Smoke Signals: Native Cinema Rising

Smoke Signals: Native Cinema Rising

Smoke Signals: Native Cinema Rising

Smoke Signals: Native Cinema Rising

Synopsis

Smoke Signals is a historical milestone in Native American filmmaking. Released in 1998 and based on a short-story collection by Sherman Alexie, it was the first wide-release feature film written, directed, coproduced, and acted by Native Americans. The most popular Native American film of all time, Smoke Signals is also an innovative work of cinematic storytelling that demands sustained critical attention in its own right. Embedded in Smoke Signals 's universal story of familial loss and renewal are uniquely Indigenous perspectives about political sovereignty, Hollywood's long history of misrepresentation, and the rise of Indigenous cinema across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Joanna Hearne's work foregrounds the voices of the filmmakers and performers-in interviews with Alexie and director Chris Eyre, among others-to explore the film's audiovisual and narrative strategies for speaking to multiple audiences. In particular, Hearne examines the filmmakers' appropriation of mainstream American popular culture forms to tell a Native story. Focusing in turn on the production and reception of the film and issues of performance, authenticity, social justice, and environmental history within the film's text and context, this in-depth introduction and analysis expands our understanding and deepens our enjoyment of a Native cinema landmark.

Excerpt

Smoke Signals is the most widely recognized and frequently taught film in the field of Native American cinema. the creative duo behind the film’s production, director Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/Arapaho) and author/screenwriter Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene), marketed it as “the first film to be directed, acted, and produced by Native Americans to have a major distribution deal.” Among its many awards were the Audience Award and Filmmakers’ Trophy at the Sundance Film Festival. the film has been a critical and financial success and has become a Native cinema classic, appreciated by Native and non-Native audiences and appearing frequently in high school and college course lists. Released in 1998, Smoke Signals is both an event—a historical milestone in the development of Native American filmmaking—and an innovative work of cinematic storytelling that calls for sustained critical attention.

For some viewers, this was the first film to tell a story they recognized; for others it was a gateway to understanding perspectives outside of their experience. the film can be seen as a landmark “first” in American film history—although it is important to remember the long history of Native filmmaking that came before Smoke Signals—and it can also be seen as a self-positioned first introduction to Native perspectives and Native filmmaking for many of its viewers. These “firsts,” like stepping stones, invite us to move from celebrating the film’s accomplishment to recognizing its activism. As an intervention, Smoke Signals challenges widely accepted misconceptions about Native Americans. Its “firsts” can be seen in different ways as inaugurating a new generation of Native film production; as an important but also problematic industry marketing category; as part of a critical paradigm based . . .

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