Warner Bros
Philbert Bono (Gary Farmer) and Buddy Red Bow (A. Martinez) in Pow Wow Highway

Rez-Flicks and Chill! 8 Native Films To Watch This Labor Day

Vincent Schilling

As Labor Day weekend approaches and the last remnants of summer fade, along with the smells of barbecued corn and Grandma’s huge pot of baked-beans (love that hint of maple syrup!), what better way to top off a great, long weekend than with a huge group of friends (or a loved one) or even a solo gig with a cool classic Indian country flick?

So brush off those VCR tapes, pull out those DVD remotes and get ready to watch some fun and thought-provoking Native films.

Smoke Signals (1998)

Everybody, all together: “Hey Victor!!!” And don’t forget Adam Beach’s famous wig.

That line from Evan Adams’ character, Thomas Builds the Fire to Adam Beach’s character, Victor Joseph, is a signature phrase for Native American households across the country.

Smoke Signals is Chris Eyre’s adaptation of the Sherman Alexie novel of the same title that focuses on Beach's character as he sets out on a mission to retrieve his father’s ashes, leaving the Coeur d’Alene Reservation for the southwest.

Smoke Signals is memorable for its honest and hilarious performances based on the realities of Rez life, and has a nearly all-Native cast.  

Evan Adams and Adam Beach (on left) on the set of Smoke Signals  (Photo credit: (c)Miramax/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Pow Wow Highway (1989)

Pow Wow Highway  (Photo credit: Warner Bros.)

Follow Philbert Bono (Gary Farmer) and Buddy Red Bow (A. Martinez) as they travel from the Cheyenne reservation in Montana to Santa Fe after Buddy’s sister is arrested.

Pow Wow Highway, directed by Jonathan Wacks, is one of Indian country’s most popular modern classics, and you know you love the classic rez car pony!

Skins (2002)

Based on the book by Adrian C. Louis, Skins, directed by Chris Eyre, tells the story of two very different brothers, Rudy (a police officer) and his twin brother, an unemployed Mogie Yellow Lodge who has a son. They both live on the fictional Beaver Creek Reservation in South Dakota that looks an awful lot like Pine Ridge.

The story is a gritty and realistic one about the devastating effects of poverty and drug and alcohol abuse on reservations. The film, also addresses the border town profiting off Natives.

Frozen River (2008)

The late actress Misty Upham runs into a series of problems on the Mohawk reservation related to border crossings, smuggling and more, and soon finds herself over her head in the quest to evade capture by Canadian, U.S. and Tribal authorities. The film is a subtle and unnerving thriller.

The Indian in the Cupboard (1995)

In this fantasy directed by Frank Oz, Gary Litefoot Davis portrays Little Bear, a toy that comes to life and befriends a boy. The story delves into Iroquoian history and includes references to the French and Indian War, as well as a historically accurate depiction of a longhouse of the Iroquois.

Crooked Arrows (2012)

A Native lacrosse team fights through a competitive prep school league tournament in Crooked Arrows, directed by Steve Rash and starring Brandon Routh, Crystal Allen and Gil Birmingham. The team’s coach helps bring his rez into the modern age by competing against the prep schools while training his Native players in traditional ways.

What We Do In The Shadows (2014)

What We Do In The Shadows

Starring New Zealand actor-director Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, this spoof on the lives of vampires won many awards for its comedic rendering of the vampiric undead.  https://goo.gl/8INH4u

Reel Injun (2009)

Neil Diamond, Reel Injun  (Photo credit: Lorber Films)

With his comprehensive look at Native Americans in film, Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond exposes the film industry’s stereotypical portrayal of Native people since the inception of moving images. Reel Injun was snubbed at the Oscars, which isn’t surprising after seeing how Hollywood has treated Natives for over 100 years.

Now go Rez-Flicks and Chill! (wink, wink nudge.)


Follow ICTMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wow’s and Sports Editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling


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