For a lot of us who are socially minded and generally balk at the history of Thanksgiving, a lot of traditional films leave us feeling guilty and hollow. With this in mind, I present my picks of movies that demonstrate intersectionality, support indigenous directors, and are wholesome enough to watch with your whole family.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
This was the third major motion picture directed by Taika David Waititi, whose heritage is half Maori, half Russian Jewish, and who has gone on to direct a number of highly successful mainstream films. This film tells the story of a young boy, Ricky, played by Maori descendant Julian Bailey Dennison who has also gone on to mainstream success; and Uncle, a stunning performance by seasoned character actor Sam Neill. Ricky has been through every home available to him when he is placed with Aunt and Uncle deep in the New Zealand countryside. When tragedy strikes, Ricky and Uncle flee into The Bush, embarking on a thrilling and touching adventure. This movie is weird enough for everyone to enjoy, and a family friendly option for those 13 and above.
This short film by award-winning director Danis Goulet tells a story of indigenous futurism. In the near future, the environment has been destroyed and society suffocates under a totalitarian military occupation. A lone Cree wanderer searches an urban war zone to find an ancient and untrustworthy artifact to help fight against the occupiers. Goulet has an incredible ability to involve the viewer in her film, with many screenings being presented in a VR format. The home release is equally powerful, with Goulet bringing her experience as a Cree/ Metis descendant together with ancient stories within a modern context. Sarah Podemski gives an unforgettable performance in the lead role.
This American feature film directed and written by Chris Eyre is based on the novel of the same name by Adrian C. Louis. It is set on the fictional Beaver Creek Indian Reservation, which very much resembles the Pine Ridge Reservation, where the film was shot. It is the story of a Lakota Sioux tribal police officer Rudy Yellow Lodge as he struggles to save his older brother, Mogie, a Vietnam Veteran struggling with alcoholism. This powerful drama takes great care to show the culture and hardship of reservation life while not, as Eyre stated at the time of the release “Making period pieces about Indians [in] guilt. I’m interested in doing what non-Indian filmmakers can’t do, which is portray contemporary Indians.” The imagery of this film has really stuck with me over the years, and all of the performances, especially Eric Schweig and Graham Greene, are extremely powerful.
The Doe Boy (2001)
This independent film, directed by Randy Redroad and produced by Chris Eyre, was a Sundance favorite upon its release and this coming of age story has aged well. James Duval, in one of his earliest roles, plays the role of Hunter, a young man of mixed heritage who also suffers from haemophilia. Set in 1984 in the heart of the Cherokee nation, as Hunter struggles to find treatment for his haemophilia he becomes obsessed with his own identity, seeking his own ancestry as an answer for his medical ails. Randy Redroad uses his own experiences from his first hunting trip with his father, and this adds a great depth of how heritage, tradition, and family – both blood and chosen – draw us together.
Pieces of April (2003)
This is, quite simply, one of my favorite movies. Directed by Peter Hedges and starring a very young Katie Holmes along with an outstanding ensemble cast, this is the story of April, the black sheep of her family, as she attempts to make Thanksgiving dinner for her family. Her conservative family travels from the suburbs to April’s inner city apartment; all the while carefully caring for their independent matriarch, played superbly by Patricia Clarkson, who is in the end stages of breast cancer. This is an incredibly human film; April and her boyfriend, played by Derek Luke, have no idea how to cook and must turn to their multicultural neighbors who come together to help her connect with her mother one last time. The entire soundtrack is by Magnetic Fields. This is the movie my own family watches every year, even now when we don’t spend the holidays together. This extremely low budget film saw Patricia Clarkson and Peter Hedges win a number of accolades, and became an instant classic.