Sky Hopinka


Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk/Pechanga) was born and raised in Ferndale, Washington, and spent a number of years in Oregon and California. In Portland, he studied and taught chinuk wawa, a language indigenous to the Lower Columbia River Basin. His video work centers around personal positions of Indigenous homeland and landscape, designs of language as containers of culture, and the play between the known and the unknowable. He received his BA from Portland State University (2012) and his MFA in Film, Video, Animation, and New Genres from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2016). His work has been exhibited around the world, including at imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, the Whitney Biennial (2017), and five previous editions of Media City Film Festival. His film Jáaji Approx. had its festival premiere at MCFF and was awarded Third Prize (2014). He is the recipient of the More with Less Award from the Images Festival (2016), the Tom Berman Award for Most Promising Filmmaker at the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival (2016), the New Cinema Award at the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, and the Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowship (2018). He was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (2018–2019) and Sundance (2019), and was an MCFF Chrysalis and Guggenheim Fellow (2020). He received a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” in 2022. He is Assistant Professor of Film and Electronic Arts at Bard, and lives in upstate New York.

ONLINE SCREENING DATES: January 9 – January 30, 2023

FILMS IN THIS PROGRAM: małni - towards the ocean, towards the shore, 80 min, 2020; I’ll Remember You as You Were, Not as What You’ll Become, 12.5 min, 2016; Jáaji Approx., 7.5 min, 2015; Dislocation Blues, 17 min, 2017; Visions of an Island, 15 min, 2016; Fainting Spells, 11 min, 2018
This series is co-selected and presented with COUSIN collective and is generously funded by a Digital Now grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

małni - towards the ocean, towards the shore, 80 min, 2020

A poetic, experimental debut feature circling the origin of the death myth from the Chinookan people in the Pacific Northwest, małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore follows two people as they wander through their surrounding nature, the spirit world, and something much deeper inside. At its center are Sweetwater Sahme and Jordan Mercier, who take separate paths contemplating their afterlife, rebirth, and death. Probing questions about humanity’s place on earth and other worlds, Sky Hopinka’s film will have audiences thinking (and dreaming) about it long after.

I’ll Remember You as You Were, Not as What You’ll Become, 12.5 min, 2016

An elegy to Diane Burns on the shapes of mortality, and being, and the forms the transcendent spirit takes while descending upon landscapes of life and death. A place for new mythologies to syncopate with deterritorialized movement and song, reifying old routes of reincarnation. Where resignation gives hope for another opportunity, another form, for a return to the vicissitudes of the living and all their refractions.

“I’m from Oklahoma I ain’t got no one to call my own.

If you will be my honey, I will be your sugar pie way hi ya

way ya hi ya way ya hi yo” – Diane Burns (1957-2006)

Jáaji Approx., 7.5 min, 2015

Logging and approximating a relationship between audio recordings of my father and videos gathered of the landscapes we have both separately traversed. The initial distance between the logger and the recordings, of recollections and of songs, new and traditional, narrows while the images become an expanding semblance of filial affect. Jáaji is a near translation for directly addressing a father in the Hočak language.

Dislocation Blues, 17 min, 2017

An incomplete and imperfect portrait of reflections from Standing Rock. Cleo Keahna recounts his experiences entering, being at, and leaving the camp and the difficulties and the reluctance in looking back with a clear and critical eye. Terry Running Wild describes what his camp is like, and what he hopes it will become.

Visions of an Island, 15 min, 2016

An Unangam Tunuu elder describes cliffs and summits, drifting birds, and deserted shores. A group of students and teachers play and invent games revitalizing their language. A visitor wanders in a quixotic chronicling of earthly and supernal terrain. These visions offer glimpses of an island in the center of the Bering Sea.

Fainting Spells, 11 min, 2018

Told through recollections of youth, learning, lore, and departure, this is an imagined myth for the Xąwįska, or the Indian Pipe Plant—used by the Ho-Chunk to revive those who have fainted.

The Centers of Somewhere. 

I’m a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin (enrolled with a number) and a descendent of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians (not enrolled at all), and those qualifiers and what they mean for me oscillate as well. It’s certainly a part of who I am, to me and my own definition of self. It’s also a way in for non-Natives to contextualize my experience and allow that experience to become authoritative and representative. As an Indigenous filmmaker, I’m often asked about representation of Native peoples in the arts and in the media. Whenever I’m asked about Joseph Boyden or Jimmie Durham or Sam Durant, I shrug and try and say something meaningful while debating whether to admit that I don’t know much about them, their art, or their writings. There’s a large portion of myself that doesn’t want to know about them. These are concerns that draw time, energy, and attention away from the work that I want to do and want to see by others challenging current cultural currencies. But to ignore it is impossible. Because who we are is intrinsically defined by who we are not. Because conversations about identity are more necessary—and more dangerous—than ever. How we are perceived and represented has repercussions on how we can move forward—both internally and externally. Sometimes it’s dealing with the assertion and prioritization of white guilt, and sometimes it can be a conversation and not a fight. It’s a part of an ongoing process. To be free from the anxieties of self-definition by attrition can be a luxury with a severe cost. – Sky Hopinka 

Read the full article by Sky Hopinka.

Transcendent meditations on language, landscape, and myth, the ethnopoetic works of Sky Hopinka—a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and descendent of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians—explode the traditions of ethnographic filmmaking and reclaim the form as a vehicle for ecstatic personal expression. Through an intricate layering of words and images, Hopinka creates dense, hallucinatory audiovisual collages that reflect his longstanding interest in endangered Indigenous languages (particularly the nearly extinct chinuk wawa) and the cultural memories embedded within them. Through both his filmmaking and his work with the COUSIN Collective, which supports fellow Native filmmakers, Hopinka has emerged as a vital force in bringing the contemporary Indigenous experience to the screen. – Criterion

Sky Hopinka’s latest collection of poetry Perfidia (2020) is available from Wendy’s Subway. 

The original soundtrack from małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore (2020) is available from Grasshopper Film.

All stills, photographs, and artwork courtesy © Sky Hopinka. Screening co-presented with Art Windsor Essex (AWE) and Three Fold Press, Detroit.