// Presented as part of Filmatique's The Future is Female (Directors) Series //
Spotlight on Songs My Brothers Taught Me
Chloé Zhao / 2015, Sundance, AFI Fest, Athens, BFI London, Camerimage, Deauville, Denver, FNC - Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, Göteborg, Hamburg, Jerusalem, Mumbai, Vienna / 94'
Present-day on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, amid the desolate if not entrancing landscapes of South Dakota's badlands. Teenage Johnny spends his days breaking horses and hustling contraband liquor out of the family's laundry room, yet dreams of moving with his girlfriend to Los Angeles, where he believes a brighter future awaits him. Before his departure, Johnny finds it increasingly difficult to shelter his young sister Jashuan from the harsh realities characterizing life on the reservation.
Filmed using non-professional actors and attuned to both the surrounding natural beauty and their collective despair, Songs My Brothers Taught Me captures the cycles of poverty, violence, and trauma that afflict one of the United States' most marginalized Native communities. Chloé Zhao's debut feature premiered at Sundance, Cannes' Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, Göteborg, BFI London; Camerimage, where it won the Jury Award for Best Cinematography Debut; Mumbai, where it received a Special Jury Mention for Achievement in Screenwriting; and Jerusalem, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize.
"Because [Zhao's] laissez-faire approach makes little effort to fit the fragmentary scenes into a tidy portrait of reservation life, Songs My Brothers Taught Me feels more authentic than if she had chosen to impose a tighter structure. You come at the story, such as it is, as a visitor from the outside world, picking up information as the movie goes along… The panoramic cinematography by Joshua James Richards is often breathtaking. Whether the camera observes horseback riders atop a bluff or a distant thunderstorm on the horizon, you are mesmerized by the desolate beauty of the Great Plains and the changing sky overhead"
- Stephen Holden, Film Review, The New York Times