Through Indian Eyes: Native American Cinema

  • May 1, 2016 — May 22, 2016

Native Americans first appeared on film in 1895 but were excluded from any meaningful role in the production of their own cinematic images for virtually the entire century to follow, and 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. 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 aim to reach mainstream audiences and Native communities while working to recuperate tribal languages, spirituality, and community. 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.—University of California, Los Angeles Film & Television Archive.

Through Indian Eyes: Native American Cinema was organized by the UCLA Film & Television Archive with support in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and curated by Jan-Christopher Horak, Dawn Jackson (Saginaw Chippewa), Shannon Kelley, Paul Malcolm, Valerie Red-Horse Mohl (Cherokee), and Nina Rao. Program notes are adapted from the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s Through Indian Eyes: Native American Cinema catalogue.

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Smoke Signals

Smoke Signals

Directed by Chris Eyre

Director Chris Eyre’s (Cheyenne/Arapaho) monumental first feature—the first commercially-released American feature written, directed, and co-produced by Native Americans—presents two young

Drunktowns Finest

Drunktown’s Finest

Directed by Sydney Freeland

In her impressive first feature, writer-director Sydney Freeland (Navajo) unfurls a suite of stories about contemporary life among Navajo youth.


This May Be the Last Time

Directed by Sterlin Harjo

Who knew that the Muscogee Creek and Seminole nations developed their own traditional hymns akin to Negro spirituals? In the

Atanarjuat the Fast Runner

Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner

Directed by Zacharias Kunuk

Based on an old Inuit legend, the chief of the clan has two sons, Amaqjuaq, the Strong One and Atanarjuat,


Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance

Directed by Alanis Obomsawin

Alanis Obomsawin’s (Abenaki) landmark documentary chronicles the cataclysmic 1990 standoff that occurred between the Canadian Army, Quebec police, and members

Naturally Native

Naturally Native

Directed by Valerie Red-Horse, Jennifer Wynne Farmer

Three American Indian sisters, raised separately in foster homes after the death of their alcoholic mother, seek a shared destiny



Directed by Heather Rae

Freely experimenting with documentary form, Heather Rae’s (Cherokee) film about American Indian activist and poet John Trudell, a Santee Sioux

Rhymes For Young Ghouls

Rhymes For Young Ghouls

Directed by Jeff Barnaby

Quebec director Jeff Barnaby’s (Mi'kmaq) visionary feature debut uses the tragic legacy of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools as a leaping

Kissed by Lightning

Kissed By Lightning

Directed by Shelley Niro

Mavis Dogblood (Kateri Walker) is a Mohawk painter from Canada haunted by the tragic death of her husband, who was

Navajo Taking Pictures

Navajo Talking Picture

Directed by Arlene Bowman

While a film student at UCLA, Arlene Bowman (Diné) set out to document her grandmother’s life on the Navajo reservation.

The Honour of All

The Honour of All (Part I)

Directed by Phil Lucas

Andy Chelsea, Chief of the Alkali Lake Indian Band, a Shuswap people in British Columbia’s Cariboo region, and his wife