Drunktown’s Finest is a compelling tale.

by Martin Hafer

Drunktown’s Finest is a film that just recently debuted at Sundance and will soon have a wider release. It’s by a new director, Sydney Freeland, and it’s an amazing debut effort–mostly because the emphasis is on the acting. It seems that the executive producer, Robert Redford, made an excellent choice in having Freeland helm.

Drunktown’s Finest
Directed by
Sydney Freeland
Jeremiah Bitsui, Carmen Moore, MorningStar Angeline
Release Date
20 February 2015
Martin’s Grade: A-

The film is set on a Navajo reservation. Although Ms. Freeland’s biography on IMDb was scant, I did some research and found out that she actually grew up on one of these reservations herself and that’s why this story seems so personal and unlike any other film I’ve seen on Native Americans. Drunktown’s Finest consists of a story about three people who are struggling with their identity, and their stories eventually intertwine during the course of the film.

There’s a young lady who has grown up off the reservation, as she was adopted at a young age and brought up on the other side of the country by white parents. She’s struggling to reconcile her adoptive parents religion and values with her own biology and a need to learn more about her people. Another character is a very angry and self-destructive young man who plans on joining the military as his way off the reservation and to a more stable life. The last is more unusual, in that it’s about someone transsexual that leads a very promiscuous and directionless life. The filmmakers were fortunately able to find transsexual Navajo actor Carmen Moore, to fill that roll. (This article explains about Transuxuality and how it was once respectively regarded as a third sex among Native Americans until Catholicism was introduced LINK)
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The film is very unusual as it manages to tell a compelling story while focusing on the acting and the characters. Freeland does an excellent job of allowing these actors to give natural performances and not embellish the tale with unnecessary plot devices. It’s all about the acting in this film. It’s also important that it really doesn’t matter much what you think about LGBT issues, American Indian culture or any of the issues brought up in the film. Sure I didn’t like or necessarily agree with everything I saw but the movie didn’t attempt to preach to the audience or give you the answers. Some might dislike this ambiguity as well as the ending where everything isn’t tied up neatly into a nice little package. I see it as just an opportunity to expose you to another way of life and a people who are most likely different from the people in your own life. This is a story that is never dull and I really look forward to seeing more from these actors and director.