One of the best films to come out of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, director Sydney Freeland’s Drunktown’s Finest is a touching coming of age tale involving life on an Indian reservation. A feature debut for Freeland, the director carefully constructs a story that avoids many of the stigmas and stereotypes of Native life, yet still portrays the real challenges Native people face.
The film shares three unique stories of Navajo people living on the reservation near Dry Lake, New Mexico. Nizhoni (MorningStar Angeline), an adopted Christian girl with Navajo roots is about to leave for college. Having been raised most of her life by white American parents, Nizhoni is desperate to reconnect with her past and understand where she comes from. She discovers her birth parents had died in a car crash and she begins visiting the reservation to track down anyone who may have known them, meanwhile growing frustrated with her adoptive parents, who tried to shield her from the hardships of reservation life.
Luther “Sick Boy” Maryboy (Jeremiah Bitsui) is a rebellious Navajo man trying to carve out a life for himself, his girlfriend Angela, and their unborn child. Sick Boy is about to leave for the Army, but finds himself falling prey to the same traps and challenges that have plagued him throughout his life. He cheats on Angela. He drinks himself into a stupor. He breaks his promises. Sick Boy struggles with his identity and frequent run-ins with the law, nearly losing everything that is important to him.
Transgendered Felixia (Carmen Moore) lives with her grandparents on the reservation. While her grandfather is the local Medicine Man, she doesn’t quite grasp the Navajo culture and looks to move far beyond the borders of the reservation. A modeling opportunity arises for Felixia and she attends a casting call, only to be discovered by a former schoolmate, who recalls that Felixia was known as Felix not very long ago. Depressed, Felixia falls into her habits of promiscuity, turning tricks for money and flirting with strange men over the internet.
As each story unfolds, the audience is treated with a unique perspective on modern Navajo life through the eyes of three flawed heroes. Director Sydney Freeland also carefully selected a Native cast, with more than half of the roles going to authentic Navajo actors. The result is a moving and genuine collection of stories, where the audience is often searching for a connection between Nizhoni, Sick Boy, and Felixia, until at last the interconnectivity of theirs and many other Navajo lives is finally revealed.
Read our interview with Sydney Freeland