An essential portrait of contemporary indigenous life that withstands tourist gaze, “Małni – Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore”, the first feature film by artist and filmmaker Ho-Chunk Sky Hopinka, is not too concerned with knowing if we fully understand the traditions and rituals it engages in a spellbinding way on screen. It refreshingly centers the Indigenous perspective and draws audiences to its wavelength by tapping into something more intuitive, the stuff of dreams.
“You don’t have to say much,” says one of the film’s two subjects, Sweetwater Sahme, as she leads the filmmaker on a hike through the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, pointing to the foliage. trembling. “It’s a feeling, an energy. And there is so much to watch.
The documentary, rooted in the Chinookan myth of the origin of death (a dialogue between a wolf and a coyote about the afterlife), separately follows two young parents – pregnant Sahme and Jordan Mercier, both friends of Hopinka – as they grapple with questions of heritage and identity.
The subtitles switch between English lingo and Chinook lingo, but the oral component (including Hopinka’s storytelling) sometimes fades into the backdrop with a sound design that amplifies the crackle of a fire, the boiling and the crash of the ocean and the waterfalls.
The natural world, with its endless tides and cycles of life and death, provides a framework for the preservation of Indigenous culture, resilient despite its new forms and manifestations. An extended interlude sees an Indigenous song and dance performed in a school gymnasium. In a voiceover, Sahme reflects on the bond between her unborn child and her grandmother as a long canoe descends a river lined with cranes and factories.
An undeniable melancholy – a sense of loss – permeates the film. Yet he never resigned. The ghosts of history live among us. To ignore their presence, “Małni” seems to say, is to forget who we really are.
Malni – To the ocean, to the shore
Unclassified. In English and Chinook jargon, with subtitles. Duration: 1 hour 22 minutes. On the virtual cinema of Metrograph.