An official trailer and poster have been unveiled for one of this year’s Sundance breakouts, Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), which depicts a complex portrait of modern-day life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
The community, which resides on the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre, has made headlines for its struggles with teen suicide, poverty, unemployment, domestic abuse and alcohol addiction caused by compounding marginalization and oppression.
Songs, a highly acclaimed feature debut for Beijing-born Chloé Zhao, follows an Oglala Lakota teenager and his younger sister who find themselves on separate paths to rediscover the meaning of home.Zhao directed the film from her own screenplay which developed over the four years she spent on the reservation.
“‘Songs’ is not a generalized representation of Pine Ridge,” she says in her Director’s Statement. “My hope is for the audiences to leave the theater feeling that they have gotten to know a group of very complex characters and to have a glimpse into just how diverse and vivacious the Lakota people of Pine Ridge really are, instead of the two dimensional stereotypes we often see represented in today’s dominant culture.”
It predominantly stars first-time actors, including leads John Reddy and Jashaun St. John, which made it difficult to acquire financing.
However Forest Whitaker and his Significant Productions studio were willing to take the chance, and produced along with Zhao, Mollye Asher and Angela C Lee.
Significant will distribute in the U.S., while Diaphana Films has landed distribution rights in France.
Watch Zhao and Whitaker discuss the film at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival below.