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Smoke Signals (1998)


"Before viewing" talks introduce the film without spoilers. Watch it, then click on the "After viewing" talk for more. More»» by Randy Heffner

Why the film is worth your time

Made by Indians about Indians (we can say “Indians” rather than “Native Americans” because they themselves say it that way in the film), Smoke Signals creatively mixes humor from multiple angles (about Indians, about reservations, about how others see Indians, about the history of Indian relations with the USA, etc.) with serious explorations of relationships and family that ring true beyond the reservation. The humor is presented in a matter-of-fact, tongue-in-cheek way that lends it a genuine quality — it doesn’t feel like staged gags (even if some of it is). The relationships feel real, even when the characters are quirky. The filmmaking quality is very good. Running time: 89 min.

Life is different on the Coeur d’Alene Indian reservation — and a fair bit funny. Sometimes, things might seem a little backward, but then maybe it’s not so different after all. There are still fathers and sons and mothers and cousins — we all try to make sense of mixed up family relations and crazy family histories. Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire go on an odyssey into the foreign lands outside the reservation, finding more family history than they had set out for.

Light profanity. One of the main characters becomes an alcoholic and physically abusive (intense, but short and not graphic).

  • Director: Chris Eyre
  • Screenplay: Sherman Alexie
  • Leads: Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer, Tantoo Cardinal
  • Cinematography: Brian Capener

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"After viewing" talks assume that you have seen the film. They will contain spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

How the film enriched and changed me

Watching Smoke Signals affected me in two distinct ways. The first comes from seeing Victor struggle with his father’s failings and offenses. Victor starts quite naturally with an external,

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Screenshots and dialog copyright © 1998 by the filmmakers.


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One Response to “Smoke Signals”

  1. Cerys says:

    I saw Smoke Signals on the television about 6 years ago, and when I started searching for it again online today I couldn’t remember that much about it – not even the name. Nevertheless, I remembered that it had an impact on me at the time. And one scene that stayed in my mind was the main character running along the road to get help for the car accident, the feeling of that scene really stuck with me.

    I found your page from the link you posted on IMDB, and I’ve enjoyed remembering the film again and reading your thoughts. Thank you for posting this.


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"Backstory" talks speak of things behind the film. Go to "Before" or "After" talks for the film itself. More»» by Randy Heffner

How the backstory adds to the film's impact

The most important part of the backstory for Smoke Signals is that it was written, produced, directed, and acted by Native Americans. This gives it a degree of credibility available to few other feature films concerning Indians. The basis for the screenplay

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