I’ve been hearing the praises of Drunktown’s Finest director Sydney Freeland being sung for some time now. The 2004 Fulbright scholar and Sundance alum – whose long list of awards includes a Sundance Institute Screenwriting Fellowship and a Sundance Institute Directing Fellowship in 2010, and a 2009 Sundance Institute Native American Lab Fellowship – has also long been a fixture on the cozy New Mexico filmmaking scene. (Since I programmed the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival 2012 it’s not surprising the Gallup native and I even share mutual friends.) That said, as a jaded critic it’s second nature for me to simply roll my eyes at hype. Yet after watching Freeland’s debut feature, it’s safe to say I now understand exactly what the film’s executive producer Robert Redford sees in Freeland.
An authentic voice with a refreshingly nuanced vision, for one. Drunktown’s Finest follows the interweaving struggles of three young Indians – a soon-to-be father days away from the start of basic training, a college-bound adopted daughter of Christian missionaries, and a transsexual beauty pageant contestant in the running to become one of the “Women of the Navajo.” In other words, novel characters I actually haven’t seen on the big screen before. Even more remarkable, Freeland eschews easy villains in favor of creating believable people just doing what they can to get by. (And what they think is right, however misguided that may be.) And like with Patrick Wang’s similarly subtle In the Family, Freeland’s characters don’t dwell on their marginalization – be it Native American or trans or gay or any combination thereof – which is how real people, with much more weightier issues to tackle than simply defining themselves, behave. (Only in antiquated movies do LGBT folks’ lives revolve around identity 24/7.) And in addition, Freeland gives us a poignant bonus insight – that as bad as it can get on the rez, a spiritual sustenance is lost when leaving it.
Filmmaker spoke with Freeland prior to her Drunktown’s Finest debut in the NEXT section at Sundance.
To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.