Photo by Joshua James Richards, courtesy of the Sundance Institute.
Pine Ridge and some of its residents take center stage in 'Songs My Brothers Taught Me.' Photo by Joshua James Richards, courtesy of the Sundance Institute.

At Sundance, Pine Ridge Drama and its Stars Win Praise


Songs My Brothers Taught Me, a film that features a mostly Native cast and many first-time actors from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, premiered Tuesday at the Sundance Film Festival, and the reviews have begun to filter in. Overall, the film is said to be well-made and affecting, if sometimes slow.

The Hollywood Reporter's "bottom line" diagnosis says basically that: "Stirring in its own quiet, unhurried way." Reviewer David Rooney writes that "there’s plenty of narrative incident, emotional depth and poetic imagery here," and that "the balance of humanistic and ethnographic filmmaking with poignant, often seemingly unscripted drama has many rewards." On the other hand, Rooney found the pace of the film "somewhat frustrating" at times, resulting in "dull" patches. Overall, though, the review describes a film that is rewarding to viewers who give it a chance.

Dennis Harver of Variety echoed Rooney's concerns as well as his ultimate conclusion. The film, he said, may sometimes be "a little too low-key for some viewers, yet its poetic minimalism is atmospheric, with eventual emotional payoff in some incisively written scenes and a surprisingly effusive wrap-up." 

RELATED: Doing Her Part: Young Girl Fights Poverty in Sundance-Honored Short Film

Songs My Brothers Taught Me is the firsdt feature film by Beijing-born director by Chloe Zhao. Zhao (as you may have guessed) isn't Native American, but her actors and location certainly are; what's more, virtually everyone other than Irene Bedard and Taysha Fuller are first-time actors. Two of those, John Reddy and Jashaun St. John, were spotlighted as two of the festival's "breakout stars" in a piece at "Reddy and St. John may be non-professional actors but Chloe Zhao’s feature debut isn’t a one-off for either of them." Songs My Brothers Taught Me was also among MovieMaker Magazine's "13 Picks from Sundance and Slamdance."

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