Last year’s 2016 movie season saw great indigenous content make its way to the silver screen. These 2016 Native films ranged from family comedies to superhero sagas to dark thrillers, and they either had big budgets or were small indie projects.
We compiled a list of the best 2016 Native films you might have missed, might not have known about, or might want to see again.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a 2016 New Zealand comedy written and directed by Taika Waititi, and was based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump. The film is about a father figure and son who become the targets of a manhunt after fleeing into the New Zealand bush.
The film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on 22 January 2016 and stars Julian Dennison, who is Maori from Naenae New Zealand, along with veteran actor Sam Neill. Dennison is now a young star who won the role of Ricky Baker without an audition due to his previous work. Maori director, Taika Waititi, fell in love with the young actor and apparently everyone else did to, as Hunt for the Wilderpeople became New Zealand’s top grossing movie.
Hell or High Water
A big movie with star power filmed in New Mexico with Gil Birmingham, Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Katy Mixon. This is a modern satirical update of a Lone Ranger and Tonto type relationship rife with old couple banter between Birmingham and Bridges. Birmingham’s Comanche-Mexican character gets to lay down a history lesson in about 60 words that any Native actor would love to get the chance to do.
Taylor Sheridan wrote the script, he also wrote Sicario and directed the new film, Wind River, which will be widely released this August. Hell or High Water was originally titled Comancheria, a hot property on Hollywood’s Black List, scripts that insiders thought would make great movies. It’s a modern day western about bank robberies that leaves you asking who are the bad guys or the good guys.
A small film from the IFC studio directed by Kelly Reichardt with a quiet woman’s story. As described on the film’s website, it is a stirring look at three women striving to forge their own paths amidst the wide-open plains of the American Northwest: a lawyer (Dern) who finds herself contending with both office sexism and a hostage situation; a wife and mother (Williams) whose determination to build her dream home puts her at odds with the men in her life; and a young law student (Stewart) who forms an ambiguous bond with a lonely ranch hand (radiant newcomer Lily Gladstone).
The amazing performance by Native actress Lily Gladstone was lauded all over Hollywood.
Produced by the Chickasaw Nation, this feature film shines a light on the remarkable life of the Chickasaw storyteller (Mary Thompson Fisher, 1895-1995) best known by her stage name, Te Ata, which means ‘Bearer of the Morning.’ Directed by Nathan Frankowski and produced by Paul Sirmons, the film features award-winning Native actors, Q’orianka Kilcher as Te Ata, Gil Birmingham as Te Ata’s father, Thomas Benjamin Thompson, and Graham Greene as the Chickasaw Governor.
Neither Wolf Nor Dog
Kent Nerburn (Christopher Sweeney) embarks on a bizarre road trip with two Native Americans, Lakota elder Dan (Dave Bald Eagle) and his friend Grover (Richard Ray Whitman) in a quest to unravel a mysterious Native family history in Neither Wolf Nor Dog. Directed by Steven Lewis Simpson, the film has strong performances by Roseanne Supernault, Tatanka Means, Zahn McClarnon and Harlen Standing Bear. NWND was made in 2016 on limited time and budget; and then was self distributed in 2017. It is still touring but when that ends, you can purchase your own copy, which you will need for your library.
Songs My Brother Taught Me
This film did not get released into theatres until March 2016. It was written and directed by a young Chinese woman, Chloe Zhao, in her first big feature and produced by Forest Whitaker. It was recognized at Sundance and Cannes in 2015, more awards and notice started piling up in 2016. Starring Irene Bedard and young actors, John Reddy and Jashaun St. John as her teen-age children. [text_ad]
Chasing the Light
A depressed writer gets involved in a drug deal gone wrong, failed suicide attempts, unstable friends, memories of an ex-girlfriend and other adventures in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico. Chasing the Light tracks screenwriter Riggs (the director Blackhorse Lowe) through these misadventures as he struggles to finish a script. A punkish, heavy metal music track adds to the black & white “cinema noir” aspect of modern-day life. Chasing the Light is perhaps not for kids due to the adult themes and language, but it is funny and thought-provoking. Shown at film festivals in New York City in March and Santa Fe in August of 2015, it was widely released in 2016.
Unclaimed/On The Farm
Canadian made for TV film based on serial killer Robert Pickton but it’s really about the community of sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the slow almost non-existent police response. Unclaimed (in Canada, On The Farm in other markets) was nominated and won several industry awards. Starring Native actresses Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Tantoo Cardinal, directed by veteran Rachel Talalay. The way the story is told is related to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Movement and calls to mind the award winning play Pig Girl and the new adaptations by Native women writers.
A controversial (casting, budget, script, promotion) superhero film about the DC Extended Universe yet totally loved by the Geek Nation. The film made a lot of money, was panned by most critics, and of course there should be a sequel and more DC Extended Universe films. Try and stop them. Native actor, Adam Beach, makes a brief appearance as Slipknot, and the fact that is difficult for a Native actor to get screen time in a major feature film is a victory.
The Magnificent Seven
Native actor, Martin Sensmeier, gets much more screen time in his role as Comanche warrior Red Harvest, who is one of the magnificent seven. This western of course is a remake of the 1960 western remake of Akira Kurosawa’s original film, Seven Samurai. Denzel Washington reprises the role made famous by Yul Brynner and Toshiro Mifune, while Sensmeier stars with Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and a very villainous Peter Sarsgaard.