Through Indian Eyes: Native American Cinema


Curated by the UCLA Film & Television Archive

Native Americans first appeared on film in 1895 at the dawn of the medium but were totally excluded from any meaningful role in the production of their own cinematic images for virtually the entire century to follow. They continue to be marginalized in the entertainment industry today. Over the last 25 years, however, a renaissance in independent First Nations filmmaking has occurred. This phenomenon is, however, not sui generis. Indeed, since the 1970s, First Nations communities, after centuries-old legacies of genocide, displacement, forced assimilation, poverty, alcoholism, and demeaning media images, have worked incrementally to take command of their destinies and their representation. First Nations filmmakers have undertaken dramas, crime films, comedies, shorts, documentaries, and animation, reaching mainstream audiences and Native communities while working to recuperate tribal languages, spirituality, and community. What we are in fact witnessing is a “national” cinema in formation. Financed variously by tribal communities and non-Native sources, these films have been guided by Indian eyes, i.e. directed by First Nations. We also see the beginning development of a Film Nations film aesthetic: different ways of perceiving space and time, stories that are circular rather than linear, landscapes which are both real and allegorical. This program presents works produced in Canada and the United States, representing a cross-section of tribal communities. — UCLA Film & Television Archive

Presented in association with UCLA Film & Television Archive. This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Series curators: Jan-Christopher Horak, Dawn Jackson (Saginaw Chippewa), Shannon Kelley, Paul Malcolm, and Valerie Red-Horse Mohl (Cherokee). Associate curator: Nina Rao.

Program notes credited to UCLA are adapted from the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s Through Indian Eyes: Native American Cinema catalogue.

The Cinematheque acknowledges that Vancouver is located on the unceded land of the Coast Salish peoples, including the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

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Recent Showings

Director Chris Eyre’s monumental first feature is preceded by Marie Burke's striking short film, Carrying Fire.
Valerie Red-Horse and Jennifer Wynne Farmer's tale of three American Indian sisters is preceded by Cow Tipping: The Militant Indian Waiter.
Zacharias Kunuk’s spellbinding epic, the first-ever feature in the Inuktitut language, was voted the best Canadian film of all time this year.
Quebec Mi'gmaq Jeff Barnaby’s stylish, head-spinning drama shared Best Canadian First Feature honours at VIFF in 2013.
Shelley Niro's feminist film about a Mohawk painter haunted by the death of her husband is preceded by the 2009 fantasy short, ?E?anx: The Cave.
This landmark film by one of Canada’s most respected documentarians is preceded by Dax Thomas’s impressionistic short, Lye.
Heather Rae's experimental documentary about American Indian activist and poet John Trudell is preceded by the short, Nikamowin (Song).
This deeply-moving docu-drama about the Alkali Lake Indian Band's decades-long journey to sobriety is followed by Gil Cardinal's Tikinagan.
Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo’s first-person documentary about Creek/Seminole hymns is preceded by the illustrative short, A Bentwood Box.
Sydney Freeland's debut feature, a suite of stories about contemporary life among Navajo youth, is preceded by the elegiac short, Shimasani.
Arlene Bowman's documentary about her Navajo heritage is followed by Victor Masayesva Jr.'s film about the Hopi experience, Itam Hakim, Hopiit.