National Museum of Natural History

See Indigenous Films at the Mother Tongue Film Festival

“Vai” is one of more than 20 films celebrating language and cultural diversity at the Smithsonian’s fifth annual Mother Tongue Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of MPI Media)
“Vai” is one of more than 20 films celebrating language and cultural diversity at the Smithsonian’s fifth annual Mother Tongue Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of MPI Media)

Every year, the Smithsonian celebrates the United Nation’s International Mother Language Day with a film festival. Now in its fifth year, the Mother Tongue Film Festival presents films from around the world that showcase Indigenous and endangered languages.

The festival kicks off Thursday at 6 p.m. at the National Museum of the American Indian with a performance by Uptown Boyz – a Washington, D.C. local intertribal drum group. The four-day event shows more than 20 films featuring 28 languages from 22 regions. All screenings are free and open to the public, but registration is recommended for select films.

Check out some of the films below.

Restless River
February 20 at 7 p.m. in the National Museum of American Indian's Rasmuson Theater

Set at the end of World War II, Restless River follows a young Inuk woman as she comes to terms with motherhood after being assaulted by a soldier. Navigating the social norms of the colonizers and her own heritage, Elsa draws courage from her rugged land to become a woman as strong and independent as the river that cuts across it. This film is based on Gabrielle Roy’s 1970 short novel Windflower (La Riviere Sans Repos).

This film contains a scene of sexual violence that some viewers may find disturbing. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors will open to registered visitors first.

Vai
February 21 at 7 p.m. in the National Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium.

Created by nine Pacific women directors, this film was shot in seven different Pacific countries: Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Kuki Airani (Cook Islands), Samoa, Niue and Āotearoa (New Zealand). In each of these nations, “vai” means water. The film represents a journey of empowerment through culture over the lifetime of one woman, Vai, played by a different Indigenous actress in each country.

Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors will open to registered visitors first.

Ainu – Indigenous People of Japan
February 22 at 12 p.m. in the National Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium.

Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, was previously called Ainumosir, or “Land of the Ainu.” Over the years, the Ainu population has experienced a decline, with now fewer than 20,000 living in Hokkaido. Through the stories of four elders, this documentary sheds light on Ainu traditions, both past and present, and the efforts to keep the culture and language alive in Japan.

Winter’s Yearning
February 22 at 5 p.m. in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium

When an American industrial giant decides to build their next plant in Maniitsoq, a remote town in Greenland, the billion-dollar project is welcomed with excitement. This could be an opportunity for a town in decline to turn things around, and even the first major step toward the long-awaited Greenlandic independence. But years go by without any signs of the plant, and Maniitsoq falls into a state of waiting. The future has been postponed, but for how long?

Blood Quantum
February 22 at 8 p.m. in the New York University - Washington D.C.'s Abramson Family Auditorium.

The dead are coming back to life outside the isolated Mi’gmaq reserve of Red Crow, except for its Indigenous inhabitants who are strangely immune to the zombie plague. Traylor, the local tribal law enforcement, armed with nothing but a gun, a hangover, and a six-pack, must protect his son’s pregnant girlfriend, apocalyptic refugees, and the drunken reserve riff raff from the hordes of walking corpses infesting the streets of Red Crow.

This film contains strong bloody violence that is not suitable for younger audiences. Minors must be accompanied by an adult. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors will open to registered visitors first.

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Anna Torres

Anna Torres is a Public Affairs Specialist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. She translates the museum’s science and history-based research and collections information into compelling stories through media relations and the museum’s blog, with additional duties in communications and public affairs. When she isn’t at the museum, Anna spends her time traveling and playing soccer. Anna holds an MA in history and public history from American University.

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