Simply put, Chris Eyre’s Smoke Signals is a superbly told, deeply moving portrait of coming to terms with one’s father. His direction of novelist/screenwriter Sherman Alexie’s tale of a young man’s journey to retrieve his estranged father’s body for burial is full of the kind of truth, spirit, and insight that only a remarkably original and genuine voice can offer.
The chronicle of athletic and charming Victor Joseph from the Salmon Indian Reservation really begins when he learns of his father’s premature and sudden death. With no money, he accepts the offer of his quirky and garrulous childhood buddy, Thomas-Builds-the-Fire, to pay for the trip, but only if he goes along. Their ensuing odyssey becomes an exploration of social and personal being, but this is not a typical account laced with angst and despair. Eyre and Alexie have fused their cultural legacy with a cinematic vision that is fresh, honest, and deeply cynical of the trite images and ideas about what it is to be Indian in America.
Funny, raging, poignant, and revealing, Smoke Signals is a story told from a very personal point of view. As specific as it is, its payoffs are powerfully universal. Adam Beach heads a wonderful cast which includes Evan Adams as Thomas, and Gary Farmer and Tantoo Cardinal as Victor’s parents. It is not novel enough to say that this is the first dramatic film directed and written by Native Americans. This film is blessed with inspiration.
Chris Eyre, Director
Twenty-seven-year-old Chris Eyre is a Cheyenne/Arapaho filmmaker from Klamath Falls, Oregon. He has shot six short films and written and directed seven others, including Tenacity, which screened at over twenty festivals and brought him worldwide attention. He recently completed his MFA in filmmaking at New York University. While in school, he received numerous awards, including the prestigious Rockefeller Foundation Intercultural Film Fellowship. At the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, Eyre was named the United States winner of the Cinema 100/Sundance Internatinal Award.
— Geoffrey Gilmore
Sundance Film Festival Awards