Here are 10 (technically 11, but whatever) amazing films that are a great starting point for a journey into indigenous cinema history, but it is, of course far from complete.
Indigenous cinema, at least in its contemporary form, is only 40 years old, and the fact that there are films to be left off a list like this is testament to its rapid development and to the artists who have taken up the camera to tell our stories.
4. The Dead Lands (New Zealand)
Toa Fraser’s martial arts epic is bloody and bold, recreating pre-contact New Zealand and featuring remarkable, bone crunching performances. Coming soon to a cinema near you!
5. Four Sheets to the Wind (U.S)
Sterlin Harjo’s gripping feature is a descendant of Smoke Signals, portraying contemporary Indigenous life with an unflinching eye and open heart. It won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for Tamara Podemski’s remarkable performance.
6. Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (Canada)
Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary epic chronicles the Oka Crisis in Quebec and helped shift the dialogue around Indigenous issues in Canada and globally. It was the first documentary to ever win the Best Canadian Feature award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
7. Once Were Warriors (New Zealand)
Lee Tamahori’s ferocious and exhilarating portrait of an urban Maori family was the first indigenous feature to have a truly global presence. Among the highest grossing films in New Zealand history.
8. Rhymes for Young Ghouls (Canada)
Jeff Barnaby’s debut feature brings the anger to indigenous cinema, a clarion call for both the cinematic community and the indigenous community. A director to watch for years to come.
9. Samson and Delilah (Australia)
Warwick Thornton’s Camera D’or winner is a searing depiction of modern life in Australia and a marvel of naturalism and restrained storytelling.
10. Smoke Signals (U.S)
Chris Eyre’s road movie based on Sherman Alexie’s screenplay is a touchstone for indigenous cinema, bringing humour to a story of contemporary Indigenous life. Also features the core of young performers such as Adam Beach, Michelle St. John, Irene Bedard and Gary Farmer who would go on to star in numerous other films in the ensuing years.
So while I believe these films are all amazing, there are more not listed here — Ten Canoes, Charlie’s Country, Patu!, Barking Water, Trudell, Before Tomorrow, Mohawk Girls — and more every year, in large part thanks to the festivals like ImagineNative.
This article was initially published in Muskrat Magazine. It was edited and republished with permission.
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