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Songs My Brothers Taught Me Director: Chloé Zhao
Sundance Institute Music and Sound Design Feature Film Lab at Skywalker Sound 2014
Premiere: Sundance Film Festival 2015, Dramatic Competition

From the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Catalog

High school senior Johnny is fixing to leave the Pine Ridge Reservation when the unexpected death of his rodeo-cowboy father complicates things. Reluctant to leave behind his 13-year-old sister, Jashaun, with whom he shares a special bond, Johnny must rethink his future. While Jashaun seeks out answers from her older half-brothers, Johnny's increasing inner conflict stands in the way of his departure, setting both of them on separate paths toward rediscovering the meaning of home.

Marking an auspicious feature debut, Chloé Zhao sensitively infiltrates isolated Indian Country to offer a rare, modern gaze keenly felt through the eyes of her magnetic non-professional lead actors. While Joshua James Richards's evocative cinematography captures the breathtaking Badlands of legend, Zhao organically taps into the pulse of her complicated characters' evolving narratives. Demonstrating directorial aplomb and a transcendent storytelling approach, Songs My Brothers Taught Me is a universally resonant tale set amid the magnificent, promising wild of young generation Lakotas.

Why She Matters

Chinese-American filmmaker Chloe Zhao creates a portrait of Lakota youth that is both subtle and reminiscent of documentary verite. She navigates her outsider status to craft a film that showcases Native Americans with agency, a rarity on screen. Zhao’s second feature, The Rider, just premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, earning the Art Cinema Award, the top prize at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight.

“As an ethnographic work, [Songs My Brother Taught Me] is extraordinary, facing stereotypes about life on the reservation head-on, exploring the crippling effects of alcoholism and a non-existent economy with a delicate hand.”

—Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian, 2016

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