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Smoke Signals

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Product Details

  • Actors: Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer, Tantoo Cardinal
  • Directors: Chris Eyre
  • Writers: Sherman Alexie
  • Producers: Carl Bressler, David Skinner
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Letterboxed, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Miramax Films
  • DVD Release Date: September 28, 1999
  • Run Time: 89 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (374 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 6305428417
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,765 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Smoke Signals" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Critically acclaimed as one of the best films of the year, SMOKE SIGNALS was also a distinguished winner at the Sundance Film Festival! Though Victor and Thomas have lived their entire young lives in the same tiny town, they couldn't have less in common! But when Victor is urgently called away, it's Thomas who comes up with the money to pay for his trip. There's just one thing Victor has to do: take Thomas along for the ride! You're in for a rare and entertaining comic treat as this most unlikely pair leave home on what becomes an unexpectedly unforgettable adventure of friendship and discovery!


Based on a couple of short stories (from The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven) by Sherman Alexie, Smoke Signals is a lean and assured feature that speaks well of its lengthy, rich evolution, including a development stint at Sundance. The first feature made by a Native American crew and creative team, the film concerns two young Idaho men with radically different memories of one Arnold Joseph (Gary Farmer), a former resident of the reservation who split years before and has just died in Phoenix. Arnold's strapping, popular son, Victor (Adam Beach), remembers him best as an alcoholic, occasionally abusive father who drove off one day and never came back. By contrast, Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams), whom Arnold had saved from certain death years earlier, has chosen to exaggerate the man's life and deeds in a mythmaking fashion that drives Victor crazy. Circumstances bring the two together, however, in a bus ride to retrieve Arnold's ashes. There, in Phoenix, a confrontation with the reality of the dead man's fullest legacy has a profound effect on both characters. Alexie, who wrote the script and was personally involved in all aspects of the production, and first-time director Chris Eyre are so polished in their approach that you can barely feel the cinematic engine at work here. This is the kind of movie in which the characters seem to be driving everything forward, a captivating and pleasant experience that gets a little too tidy at the end (can we call a moratorium on scenes of human ashes lovingly disposed to the winds?), but which is undeniably moving. The cast, including Irene Bedard (the voice of and physical inspiration for Disney's Pocahontas) is outstanding. --Tom Keogh

Customer Reviews

Great acting and very entertaining.
L. Alves
If you like the ending to be a little comfortable, you will love this movie.
This movie depicts life of Native American Indians in a very positive way.
Matti Kniva Spencer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

277 of 286 people found the following review helpful By WichacpiHoskila VINE VOICE on December 14, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
I work as a psychotherapist with adolescents and young adults. I use "Smoke Signals" with them by assigning them to rent and view the movie, which is always enjoyable because it's witty, humorous, wise, and significant. The movie poses two essential questions: 1) If someone else has mistreated, hurt, abandoned, or disrespected you, is it possible to forgive them if they've NEVER asked forgiveness, never done anything to "put it right," never returned in atonement to undo the damage, and never begtun to deserve it? And 2) if it *is* possible--and it may not be--SHOULD you? Because if you do, doesn't that just make you a willing victim by letting them "get away" with what they did, and pretending the relationship is okay again?
Victor lives in the tension of this dilemma. As a 12-year-old youth, he witnessed the effects of alcohol on his family. His father vascillated between being loving and instantly "turning" to become hostile, violent, and humiliating to the young boy. Victor finds himself becoming more deeply embarrassed by his family's domestic abuse and alcohol use, even defiantly scolding his own father that his favorite Indian is "Nobody...nobody...nobody!"
Victor's mother awakens the next morning to see Victor angrily smashing his father's beer bottles on the back of his father's picup truck (the two things he believes his father loves more than him), and the epiphany stuns the mother, who insists on an immediate end to family drunkenness. Proving Victor's fears true, the father--forced to choose between alcohol and family--flees the family, and never returns. It is within that unchanged arrangement that his father dies, 8 years later, having never returned home.
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104 of 104 people found the following review helpful By Bundtlust TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 19, 2002
Format: DVD
"Smoke Signals" was the first movie to be written, directed, and co-produced by a Native American. It is based on the novel "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" by Sherman Alexie, who also published a movie adaptation of "Smoke Signals" as well.
The majority of the cast is from a variety of Canadian First Nations tribes (Coast Salish, Cree, Cayuga, Ojibwa), so there are different cultural backgrounds at work as well. "Smoke Signals" is a journey of the heart, an exploration of what it means to be Indian, venturing into the world outside the rez. Thomas's stories are part Indian legend, part reweaving of the facts surrounding Victor and his father.
The story follows Victor Joseph as he goes to collect the remains of his father, who had abandoned his family and moved to Arizona (the film's working title was "This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona," based on a chapter of "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven." His wise friend Thomas Builds-the-Fire goes with him on a trip from their rez in Coeur-d'Alene, Idaho to Arnold Joseph's trailer in Arizona. Along the way they rediscover their pasts and their perceptions of the world around them.
An unusual, touching film that pokes fun at the stoic Indian stereotypes endorsed by Hollywood for decades, such as the "It's a good day to die" line. There are many notable First Nations actors (Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Tantoo Cardinal, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer, Elaine Miles) that make this film a joy to watch. Inspired performances from all, especially Adam Beach and Gary Farmer. This is my favourite film of the last few years as it never loses its humour, mystical side, and beauty.
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60 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Kate C. on March 15, 2004
Format: DVD
One of the greatest underrated movies ever made!
Most of the emotional bite is taken from Sherman Alexie's "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" leaving a great yet simple story about two Indians (Alexie himself dislikes the label "Native American") on the road from the upper Northwest to Arizona. The mission: collect the remains of the father of Victor Joseph-- played with great complexity by Adam Beach. Along for the ride is Thomas, the local reservation geek who brings along with him a vast array of stories from the past mixed with humor and pain played with resilence by Evan Adams, to the constant annoyance of Victor who has no time for stories or memories, only "truth" and the present tense.
This movie is a series of vignettes as the two travel off the reservation ("You're leavin' the Rez and going into a whole different country cousin." "But it's the United States." "Damn right it is, that's as foreign as it gets!") and into the wilderness of forgotten memories and rough landscape. Mixed in with the ponderings of what it means to be indeginous in America and who makes the best fry-bread is a great soundtrack which includes Dar Williams and Ulali.
This movie does not try to be more than it is: the story of two young men trying to find their place in the world with humor and anger. Director Chris Eyre keeps the story and the settings simple and the flashbacks flow fluidly from one iteration to the next.
I would highly recommend this movie to anyone!
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By D. Pawl VINE VOICE on June 5, 2004
Format: DVD
I want to start out by saying Sherman Alexie is probably one of the greatest writers of our time. When I say "greatest writers" I don't mean "greatest NATIVE writers" or "greatest writers of COLOR," I mean Greatest Writers. Mr. Alexie manages to capture the most universal emotions (grief, joy, heartbreak, anguish) and make the excessible to all, yet he also brings his own unique flavor, style and ironic wit to the mix so we are never bored. I can honestly say that Smoke Signals is one of those films that is really dear to my heart for many reasons, and the screenplay by Alexie definitely is one of the contributing factors.
For starters, there are so many classic lines in this film. The first being that line I used as the subject for this review. "It is a good day to be Indigenous." I don't think we hear that everyday! The negative view of native people even today is really disturbing, and I think when people regardless of background see the portrayal of indigenous people in films, television shows, literature and education it continues to horrify and astound us all.
Secondly, the story is a wonderful and important one that I think everyone can relate to. It touches on the theme of fathers and the relationship with their children. Victor (Adam Beach) is an bitter, angry and distrustful young man who grew up on the Coeur D'Alene "Rez" with his bespectacled friend/nemesis Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams). These young men are growing up in a culture separate from mainstream white culture--a culture they eventually leave when they go to retrieve the ashes of Victor's deceased father. What starts out as a road trip turns into something more significant than either of them could've imagined.
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