qathet film society presents
3 Ears Indigenous Film Festival

Smoke signals

Smoke Signals

Saturday September 30 — 7 pm

Q&A with Evan Adams via Zoom following the movie

With: Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard
Directed by: Chris Eyre
1h 28m

Smoke Signals is a 1998 coming-of-age comedy-drama film directed by Chris Eyre from a screenplay by Sherman Alexie, based on Alexie’s short story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. The film won several awards and accolades, and was well received at numerous film festivals.

Arnold (Gary Farmer) rescued Thomas (Evan Adams) from a fire when he was a child. Thomas thinks of Arnold as a hero, while Arnold’s son Victor (Adam Beach) resents his father’s alcoholism, violence and abandonment of his family. Uneasy rivals and friends, Thomas and Victor spend their days killing time on a Coeur d’Alene reservation in Idaho and arguing about their cultural identities. When Arnold dies, the duo set out on a cross-country journey to Phoenix to retrieve Arnold’s ashes.

“It’s a good day to be indigenous!” the reservation radio deejay tells his American Indian listeners as Smoke Signals opens. We cut to the station’s traffic reporter, who scrutinizes an intersection that rarely seems to be used. “A big truck just went by,” he announces. Later in the film, we will hear several choruses of a song about John Wayne’s false teeth.
Smoke Signals is the first major feature film written, directed by and starring Indians, and it looks at Indian life in a down-to-earth yet irreverent way that focuses on its engaging characters. It was written by Spokane, Wash., novelist Sherman Alexie, based on stories from his book “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.”

It’s shocking to realize that as late as 1998, this was still one of the few movies made by insiders, written, directed, and acted by Native Americans. It will be hard to find a dry eye in the house by the time Smoke Signals reaches its destination — but those tears will be a wonderful mix of sadness and joy.

Awards and Accolades

1998 – American Indian Film Festival: Best film

1998 – Christopher Award

1998 – First Americans in the Arts: Outstanding Achievement in Writing (Sherman Alexie), Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Film (Evan Adams), Outstanding Achievement in Directing (Chris Eyre)

1998 – Gotham Awards: Nominations: Open Palm Award

1998 – National Board of Review: Special Recognition For Excellence In Filmmaking

1998 – San Diego World Film Festival: Best American Independent Feature; Best Screenplay (Sherman Alexie); Best Actor (Adam Beach); Best Director (Chris Eyre)

1998 – Sundance Film Festival: Filmmaker’s Trophy (Chris Eyre); Audience Award. Nominations: Grand Jury Prize

1998 – Taos Talking Picture Festival: Taos Land Grant Award (Chris Eyre)

1998 – Tokyo International Film Festival: Best Artistic Contribution (Chris Eyre) (tie)

1999 – Florida Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Newcomer (Chris Eyre/Sherman Alexie)

1999 – Independent Spirit Awards: Best Debut Performance (Evan Adams). Nominations: Best Supporting Male nomination (Gary Farmer), Best First Screenplay nomination (Sherman Alexie)

1999 – Young Artist Awards: Nominations: Best Performance in a Feature Film-Supporting Young Actor (Cody Lightning)

2018 – National Film Registry