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Smoke Signals (1998)

 -  Comedy | Drama  -  26 June 1998 (USA)
7.2
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 7,382 users   Metascore: 76/100
Reviews: 132 user | 55 critic | 17 from Metacritic.com

Young Indian man Thomas is a nerd in his reservation, wearing oversize glasses and telling everyone stories no-one wants to hear. His parents died in a fire in 1976, and Thomas was saved by... See full summary »

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Title: Smoke Signals (1998)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Evan Adams ...
...
Suzy Song
...
...
...
Young Victor Joseph
...
Young Thomas Builds-the-Fire
Monique Mojica ...
...
Chief Leonard George ...
Lester Fallsapart (as Leonard George)
...
Junior Polatkin
...
Boo
Michelle St. John ...
Velma
Elaine Miles ...
...
Cathy the Gymnast
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Storyline

Young Indian man Thomas is a nerd in his reservation, wearing oversize glasses and telling everyone stories no-one wants to hear. His parents died in a fire in 1976, and Thomas was saved by Arnold. Arnold soon left his family (and his tough son Victor), and Victor hasn't seen his father for 10 years. When Victor hears Arnold has died, Thomas offers him funding for the trip to get Arnold's remains, but only if Thomas will also go with him. Thomas and Victor hit the road. Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

A new film from the heart of Native America.

Genres:

Comedy | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for some intense images | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

|

Language:

Release Date:

26 June 1998 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona  »

Filming Locations:

 »

Box Office

Budget:

$2,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$43,574 (USA) (26 June 1998)

Gross:

$6,719,300 (USA) (16 October 1998)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

During the shooting of Lucy and Velma driving backwards, Elaine Miles (Lucy) acquired the skill of driving the car backwards. Hence, no stunt driver was needed. Miles performed the driving herself. See more »

Goofs

There is no way that one bus driver could have driven the same bus continuously from Idaho to Arizona. Federal law would prohibit it. See more »

Quotes

Victor Joseph: You gotta look mean or people won't respect you. White people will run all over you if you don't look mean. You gotta look like a warrior! You gotta look like you just came back from killing a buffalo!
Thomas Builds-the-Fire: But our tribe never hunted buffalo - we were fishermen.
Victor Joseph: What! You want to look like you just came back from catching a fish? This ain't "Dances With Salmon" you know!
See more »

Crazy Credits

Any similarity to actual persons, living, dead, or indigenous, is purely coincidental. See more »

Connections

Featured in Rich Hall's Inventing the Indian (2012) See more »

Soundtracks

Treaties
(1995)
Music by Jim Boyd
Lyrics by Sherman Alexie
Performed by Jim Boyd and Debra Ludwig (as Debra), Pam Ludwig (as Pam) and Lori Ludwig
Courtesy of Thunderwolf Records
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Nothing short of miraculous.
10 May 2005 | by (Indianapolis, IN) – See all my reviews

Smoke Signals is a somewhat misunderstood film. The setting on an Indian reservation leads viewers to believe that Smoke Signals is about Indian issues or Indian philosophy. To be sure, the presence of Indian values and culture make this movie decidedly more enjoyable, but the movie is more transcendent, more universal than a purely Indian film. And, while this was heralded as the first movie to be written, directed and co-produced by Native Americans, there is something here for everyone, regardless of ethnicity.

More than anything else, this movie appealed to me as a writer. Taken from Sherman Alexie's brilliant collection "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven". it is beautifully written and expertly crafted from beginning to end. The first scene, narrated lyrically by Evan Adams as Thomas Builds-the-fire, sets the tone for a story handed down, as with Native American culture, in true oral tradition.

The French title, Le secret des cendres (The secret of the ashes) more accurately describes the book and the movie, both of which must be experienced to fully appreciate Alexie's genius. With multiple allusions to fire and ash, each having different meanings, as well as a well integrated use of Native American lore, Smoke Signals requires more than a little thought for the average American viewer.

The story revolves around two young Coeur d' Alene Indian men dealing with loss and the end of childhood innocence. The two men cope with loss in very different ways; Thomas though mysticism and legend, Victor through stoicism and denial. When Victor Joseph, brilliantly played by Adam Beach, learns that his estranged father has died, he and Thomas embark on a journey to claim the ashes, another allusion of the french title, and on the way get in touch with their identities as adults apart from their parents.

Evan Adams is stupendous as Thomas Builds-the-fire. His storytelling scenes are pure magic. By imbuing simple memories with mystical reverence, he elevates them, and thus both himself and his listeners, to a new spiritual level. His exaltation of the ordinary is the core of this delightful work of genius. It culminates with a reading, slightly modified, of Dick Lourie's poem "Forgiving Our Fathers". Lourie, who is a self-described unreconstructed beatnik poet, brings a fragile and elegant beauty to the film's emotional climax. The final scenes, driven by Adams' narration and haunting Native American chant and music, are nothing short of miraculous.

Adam Beach, strapping and stalwart as Victor Joseph, managed to parlay his appearance in Smoke Signals into a respectable film career. Evan Adams, diminutive and shy as Thomas Builds-the-fire, was not so lucky despite his masterful performance. Perhaps Admas' aspirations ran along different lines, as these days, even after starring in what is basically a sequel (The Business of Fancydancing, also by Alexie) Adams can now be called Dr. Adams, as he has become a respected and accomplished physician in British Columbia.

The supporting cast was equally magnificent, and each lends credibility and energy to the movie. An interesting sidenote is that Irene Bedard, who appears as Suzy Song, was the physical model for Pocahontas in the Disney animated feature.

I have seen this movie many times, and will undoubtedly watch it many more. Each time I am left in silent awe as I reflect on my own life, family, and philosophies.


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