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Indigenous Film Guide: Films by Indigenous Creators

This guide was created to help find films by Indigenous creators and to find reviews and scholarship about Indigenous film.

Introduction

Films considered Indigenous may examine topics related to identity, violence against Indigenous women, relationship with the land, territorial dislocation, cosmovisión, Indigeneity, social justice, environment, and cultural survival, from the viewpoint of Indigenous Peoples. These films may be bilingual, using an Indigenous language interlaced with a language representative of the dominant society, or could be spoken completely in a First Nation language. The films listed below exemplify the creative work of Indigenous film directors, actors, and actresses, and the subjects affecting First Nations people in the Americas and around the world.

The films are organized in three galleries: Films from Latin America, Films from North America and Films from Other Parts of the World. When a film is not available at CU-Boulder, you can use the link "Request it" to order its purchase. If a film is available in DVD format but you need a streaming version, we can request Media Services to convert the DVD into a streaming format and upload it to Kaltura for classroom use. Please contact your librarian for more information on purchasing films and streaming availability.

Films from Latin America

Eternity / Wiñaypacha

The film Eternity / Wiñaypacha by Peruvian director Óscar Catacora is an example of "cine Andino" highlighting Andean cosmovision, Aymara identity, and Indigenous youth migration. In the Aymara language with English subtitles, this film shows the main characters' relationship with nature, rituals, and the loss of Indigenous identity. Film available via the database Alexander Street.

La teta asustada: The milk of sorrow

2009 awarded film "La Teta Asustada / The Mil of Sorrow" by Peruvian director Claudia Llosa tells the story of Fausta, a young woman suffering from a rare disease called the Milk of Sorrow that is transmitted through the breast milk of pregnant women who were abused or raped during or soon after pregnancy. While living in constant fear and confusion due to this disease, she must face the sudden death of her mother. She chooses to take drastic measures to not follow in her mother's footsteps. The film is presented in Quechua and Spanish language. Notes taken from IMDb. Film available at Norlin DVD collection. Streaming format available.

Hija de la laguna: Daughter of the lake

Documentary directed by Ernesto Cabellos. Staring Nélida Ayay Chilón, Maxima Acuna Atalaya Chaupe, and Andrea Martínez Martínez.

"In this hypnotic tale, Nelida, a young indigenous Andean woman, has the ability to speak with spirits of the water. Through this connection, she regards the lake as her mother and the protector of the waters that feed her village. But when a gold deposit valued in the millions is found under her village, the extraction will surely threaten the surrounding waters of her community and she must summon up all her magic to stop the mining. Nelida's powerful story is paired with other stories in the gold mining trade, from the Dutch jewelry designer Bibi van der Velden, who learns how her use of gold has had negative impacts on Andean communities, to stories from communities in Spain and Bolivia that face a fate similar to Nelida's own. This stunning documentary makes a powerful statement on the human cost of gold and what people are doing to raise awareness about its impacts." -- Heather Haynes, https://www.yapay.pe/producto/daughter-of-the-lake (viewed September 25, 2020). Available in streaming format at CU-Boulder. See trailer.

Ushui, la luna y el trueno

Documentary directed by Wica director Rafael Mojica Gil. "A group of women whose mission is to care for and protect nature’s seeds called the Saga to carry their message. Their ancestral wisdom is handed down from generation to generation through song in the Ushui, a sacred house. Torn between two desires, to keep ancestral knowledge sacred and for the community or to open up to modernity for the world for the greater good, the Wiwa reveal the layered importance of collective responsibility and mutual respect." See trailer. Request film.

Tote Abuelo

A documentary by Tzotzil filmmaker María Sojob. In Tzotzil and Spanish with English subtitles

María Sojob spent her childhood growing up in the city, removed from her origins in the village of Chenalhó. She returns home to spend time with her elderly grandfather, Tote, in an effort to reconnect with her roots. Now a mother of two daughters, Sojob, seeks to examine multi-generational attitudes toward love, affection, parenting, and even gender roles in their culture. This intensely personal, heartfelt documentary highlights the effects of space and time on the evolution of norms, identities, and values. Notes are taken from Virginia Film Festival. Request film.

Return to the Andes

Documentary in Quechua, Spanish, and English. "After living in New York City for 20 years, Nélida Silva (from Soy Andina) returns again to her Peru birthplace -- this time with a dream of helping rural women start businesses. That's a daunting challenge in the Andes, where many women are marginalized. But few things deter Nélida, and she succeeds in organizing cooperatives around skills like weaving and quinoa. Then the unexpected happens -- she's invited to run for mayor by a new political party. Fed up with the region's decline and corruption, she accepts the challenge. Can she become the first woman to win, running on a platform of sustainable development and anti-corruption?"--Mitchell Teplitsky website (viewed June 2, 2021). Available in streaming video format at CU-Boulder

Sembradoras de vida: Mothers of the land

In Quechua and Spanish language with English subtitles. Mothers of the Land accompany five women from the Andean highlands in their daily struggle to maintain a traditional and organic way of working the land. In the context of the ever-growing industrialization of agriculture and climate change, it is women who, connected to earth through bounds of sisterhood, take on the role of protectors. Available in streaming video format at CU- Boulder.

WILLAKUYQUNATA AWASPA WEAVING STORIES

2015 documentary by Clara Calvet in the Quechua language highlights twenty-two Bolivian weavers who share their experiences, artistry, and lives. Notes taken from Mother Tongue Films. Available in streaming video format at CU-CU-Boulder.

TEKO HAXY BEING IMPERFECT

2018 documentary featurette by directors Patrícia Ferreira (Mbaya-Guaraní) and Sophia Pinheiro in Guaraní and Portuguese languages with English version via vimeo.

"In this experimental documentary, the personal relationship between two women—a Keretxu filmmaker and a Brazilian anthropologist—embodies the tensions of ethnographic and Indigenous filmmaking. The protagonists, each equipped with a camera, navigate the complexities of vulnerability, interpersonal relationships, and power dynamics as they film each other and their surroundings." Notes are taken from Mother Tongue Film Festival. Documentary available via Mother Tongue.

Ixcanul / Volcano

2015 feature drama by Guatemalan film director Jayro Bustamante in Spanish and Kaqchikel languages with English subtitles. Watch trailer.

"The brilliant debut by Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante is a mesmerizing fusion of fact and fable, a dreamlike depiction of the daily lives of Kaqchikel speaking Mayans on a coffee plantation at the base of an active volcano. Immersing us in its characters' customs and beliefs, IXCANUL chronicles with unblinking realism, a disappearing tradition and a disappearing people. Winner of the Alfred Bauer Award and nominee for the Golden Berlin Bear award at the 2015 **Berlin International Film Festival**. *"Like its titular Guatemalan volcano, Jayro Bustamante's hypnotic film debut IXCANUL bubbles with the tension of a teenage girl at odds with her family's native customs."- Alex Migdal, The Globe and Mail. Available in DVD and streaming format via Kanopy.

Films from North America

Kinaalda: Navajo Rite of Passage

A documentary by Navajo director Lena Carr. The film "follows a Navajo filmmaker as she turns the camera on herself and her family and documents the Kinaalda, or coming of age ceremony, of her niece. Telling her own personal story, the filmmaker provides a rare insider’s look at Navajo culture and the complexities of growing up Navajo in contemporary times." Extract taken from Vision Maker Media. REQUEST FILM.

Cryng Earth Rise Up

Documentary directed by Suree Twfighnia. The film "tells the story of two Lakota women who work to expose the human cost of uranium mining and its impact on sacred water.  Debra White Plume is a grandmother and tireless leader in the fight to protect her people’s water and land from corporate polluters. Debra is the lead plaintiff in a case challenging uranium mining on Lakota treaty territory. Elisha Yellow Thunder intimately understands the dangers of contaminated water. A young mother and a geology student, she unknowingly drank water with high levels of radiation while pregnant with her first daughter, whose severe medical anomalies are life-threatening. Crying Earth Rise Up documents the growing movement of Native and non-native people of the Great Plains in their battle to stop the expansion of uranium mining." The synopsis was taken from Vision Maker Media. Watch trailer. REQUEST IT.

Apache 8

2011 documentary directed by Sande Zeig. This documentary feature "is the story of the courageous all-female Apache 8 firefighting unit which has protected their reservation and responded to wildfires around the nation for 30 years. This group, which recently became co-ed, earned the reputation of being fierce, loyal and dependable–and tougher than their male colleagues." The synopsis was taken from Vision Maker Media. REQUEST IT.

Growing Native: Oklahoma (Series)

2018 documentary "Growing Native" is a four-part series focusing on reclaiming traditional indigenous knowledge and food ways to address critical issues of health and wellness, the environment and human rights. The four episodes are:  1) Northwest: Coast Salish produced by Brandon Verzal 2) Alaska: People of the North produced by Brandon Verzal 3) Great Lakes: Turtle Island 4) Oklahoma: Red people. A production of Vision Maker Media; producer, director and writer Charles "Boots" Kennedye. Watch trailer.  REQUEST IT.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World

2017 Canadian documentary directed by Catherine Bainbridge and co-directed by Alfonso Maiorana. This revelatory documentary brings to light the profound and overlooked influence of Indigenous people on popular music in North America. Focusing on music icons like Link Wray, Jimi Hendrix, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Taboo (The Black Eyed Peas), Charley Patton, Mildred Bailey, Jesse Ed Davis, Robbie Robertson, and Randy Castillo, RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World shows how these pioneering Native American musicians helped shape the soundtracks of our lives. The idea for RUMBLE came about when guitarist Stevie Salas, an Apache Indian and one of the film's Executive Producers, realized that no one outside of the music business knew about the profound contribution of these Native musicians. Renewed attention to this missing chapter in the history of American music led to the publishing of Brian Wright-McLeod's The Encyclopedia of Native Music, an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and eventually this documentary. Available in DVD format at the Music Library.

Beans

2020 motion picture by Mohawk film director Tracey Penelope Tekahentakwa Deer. In this coming-of-age drama "twelve-year-old Beans is on the edge. Torn between innocent childhood and delinquent adolescence, she is forced to grow up fast to become the tough Mohawk warrior that she needs to be during the Indigenous uprising known as The Oka Crisis, which tore Quebec and Canada apart for 78 tense days in the summer of 1990." The summary was taken from WorldCat. Watch trailer. REQUEST IT.

Mohawk Girls

2005 documentary by Mohawk film director Tracey Penelope Tekahentakwa Deer. Life on the rez has never been easy, and for girls at the beginning of the 21st century, some issues seem further from resolution than ever. Mohawk Girls captures the lives of three exuberant and insightful Mohawk teenagers as they face their future. The unwritten rules of their close-knit community decree that those who move away risk their credibility, or worse, their rights as Mohawks. Those who stay give up the possibilities offered by the "outside world." A decade ago, filmmaker Tracey Deer faced the same questions. Now she returns to document two critical years in the lives of these young women, as they tackle the same issues of identity, culture, and family she faced earlier. Available at Norlin Library DVD collection.

Ohero:kon: Under the husk

2017 short documentary directed by Katsitsionni Melissa Fox in English and some Mohawk language. Follows the challenging journey of two Mohawk girls as they take part in their traditional passage rites to becoming Mohawk women. Kaienkwinehtha and Kasennakohe are childhood friends from traditional families living in the Mohawk Community of Akwesasne that straddles the U.S./Canada border in New York State. They both take part in a four-year adolescent passage rites ceremony called ohero:kon "under the husk" that has been revived in their community. This ceremony challenges them spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. It shapes the women they become. The summary was taken from WorldCat. REQUEST IT.

Smoke from his fire

2007 documentary by Kim Recalma-Clutesi in the English language. "A bittersweet story of how people survived. Seventy-five years ago the nobility of the Kwakwaka'wakw of the Pacific Northwest Coast, chose a young man, secluded him from the authorities when his peers were sent to Residential School. The elders trained him in every aspect of the culture and traditions of his people. Today, caught between two worlds, he is needed more than ever by his people to reclaim their teachings. Few people survived who speak the language he was trained in to transmit his culture. Adam Dick or Kwaxsistala is the Clan Chief of the origin story of his nation and the last orally trained Potlatch Speaker. This is a story of hope, courage and endurance." The summary was taken from WorldCat. REQUEST IT.

Good day to die

2011 documentary produced by Kino Lorber Edu. A good day to die chronicles a movement that started a revolution and inspired a nation. By recounting the life story of Dennis Banks, the Native American who co-founded the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968 to advocate and protect the rights of American Indians, the film provides an in-depth look at the history and issues surrounding AIM's formation. From the forced assimilation of Native Americans within boarding schools, to discrimination by law enforcement authorities, to neglect by government officials responsible for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, AIM sought redress for the many grievances that its people harbored. Banks' personal struggle culminated in major armed confrontations at Custer, South Dakota and Wounded Knee -- climactic flash points which saw him standing steadfast as a leader for his cause. Bittersweet and compelling, a Good day to die charts the rise and fall of a movement that fought for the civil rights of American Indians. The summary was taken from WorldCat. REQUEST IT.

Wounded Knee

2009 documentary by Stanley Nelson in the English language. "In 1973, American Indian Movement activists and residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation occupied the town of Wounded Knee, demanding redress for grievances. As a result of the siege, Indians across the country forged a new path into the future." The summary was taken from Kanopy. REQUEST IT.

Our Spirits Don't Speak English

2008 documentary by Chip Richie. "Our Spirits Don't Speak English - Indian Boarding School" is a documentary film that examines the educational system that was designed to destroy Indian culture and tribal unity." Introduced by August Schellenberg, the film provides a candid look at the Indian Boarding School system starting in 1879 through the 1960s combining personal interviews with historical background. The philosophy of the Indian boarding school system was based on the concept of "kill the Indian and save the man", as stated by Captain Richard Henry Pratt who was the founder of the Carlisle Indian School. The film combines a number of powerful personal interviews, including Andrew Windy Boy, along with historical narration to reflect the harrowing, and often untold, experiences of so many. Grace Thorpe, daughter of Jim Thorpe, the famous Sauk and Fox athlete, closes the film with her last public interview." The summary was taken from Kanopy. REQUEST IT.

Films from Other Parts of the World

Promotion cover for film: Atanarjuat / The Fast Runner

2001 award-winning film Atanarjuat / The Fast Runner by Inuk director Zacharias Kunok OC, ON, is in Inuktitut language and tells the story of Atanarjuat who marries two women and have to run by foot due to a confrontation with the son of the band leader. DVD available at Norlin DVD Collection.

Crash Site

2015 film Crash Site by Sonya Ballantyne, a filmmaker from the Grand Rapids First Nation, is an animation in Cree and English language that tells the story of Kaley, who moves to the city and encounters a superhero who helps her connect with her own powers - Winnipeg Film Group.

“In my first film, Crash Site, every girl that appears on screen is indigenous, and every person that appears on screen is a person of color. This is the world I see and it's full of people of color. I try to keep that in mind whenever I'm casting” - Sonya Bellantyne

REQUEST FILM

 

Building and Maintaining Good Working Relationships in Indigenous Cultures

written by Monica Tsethlikai; presented by Monica Tsethlikai, a member of the Zuni tribe. This lecture, featuring therapist Monica Tsethlikai, is about building and maintaining good working relationships in indigenous cultures. Available in streaming format via  Alexander Street.

Gather

2020 Documentary directed by Sanjay Rawal and with the participation of Chef Nephi Craig, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and who is also half Navajo, Sammy Gensaw a Yurok fisherman, Twila Cassadore a member of the San Carlos Apache tribe, and Elsie DuBray a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation. Available in streaming video format.

"GATHER follows the stories of natives on the frontlines of a growing movement to reconnect with spiritual and cultural identities that were devastated by genocide. An indigenous chef embarks on a ambitious project to reclaim ancient food ways on the Apache reservation; in South Dakota a gifted Lakota high school student, raised on a buffalo ranch, is proving her tribes native wisdom through her passion for science; and a group of young men of the Yurok tribe in Northern California are struggling to keep their culture alive and rehabilitate the habitat of their sacred salmon. All these stories combine to show how the reclaiming and recovery of ancient food ways is a way forward for native Americans to bring back health and vitality to their people." - Kanopy

Waikiki

2019 Narrative feature by Kanaka Maoli director Christopher Kahunahana in English and 'ōlelo Hawai‘i language tells the story of Kea, a part-time Hawaiian teacher, hula dancer, and bar hostess, who has been abused by her ex-boyfriend. "One night after a violent beating, she speeds off into the night only to slam into a mysterious homeless man crossing the street. Unwilling to leave him to die, she takes him into her van and her life. Waikiki, Hawai‘i’s first Native-written and -directed feature,  is a visceral allegory for the contemporary issues which plague Hawai‘i’s people, including mental illness, physical abuse, and identity loss." Notes are taken from Mother Tongue Film Festival. REQUEST FILM.

Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger

2019 documentary by Abenaki American Canadian fillmmaker Alanis Obomsawin in the English language.

Alanis Obomsawin's 52nd film tells the story of how the life of Jordan River Anderson initiated a battle for the right of First Nations and Inuit children to receive the same standard of social, health and educational services as the rest of the Canadian population.- National Film Board of Canada. Available in streaming format via Alexander Street. Watch trailer

nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up

2019 documentary by Canadian First Nations/Cree filmmaker Tasha Hubbard

On August 9, 2016, a young Cree man named Colten Boushie died from a gunshot to the back of his head after entering Gerald Stanley’s rural property with his friends. The jury’s subsequent acquittal of Stanley captured international attention, raising questions about racism embedded within Canada’s legal system and propelling Colten’s family to national and international stages in their pursuit of justice. Sensitively directed by Tasha Hubbard, nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up weaves a profound narrative encompassing the filmmaker’s own adoption, the stark history of colonialism on the Prairies, and a vision of a future where Indigenous children can live safely on their homelands. Available in streaming format via Alexander Street. Watch trailer.

Backbone of the world

1998 documentary by Blackfeet Nation film director George Burdeau in the English language.

Set amid the majestic splendor of the northern Rockies, this innovative and inspiring documentary interweaves two compelling parallel stories: film director George Burdeau's journey home to live and work on the Blackfeet Reservation, and his tribe's determined struggle to protect its sacred lands and forge a new identity. Literally backed up against a wall, the Blackfeet Reservation lies in the great shadow of the northern Rocky Mountains -- known to the tribe as "the backbone of the world." Available in streaming format via Alexander Street. Watch trailer.

Ngati

 

1987 feature film by Barry Barclay

Set in and around the fictional town of Kapua in 1948, Ngati is the story of a Māori community. The film comprises three narrative threads: a boy, Ropata, is dying of leukemia; the return of a young Australian doctor, Greg, and his discovery that he has Māori heritage; and the fight to keep the local freezing works open. Unique in tone and quietly powerful in its storytelling, Ngati was Barry Barclay's first dramatic feature and the first feature to be written and directed by Māori. Ngati screened in Critics' Week at Cannes.. Available in streaming format via Alexander Street.

Te Rua

1991 Drama directed by Barry Barclay in English and Maori languages. "Heroes or terrorists? Three young Maori activists move into Berlin to seize from a great museum ancestral carvings which were stolen a century earlier..." Available in streaming format

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