Now Playing! Provocative Experimental Films by Indigenous Artists

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Still from Caroline Monnet’s 'Creature Dada,’ 2016. (Courtesy SF Cinematheque)

The second of SF Cinematheque’s four free programs of experimental short films by—and curated by—Indigenous artists, “what was always yours and never lost” is accessible, provocative and refreshingly non-dogmatic. Sky Hopinka’s selections engage rather than assault the viewer, and in so doing expand our horizons and shift our perspectives.

Caroline Monnet (Anishinaabe/French) is represented by three films, with Creature Dada (2016) leading off the program with a circle of confident Native women savoring seafood and champagne. By the time the Canadian filmmaker’s Cephyrophobia (2016) arrives, with its monochrome studies of bridges, we don’t see it as a collection of picturesque still lifes but as evidence of white intrusion on the natural terrain.

Still from Thirza Cuthand’s ‘Less Lethal Fetishes,’ 2019. (Courtesy SF Cinematheque)

In between, Toronto filmmaker Thirza Cuthand (Cree) regales us with both the sexual potential of gas masks and the confusing moral responsibility of a Whitney Biennial invitation in the oddly endearing Less Lethal Fetishes (2019). Cuthand also puts herself front and center as the guest speaker at an Indigenous revolutionary meeting who delivers an outlandish (and eminently entertaining) reminiscence of a brief affair with a version of Queen Elizabeth II in Just Dandy (2013).

Indigenous artists collective New Red Order (Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil and Jackson Polys) takes on embedded power by skillfully revealing our complicity in the fetishizing and minimizing of historical figures in statues and busts in Culture Capture: Terminal Addition (2018), a witty and valuable film made in Syracuse, New York.

Still from Colectivo Los Ingràvidos’ ‘Itzcóatl,’ 2016. (Courtesy SF Cinematheque)

Colectivo Los Ingràvidos (Tehuacán) reclaims the pyramids in defense of the Aztec empire in the high-energy, split-screen Itzcóatl (2016). The symbolism in this beautiful film may be slightly obscure for American viewers, but no one will miss the meaning of the Mexican collective’s other contribution to the lineup, Impresiones para una máquina de luz y sonido (2014). Against the tattered, black-and-white backdrop of an old celluloid melodrama, a woman delivers a vibrant speech—part eulogy, part poem, part shriek of anger—cataloguing the murders of Mexican civilians (primarily women) and the government’s indifference. If, for some reason, you only have time for one film, Impresiones para una máquina de luz y sonido is the heart-wrenching standout of the program (even if it is a rebuttal of sorts of the title, “what was always yours and never lost”).

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Cheer yourself up, slightly, with the wry curtain-dropper The History of the Luiseño People (1993). The film showcases the late Native American performance artist James Luna home alone in the dark on Christmas Eve with a 12-pack, ciggies, sunglasses and, crucially, a phone. He reaches out to family and ex-lovers, giving a little but keeping his distance. Connection, however, proves more powerful than isolation.

‘Cousins and Kin: what was always yours and never lost’ streams online at SF Cinematheque through May 15. Details here.