Watch Smoke Signals

Through the lifelong relationship between Thomas Builds-the-Fire and Victor Joseph, two young men who live on the Coeur D'Alene Indian Reservation in Idaho, Smoke Signals explores the nature of forgiveness and friendship. As a quirky dreamer who wears oversized glasses, Thomas tells wild stories that bewilder and amaze his listeners. Victor is a talented basketball player trapped by the pain of the abuse and abandonment he suffered at the hands of his alcoholic father, Arnold. Aside from their heritage, Thomas and Victor are forever linked by Arnold’s rescue of an infant Thomas from a house fire that killed the boy’s parents. While Thomas views Arnold as a hero to be honored with elaborate tales, Victor both loves and resents the man who overshadows his life yet whom he no longer knows.

When they learn of Arnold’s death in Phoenix, Victor and Thomas journey to return his ashes to the reservation. Along the way the two young men explore what it means to be a native in the 20th century. They encounter enduring bias yet choose to deal with the world outside of the reservation with humor, riffing on the mystery of John Wayne’s teeth, native stoicism and popular films about Native American culture. Their sometimes tense relationship deepens along the way as Victor and Thomas begin to better understand themselves and one other.

Thomas and Victor meet Suzy Song, Arnold’s friend and confidant in Phoenix, and they learn about Arnold’s dreams of returning home and the painful past that kept him away. As they discover the truth about the fateful house fire, the two young men begin to confront the tension that binds them. Slowly realizing that he has run from his own life and those who love him, Victor begins to understand why his father abandoned him all those years ago. Victor ultimately releases his father’s ashes and his own anger to begin healing and defining himself anew.

Written, directed and produced by Native Americans and using a native starring cast, the movie gently pokes at native and white stereotypes while boldly exploring human frailty and resilience. Paralleling Arnold’s departure from the reservation and his return to its healing waters, the movie offers the message that forgiveness and rebirth can be possible for all if one is but willing to accept it.

| 1998 | | 7.2/10 | 76/100
Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer
Miramax Films
Chris Eyre

Also directed by Chris Eyre

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