Four Sheets to the Wind begins with a Muscogee language narration of a story of a rabbit that swallowed a bear, while Cufe (Cree for “rabbit”) Smallhill (Cody Lightning, Smoke Signals) finds his father Frankie “more quiet than usual”—Frankie has committed suicide. Cufe follows his father’s wishes and buries him in a nearby pond. The death and funeral reanimate buried emotions of stark loneliness, neglect, and desire. Cufe’s mother Cora (Jeri Arrendondo) is unhappy about her husband’s not having a proper funeral, but is trying to move on after years of enduring her husband’s silence. Cufe’s troubled sister Miri (Ojibway actress/singer Tamara Podemski) returns home, only to resume a past conflict with Cora. Cufe leaves his Oklahoma reservation to check out Tulsa—the big city—and to visit Miri. As Miri’s not home when he arrives, Cufe hangs out with her neighbor, Francie, and finds shelter from his immense loneliness from his father’s death—and also burgeoning love. He discovers Miri’s self-destructive downward spiral with alcohol and strange men as she aimlessly and compulsively reaches for comfort.
Sikumi and Four Sheets to the Wind, screening July 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. Admission free. For information, see walkerart.org.
With beautiful low-key poignancy and gentle humor, Four Sheets to the Wind depicts the quiet turmoil of a family of silence coping with feeling unheard all their lives: “a silence everyone shares that resembles love.” A project of the Sundance Lab, Four Sheets to the Wind won a Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Creek/Seminole director Sterlin Harjo will introduce this, his first feature-length film.
Preceding short film Sikumi (On the Ice), also a winner at the Sundance Film Festival (2008 Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking), precedes Four Sheets to the Wind. Award-winning director/writer Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, an Inupiaq filmmaker raised in Alaska, made Sikumi entirely in his mother’s native Inuit dialect, Inupiaq.
Sikumi is a stark drama. Apuna (Brad Weyiouanna), an Inuit hunter out with his dog team, inadvertently witnesses the murder of his friend by an acquaintance—anonymity doesn’t exist in the tiny communities of the Arctic. Apuna has a few last words with his friend Taqi (Olemaun Rexford) dying of knife wounds, then murderer Miqu (Tony Bryant) returns.
Desperately attempting to weasel out of punishment for his crime, Miqu pleads, cajoles and threatens Apuna to not turn him in. Apuna is in a cold spin as he ponders his moral dilemma, until Miqu makes the decision for him. The vast, barren white Arctic landscape intensifies the red blood of the crime and the blood-chilling stand-off.
Cyn Collins is a Twin Cities freelance arts and culture writer. She is the author of West Bank Boogie, a substitute programmer at KFAI, and an assistant producer of Write On Radio.