“Fast Horse,” a project by Cree filmmaker Alexandra Lazarowich, is part of the Sundance Institute’s 2021 Indigenous Short Film Tour.
By Adam Piron
Ed. note: The Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Shorts Tour—curated by the Indigenous Program, and presented with our friends at museums, Native cultural centers, and arthouse cinemas—is now playing on our Vimeo channel. You can watch the free seven-film program through June 30. Below, hear from Indigenous Program associate director Adam Piron (Kiowa/Mohawk) about how the team put the tour together.
It’s probably too early to fully classify what’s been taking place in Indigenous Cinema over the past half decade, but I think it’s safe to call it something like a blossoming. Increasingly, it’s become something that’s more easily identifiable on its own and separate from previous filmic traditions of settler colonial states. In part this is because there is more work being made and the ease in which one can find them and their artists.
Up until a few years ago, access to many of these films was possible only through physical festival events and occasionally through traditional cinema spaces, of which many Indigenous communities do not have immediate access to. The proliferation of streaming services and platforms has remedied some of this, but another major component has been Indigenous artists themselves gaining increased access to filmmaking tools.
All of these pieces have set the climate for this new era of Indigenous Cinema, and more importantly are indicative of its continued possibilities. Whether it’s been through documentary, animation, dramatic fiction, or experimental frameworks, these films mark an increasing shift toward leaning in and building new and expanded cinematic languages rooted in the cultural specificities of their artists.
One of the prime places to get a survey of what this looks like is in the short films that have been created over the past few years. As a programmer on the Short Film programming team for the Sundance Film Festival, I’ve always loved the short format, its economy of focus, and the opportunity it naturally lends itself to bold experimentation. Its formal possibilities have created a space that’s provided a catalyst for Indigenous filmmakers in this moment.
Part of our mission within the Indigenous Program is to bring Indigenous filmmakers and their work back to Indigenous lands. In keeping with that charge as well as celebrating this moment of Indigenous Cinema, we’ve launched the 2021 Sundance Institute Indigenous Short Film Tour. This is a free 85-minute virtual program of seven short films directed by Indigenous filmmakers selected from recent editions of the Sundance Film Festival.
Presented in partnership with our friends at museums, Native cultural centers, and arthouse cinemas, this exciting new offering curated by the Institute’s Indigenous Program will feature fiction, documentary, animation, and experimental works from around the world, giving new audiences a taste of what Indigenous filmmakers have to offer.
THE FULL PROGRAM
This Is the Way We Rise (2021)
Director: Ciara Lacy (Native Hawaiian)
An exploration into the creative process, following Native Hawaiian slam poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio as her art is reinvigorated by her calling to protect sacred sites atop Mauna Kea, Hawai’i.
The Fourfold (2021)
Director: Alisi Telengut (Mongolian/Siberian)
An exploration of the Indigenous worldview and wisdom based on ancient shamanistic traditions and animistic beliefs in Siberia and Mongolia. With handcrafted animation, a testament of reclaiming animism for environmental ethics and nonhuman materialities.
Fainting Spells (2018)
Director: Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk/Pechanga)
Told through recollections of youth, learning, lore, and departure, this is an imagined myth for the Indian pipe plant used by the Ho-Chunk to revive those who have fainted.
Little Chief (2020)
Director: Erica Tremblay (Seneca-Cayuga)
The lives of a Native woman and a troubled young boy intersect over the course of a school day on a reservation in Oklahoma.
Director: Lisa Jackson (Ojibwe)
An otherworldly deep dive into the hidden beauty of lichens, asking what we might learn from them. Ancient and diverse, thriving in adversity, confounding scientists to this day—lichen is a model of emergence.
Now Is the Time (2020)
Director: Christopher Auchter (Haida)
On the 50th anniversary of the first new totem-pole raising in almost a century on British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii, we revisit the day that would signal the rebirth of the Haida spirit.
Fast Horse (2018)
Director: Alexandra Lazarowich (Cree)
The Blackfoot bareback horse-racing tradition returns in the astonishingly dangerous Indian Relay. Siksika horseman Allison Red Crow struggles with secondhand horses and a new jockey on his way to challenging the best riders in the Blackfoot Confederacy.