Oregon celebrated its first official Indigenous People’s Day last week—but considering that all non-Native people are currently on stolen land, you shouldn’t need a special holiday to learn about and support Indigenous people and cultures.
One way to do this is by watching some of the Indigenous-made films currently available to stream through the Portland Film Festival (PFF), which runs through November 8.
A standout among those is Apache Leap, a feature-length film shot on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona. The film follows a day in the life of Keane, a young Apache man with artistic ambitions who’s trying to get a straight-and-narrow job to appease his judgemental father-in-law. But that day is full of obstacles—Keane’s wayward sister shows up out of the blue, his partner’s daughter gets into trouble, and he struggles to decide between his passions and his sense of obligation to his family.
Apache Leap is a film with many universal themes: the yearning for family, the lengths we’ll go to for the people we love, and struggling with imposter syndrome and alienation. But it’s also a film particularly about the struggles Native Americans continue to face in a society that has yet to atone for the damage inflicted on them, and how that trauma is passed down and re-enacted through generations. It ends with a twist I genuinely didn’t see coming—one that both drives those points home and casts Apache Leap’s characters in a totally new light. Gorgeous, sweeping shots of the reservation and a direct, plainspoken script complement the film’s message well.
Also worth watching are the short films that make up PFF’s Indigenous Voices shorts block. In documentary First Time Home, children from a Triqui family—indigenous to Oaxaca, Mexico but living in Washington state as migrant farmworkers—travel to Mexico for the first time to meet their extended family, share their thoughts on living between two cultures, and lament the unfair conditions their parents are met with at work. (A Triqui farmworker says he earns $13 an hour, while his coworkers who are American citizens make $25 an hour.) First Time Home includes a mix of Spanish, English, and Triqui, with subtitles provided in both English and Spanish.
A fictional short in that block, River of Small Gods, tells the story of a Native Hawaiian woman who faces eviction from her apartment and, desperate for cash, takes a gig gathering lava stones said to contain gods for a mysterious sculptor. Set against the backdrop of the Thirty Meter Telescope protests, the film is a meditation on what we can and can’t take from nature, and ends in a haunting way that’s somewhat open to interpretation.
There are plenty of other Indigenous-created films, both shorts and full-length, available to watch through PFF. You can find them all here. These beautifully produced, thought-provoking films reinforce the idea that the best stories about marginalized communities are the ones they tell about themselves.
You can stream all PFF selections through its website; sliding-scale streaming access starts at $10 and runs through November 8. If you’re a Comcast Xfinity customer, you can also access the films through VOD.