fifth-grade students through it. Watch LITTLE CHIEF for free.

REEL INJUN: ON THE TRAIL OF THE HOLLYWOOD INDIAN

Featuring interviews with filmmakers, activists and historians, REEL INJUN: ON THE TRAIL OF THE HOLLYWOOD INDIAN (2009) by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond, Catherine Bainbridge and Jeremiah Hayes explores the representation of North American Indigenous people throughout a century of cinema. Learn more about where to watch REEL INJUN.

RESERVATION DOGS

Critically acclaimed and honored with an AFI AWARD, RESERVATION DOGS (2021) was created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi and stars D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Devery Jacobs, Lane Factor and Paulina Alexis in breakout roles as four teens dreaming of a better future. Watch our exclusive AFI AWARDS interviews with the cast and filmmakers of RESERVATION DOGS.

SAN DIEGO

From documentary filmmaker Laura Hinman, who is Ipai Kumeyaay and Payómkawichum, the short film SAN DIEGO (2020) which screened at AFI DOCS 2020 is an essay on gathered fragments of daily Native American life, struggles for sovereignty and youth in a post-COVID-19 reality. Learn more about SAN DIEGO.

SMOKE SIGNALS

This coming-of-age dramedy from director Chris Eyre earned the Audience Award for Drama and the Filmmakers Trophy (Drama) for Eyre at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. SMOKE SIGNALS (1998) also earned Special Recognition for Excellence in Filmmaking from the National Board of Review, and in 2018, the film was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, recognizing it as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Learn more about SMOKE SIGNALS in the AFI Catalog. Watch our exclusive conversation with Chris Eyre on Native American identity in the movies.

WILDHOOD

In this second feature from writer/director Bretten Hannam, Link, an indigenous Mi’kmaw teen, and his younger half-brother follow breadcrumbs of information to find Link’s long-lost mother. During their quest, they are joined by Pasmay, a two-spirit teen known in the community for his dancing, and something new awakens inside of Link. What starts as a bleak story of despair for Link, turns into a charming trek of self-discovery and young love. Learn more about where to watch WILDHOOD (2021).

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