3 Best Movies to Watch by Irene Bedard

Staff & contributors

To Hollywood's shame, it wasn’t until 1998 that a major feature made by Native American filmmakers was released. It was this charming indie gem that belatedly broke that new ground: based on author Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Smoke Signals retains the irreverent humor hinted at in its source material’s title while also being a genuinely heartfelt drama. Set across two cleverly interweaving timelines, it follows the fraught relationship between Victor and Thomas, two young men living on Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Reservation who are forever linked by tragedy: as a baby, Thomas was saved from the house fire that killed his parents by Victor’s father Arnold (a great Gary Farmer), who soon spiraled into alcoholism and abandoned his young son. When Arnold dies suddenly, then, the duo embark on a perspective-changing road trip to collect his ashes.

Thomas’ nerdy earnestness and happy-go-lucky personality have always gotten on the nerves of the stoic Victor — who’s eaten up by resentment at his father for leaving — but the trip brings the disparate duo together. Though the movie honors their meaningful journey with a serious dramatic focus, it’s also shot through with sharp humor satirizing clichés about Native American people — a tonal complexity that makes it uncommonly accomplished, even without the added value of its all-too-rare perspective.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Beach, Cynthia Geary, Elaine Miles, Evan Adams, Gary Farmer, Irene Bedard, Michael Greyeyes, Molly Cheek, Perrey Reeves, Simon Baker, Tantoo Cardinal, Tom Skerritt

Director: Chris Eyre

Rating: PG-13

This slow-burning drama is set in an Indigenous reservation in South Dakota, where Johnny is a teenager who dreams of moving to L.A. with his girlfriend. He would have to leave behind his little sister, who is just grappling with the recent loss of their father. 

Director Chloé Zhao (The Rider, Nomadland) worked with amateur actors whose lives mirror the characters, often adapting the script to the actors' stories. She filmed 100 hours of footage that she then distilled into an hour and a half. 

The result is a film shot from the outside but which is grounded in local stories. And these stories are rough, sad, complex - but so important to listen to and understand. It's an incredible feat to make an observational film that's so grounded in reality - only a genius could: that's Chloé Zhao, and this mature work is -somehow- her first feature film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Derrick Janis, Eléonore Hendricks, Irene Bedard, Jashaun St. John

Director: Chloé Zhao

Rating: Not Rated

On the one hand, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a tense thriller—an excellently set-up heist that makes you wonder, until the end, whether the low-budget operation succeeds or not. On the other hand, it’s a thoughtful rumination on the evil and influence of Big Oil, which despite its relentless destruction of environments and communities, continues to run scot-free. 

Together, these parts make for a powerful, nerve-racking film about both the danger and necessity of eco-terrorism—a radical act that is impressively humanized and spared from caricature here. How to Blow Up a Pipeline's themes may be big and its means explosive, but its rich characterizations of the young activists ground it into a relatable reality. One is dying due to toxins released by the nearby plant, another is forced to give up his property to make way for the construction of a pipeline. All are tired of the fruitlessness of government promises and peaceful protests. Rousing and relevant, there's never been a more timelier film than this. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Ariela Barer, Calhoun Koenig, Christopher Hagen, Clint Obenchain, Forrest Goodluck, Grayson Berry, Irene Bedard, Jake Weary, Jayme Lawson, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Marcus Scribner, Mark Dalton, Mike Miller, Sam Quinn, Sarah Minnich, Sasha Lane, Travis Hammer

Director: Daniel Goldhaber

Rating: R