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Drunktown’s Finest

by on October 18, 2014
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The new film Drunktown's finest playing Heartland Film Festival

“Drunktown’s Finest” is the Native American “Crash,” but I mean that in a good way.

“Drunktown” is an ensemble film with no main character, but instead follows three characters as they struggle with their lives on a reservation where there is no hope.

Luther Maryboy (Jeremiah Bitsui) is entering adulthood but hasn’t left his adolescence. Known as “Sick Boy,” he has a history of rowdiness but also a pregnant girlfriend and a pending application to join the Army, which he sees as his way out. When we first meet Sick Boy, he’s peeing in a public place. When an officer stops him, he starts a fight with the cop. This lands him in the slam, where his Army recruiter must bail him out. He’s jeopardizing his acceptance into the service but resolves to stay on the straight and narrow.

Felixia (Carmen Moore) is a pre-op transgender woman who offers her services online. She longs to be a model, and has the looks, but not the proper equipment.

And finally, Nizhoni (Morning Star Wilson) has lived a life of privilege, adopted by a white family and taken away from the reservation as a young child. She is curious about her birth parents but can’t seem to get the information about them from her adopted parents. She begins covertly looking for them, inquiring about them and slowly learning about her heritage.

“Drunktown” gives an honest look at life on the reservation, where its residents are low on ambition but long on energy. The result is a lot of crime, and generation upon generation of aimless wandering. When people like Sick Boy want something more, they are ripe to fall back into the trap. Drugs, alcohol and anomie flow freely, and lives can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye.

Felixia is maybe the movie’s most interesting character. Kindhearted and friendly, she is accepted by her grandparents, who don’t pretend to understand her journey but go along with who she is. She turns tricks with men in the area, who adore her in private but reject her completely in public.

Director Sydney Freeland also wrote the screenplay, which bounces between stories until eventually they intersect in ways that, in another movie, would seem too coincidental for comfort. Only this is a reservation, which feels like a small town where everyone knows each other. Here is where the “Crash” parallels come in; think an all-Native American version of that movie, without the more ridiculous and stereotyped developments.

Executive produced by Robert Redford, “Drunktown’s Finest” is a good film with a good message. It’s about a forgotten people who have had everything taken from them, then given a small tract of land and told to go away. Go out of your way to see it.

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