Smoke Signals (film)

Smoke Signals (film)

name = Smoke Signals

director = Chris Eyre
producer = Carl Bressler Larry Estes Scott Rosenfelt David Skinner
writer = Sherman Alexie
starring = Adam Beach Evan Adams Irene Bedard Gary Farmer Tantoo Cardinal
music = BC Smith
cinematography = Brian Capener
editing = Brian Berdan
distributor = Miramax Films
released = 1998
runtime = Approx 89 min.
language = English
budget =
imdb_id = 0120321

"Smoke Signals" (1998) is an independent film directed by Chris Eyre. The film was adapted from several characters and short stories in "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" by Sherman Alexie, including "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona", but also from Sherman Alexie's other works. The film has the distinction of being the first motion picture with an exclusively Native American creative team. It was the first movie written, directed, acted and produced by Native Americans, and distributed by a major motion picture distributor, Miramax. It won several awards and accolades, and was well-received at numerous film festivals. It is rated PG-13 for "Some intense images" by the MPAA.

Plot summary

The story centers around Victor Joseph (Adam Beach) and Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams) on the Coeur D'Alene Indian Reservation in Plummer, Idaho. Thomas is the eccentric tribe storyteller and Victor is an assertive basketball player with a brooding disposition.

The two young men are linked through Victor's father, Arnold (Gary Farmer). Arnold rescued Thomas as an infant from a house fire that killed his parents. Consequently, Thomas considers him a hero. On the other hand, Victor, who endures Arnold's alcoholism, domestic violence, and eventually abandonment, regards his father with both deep love and bitter resentment. Thomas and Victor grow up together as neighbors and acquaintances, fighting with each other and simultaneously forming a close, albeit uneasy, alliance.

When Arnold dies in Phoenix, Arizona, where he has settled after separating from Victor's mother Arlene (Tantoo Cardinal), Victor and Thomas embark on a cross-country journey to retrieve his ashes and belongings. The trip turns out to be a soul-searching endeavour for both men. Neither of them lose sight of their identity as "Indians", but their perspectives differ. Victor is more stoical and pragmatic, and Thomas is more idealistic and traditional (and romantic to the point of watching the feature film "Dances with Wolves" countless times). This dichotomy continues all through the film and is the source of Victor's irritation with Thomas, and Thomas's fascination with Victor.

Once in Phoenix, Victor must confront his conflicted feelings toward his father, as well as his own identity. He also must grapple with information provided to him by his father's friend, Suzie Song (Irene Bedard); namely, the true origins of the fire that killed Thomas' parents. Arnold, drunk one night, accidentally shot off a firework into the living room window, causing the fire in his neighbors house. The trip turns out to ultimately cure Victors brooding disposition towards life and shows him why his father became an alcoholic, was abusive, and eventually left their family. The film concludes with Victor achieving a better understanding of Thomas and Thomas' unconditional reverence for Arnold.


* 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 – Chlotrudis Awards: Nomination: Best Actor (Evan Adams)
* 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)

External links and references

* [ "Smoke Signals" at Sherman]
* [ Stories from the reservation: Smoke Signals: A film by Chris Eyre at the London Film Festival] Paul Bond, ICIF
* [ Sending Cinematic Smoke Signals: An Interview with Sherman Alexie] Dennis West and Joan M. West, "Cineaste"

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