Songs My Brothers Taught Me. The 2015 feature debut from Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Chloé Zhao (The Rider, Nomadland), Songs My Brothers Taught Me is a touching and tragic coming of age story set against the stark beauty of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation.
Featuring a largely non-professional Native American cast, the film focuses on teenage Johnny and his younger sister Jashaun, two Lakota Sioux siblings whose bond is tested after the sudden death of their absent cowboy father. With an older brother in jail and living with their distant single mother, the pair spend their days navigating the harsh terrain of their small town where opportunity is scarce and poverty, alcoholism and violence is rife. When the chance of a new life in Los Angeles arises, Johnny is faced with the difficult choice of leaving Jashaun behind forever.
Juxtaposing the despair her characters face with a breathtakingly lyrical aesthetic that recalls the work of Terrence Malick, Zhao’s first film is a wistful and delicately observed portrayal of a marginalised community that subtly captures the everyday lives of an underrepresented social milieu. As empathetic as it is naturalistic, it marks the auspicious introduction of a distinctive and undeniable cinematic voice.