For Your Viewing Pleasure: The Sundance Indigenous Program’s Must Watch List

Over the course of Native American Heritage Month, we have highlighted some of the Sundance Institute–supported Indigenous artists, including conversations with Jana Schmieding and Alex Lazarowich. For our final post in this year’s series, we wanted to highlight the legacy of Indigenous artists at Sundance, as well as provide a stacked list of films for you to add to your queue. 

Throughout our history, the Institute has supported hundreds of Indigenous artists and their projects — from cinematic mainstays like Sterlin Harjo, Sydney Freeland, and Ciara Lacy, to emerging voices like Shaandiin Tome and Kymon Greyhorse. 

“We have supported four generations of Indigenous artists and we are currently working on identifying and supporting the fifth while maintaining the previous four” is a phrase you will often hear from Adam Piron when talking about the legacy of the Indigenous Program. 

Indigenous Program Director Adam Piron, Senior Manager Ianeta Le’i, and Coordinator Katie Arthurs have come together to create a watchlist of some of their favorite films by Sundance-supported Indigenous filmmakers. Below you’ll find a mix of short films and feature projects that highlight the many facets of Indigeneity. Learn about them through their archived loglines and click through to find out where to watch them now.

Through our Native Lab Fellowship (application launching in December 2023), Merata Mita Fellowship, Graton Fellowship for Artist from California-Based Tribes, and the Graton Co//ab Scholarship for Artist from California-Based Tribes (application launching in December 2023) the Sundance Indigenous Program will continue to push forward and forge a path for Indigenous storytellers to share their stories. We hope these selections will encourage others to support and celebrate Indigenous storytellers not just in November, but throughout the whole year. 

To learn more about the Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, click here. And to apply for the Native Lab Fellowship and Graton Co//ab Scholarship, click here

Malni – Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore (2020 Sundance Film Festival)
Sky Hopinka

A poetic experimental documentary circling the origin of the death myth from the Chinookan people in the Pacific Northwest,
małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore follows two people as they wander through their surrounding nature, the spirit world, and something much deeper inside. Click here for viewing options.

Two young indigenous women are walking on a street

Fancy Dance (2023 Sundance Film Festival)

Erica Tremblay

Since her sister’s disappearance, Jax (Lily Gladstone) has cared for her niece Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson) by scraping by on the Seneca-Cayuga Reservation in Oklahoma. Every spare minute goes into finding her missing sister while also helping Roki prepare for an upcoming powwow. At the risk of losing custody to Jax’s father, Frank (Shea Whigham), the pair hit the road and scour the backcountry to track down Roki’s mother in time for the powwow. What begins as a search gradually turns into a far deeper investigation into the complexities and contradictions of Indigenous women moving through a colonized world and at the mercy of a failed justice system.

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (2018 Merata Mita Fellow)

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Kathleen Hepburn

A chance encounter between two Indigenous women with drastically different lived experience, sets them on a shared journey that will forever change their lives. Click here for viewing options.

Miss Navajo (2007 Sundance Film Festival)

Billy Luther

For most of us, pageants conjure up smiling beauty-queen hopefuls parading around in bathing suits or glittery gowns. But most of us have never witnessed the Miss Navajo Nation competition, an event, inaugurated in 1952, that redefines “pageant” as an opportunity for young women to honor and strengthen Navajo culture and reveal the beauty within.

In this sensitive documentary, Billy Luther, whose mother was crowned Miss Navajo 1966, opens the door to a surprising world, where contestants with diverse styles, physiques, and political orientations are challenged to answer tough historical questions in the Navajo language and showcase their spiritual and practical knowledge of practices like governance, traditional singing, or butchering a whole sheep. Click here for viewing options.

Long Line of Ladies (2022 Sundance Film Festival)

Rayka Zehtabchi, Shaandiin Tome

A girl and her community prepare for her Ihuk, the once dormant coming-of-age ceremony of the Karuk tribe of northern California. Click here for viewing options.

The Moon and the Night (2017 Native Lab Fellow)

Erin Lau

Set in rural Hawai’i, a teen is forced to confront her ex-convict father after he enters her beloved pet in a dogfight. Click here for viewing options

Eagle vs. Shark (2007 Sundance Film Festival)

Taika Waititi

Which is the more dangerous predator: an eagle or a shark? That’s a trick question. Don’t try to answer it. You’ll have your own opinion by the end of Taika Waititi’s deliciously tangy, deadpan feature debut about two colorful misfits thrown into each other’s orbit.

Lily is one of those weird, sweet-natured girls with stringy hair who is quite lovely and charismatic under a surface of shy awkwardness. But most people don’t have enough vision to notice, and the truth is that Lily isn’t looking to change. She cashiers at a fast-food joint and pines for Jarrod, the self-aggrandizing, clueless geek from the computer store across the way. Fiercely optimistic, Lily crashes Jarrod’s animal/video-game extravaganza, impressing him enough with her shark suit and gaming prowess to score a hookup with Eagle Lord (Jarrod) himself. Soon Lily and her brother are driving Jarrod back to his hometown to confront his childhood nemesis. But here Jarrod’s self-absorption blossoms so mightily that it may drive even the most adoring of girlfriends away. As Jarrod prepares to exact his revenge on the past, Lily’s quiet power gathers force as well. Click here for viewing options.

Stones (2011 Sundance Film Festival)

Ty Sanga

In ancient Hawai’i, a forlorn woman living in isolation with her husband meets a child and contemplates whether to bring her into a mystical world. Click here for viewing options.

Cousins (2019 Merata Mita Fellows)

Ainsley Gardiner, Briar Grace-Smith

Stolen from her whānau and placed in an orphanage, Mata lives out her childhood confused, sustained only by her belief that one day she’ll be found. On the land, her cousin Makareta flees an arranged marriage; her overlooked cousin Missy takes her place as the bride, amalgamating the land. After decades of living on the streets, Mata is finally found by Makareta, who encourages her to return to the land. Mata initially refuses but then turns back, only to find that Makareta has died. At Makareta’s funeral, Mata is held close by her family. She has finally found her place amongst her people. Click here for viewing options.

Throat Singing in Kangirsuk (2019 Sundance Film Festival)

Eva Kaukai, Manon Chamberland

Eva and Manon practice the art of throat singing in the small village of Kangirsuk, in their native Arctic land. Interspliced with footage of the four seasons of Kangirsuk by Johnny Nassak.Click here for viewing options.

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