Left, a ghostly image of Sterlin Harjo's departed grandfather from 'This May Be the Last Time'; right, Jeremiah Bitsui in 'Drunktown's Finest.'

Sterlin Harjo Documentary and 'Drunktown's Finest' Go to Sundance


In an article posted to the Sundance Film Festival website on Monday, director of the festival's Native and Indigenous Program Bird Runningwater outlined the Native presence at Sundance 2014, which begins January 16.

Two feature-length films with familiar names in the credits promise to make the most news. One is This May Be the Last Time, a documentary by director Sterlin Harjo, whose film Barking Water was a 2009 Sundance selection. In This May Be the Last Time, Harjo starts out investigating his grandfather's mysterious 1962 disappearance, and ends up on a journey through history as documented in the songs the Seminole people sang on the Trail of Tears and continue to sing today. Here's the trailer:    

Chosen for the NEXT program, the feature Drunktown's Finest is the most talked-about Native film going into 2014. Written and directed by Sydney Freeland, its stars include Kiowa Gordon (Twilight movies) and Jeremiah Bitsui (Breaking Bad). Freeland hopes the audience will identify with and learn about the variety of Native lifestyles and attitudes, through her characters. "They each represent different communities on the reservation," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "I wanted to show how diverse it is. You have this one guy who's kind of a thug, another who is a transsexual, you have an adopted religious girl -- you get insight into the communities." Freeland's association with Sundance has been a thorough one -- she has been developing Drunktown's Finest since 2009, and was helped along the way by the so-called "Labs" the Institute offers for Screenwriters, Directors, and Composers. The movie will come into the festival as a product of Sundances past, and Robert Redford's move of signing on as an executive producer gives it a unique seal of approval.

A third film from Turte Island, "Wakening," is a short about a Cree wanderer set in a post-apocalyptic near-future, by Canadian Cree/Metis director Denis Goulet.

What We Do in the Shadows, a vampire comedy, brings a New Zealand and Maori element to the Native and Indigenous Program. The film is bound to spark some interest due to the dynamic duo who wrote, produced and star in it: Jemaine Clement, familiar to American audiences from the HBO series Flight of the Conchords, and Taika Waititi, whose Boy was a standout at the 2010 Sundance festival.

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