On the morning of December 12th, my lovely Hidatsa/Ho Chunk/Potawatomi spouse woke me with the amazing news that Smoke Signals, the film I wrote and co-produced, has been entered into the Library of Congress National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant and thus recommended for preservation.”
I want to thank all of you who watched Smoke Signals in 1998 and who continue to watch it year after year. Especially all of you Indians. Smoke Signals keeps going and going and going in the Indian world. I have lost track of the number of times an Indian has said, “Hey, Victor,” to me. Every year, a dozen or more Indians dress as Thomas and Victor for Halloween. I’ve seen the photos. They are amazing. This last Halloween, four Indians went dressed as Thomas, Victor, Lucy, and Velma, all of them riding in a cardboard reproduction of the famous backward-driving 1965 Malibu.
May we all someday drive in reverse down a beautiful highway with a little clan of joyous Indians.
Holy crap! This is like the Movie Hall of Fame. There are only 750 films in the National Registry. This year’s inductees include The Shining and Jurassic Park.
“Hey, Victor, what about that T-Rex?”
I am so proud and honored. And agog. Yes, I am agog. I’m not sure anybody has been agog since 1952. But here I am, agog.
I do need to make one correction to all of the news stories, a correction that I’ve been making for twenty years. Smoke Signals is NOT the only film written, directed, and produced by Native Americans and First Nation Canadians that features a predominantly Indigenous cast. There have been many, many wonderful films written, directed, produced by, and starring Indigenous North Americans. However, Smoke Signals is the only Native-created film that has ever received major national and international distribution. At one point, Smoke Signals was playing in over 800 theatres! At the same time!
I want to also make it clear that Smoke Signals was created by a team of Native and non- Native filmmakers—producers, actors, executives, and crew before, during, and after production. A few hundred people played some part in making this film. And I thank them all.
In particular, I want to thank Chris Eyre, the Cheyenne and Arapaho director. Hey, Chris, this Smoke Signals thing kinda worked out, enit?
I also want to thank our amazing Indigenous cast: Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard, Tantoo Cardinal, Gary Farmer, Monique Mojica, Elaine Miles, Michelle St. John, Michael Grey Eyes, Darwin Haine, Cody Lightning, and Simon Baker. That’s a lot of Indians!
And I sing an honor song for two cast members who have passed on. Let us all remember John Trudell and Leonard George. They were legendary social and political leaders in the Indigenous world.
And, oh, there were awesome white actors, too. Chris Eyre and I believe in racial diversity in casting. So thanks to Cynthia Geary and Tom Skerritt. They each only worked for one day, but they created indelible characters. One of them plays the First Alternate on the 1980 Olympic Gymnastics Team and the other plays Empathetic White Cop.
We had wonderful executives, as well. Amy Israel bought the film in 1997 for Miramax and she was an endless source of wisdom, humor, support, and imagination. She was our constant champion. And she remains my dear friend.
Shout outs to Brian Berdan, magician editor, and BC Smith, magical composer.
And Ulali! Such amazing and eternal voices.Without their song, Smoke Signals would not have ended so powerfully.
And thanks to Dick Lourie, who wrote “Forgiving Our Fathers,” the poem that Thomas recites during that last scene.
“After we forgive our fathers, what is left?”
I extend a soft-fingered rez handshake to John Sirois and Vaughn EagleBear, who co-wrote “John Wayne’s Teeth” with me.
Damn it, the cowboys DO NOT ALWAYS WIN.
And I look to the sky in memory of Jim Boyd, Jim Boyd, Jim Boyd. He wrote songs for Smoke Signals. He also has a cameo at a house party where he plays guitar as my late mother and late father slow dance. Three beloved people, three people gone from this world. I miss them very much.
And, oh, man, oh, man, I give many, many thanks for everybody at Seattle-based ShadowCatcher Entertainment. David Skinner and Scott Rosenfelt are awesome. And Larry Estes is one of the finest human beings that I have ever known. These guys grabbed my screenplay on a Thursday in February, read it over the weekend, came back that next Monday with a yes, and we were filming in May.
Turns out moviemaking doesn’t work that way. Ever. Chris and I were very fortunate.
None of this happens without Nancy Stauffer, my friend and agent since 1992. And I will always be grateful to Grove Atlantic Press, then and now, for publishing The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, the source for Smoke Signals. Thank you, Morgan, Judy, Deb, Miwa, Elisabeth, and Eric.
I recently watched Smoke Signals for the first time in years. And laughed and laughed. This movie is so rezzy (translation: so infused with reservation-centric culture). I am pretty sure that 93% of Indians have seen it at least once. And now it’s in the Library of Congress. Thank you, Library of Congress! It seems weird for an Indian to be thanking the U.S. Government, enit? There’s a beautiful madness to that. This motion picture about rez Indians is now officially a classic.
As Evan Adams once said, “Playing Thomas Builds-the-Fire was like playing Scarlett O’Hara.”
I want to thank my wife, sons, family, friends, and colleagues for their continued support.
Also, I still have, like, 15 still-wrapped and mint condition VHS copies of the movie. That’s how old this flick is. It was on VHS. Anybody who wants a VHS copy, let me know. You’ll have to pass a very difficult Smoke Signals test in order to win one.
Lastly, I want to apologize for the wigs. Especially the Victor wig. Sigh...
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