By Ivonne Sheen

Sky Hopinka’s work is known for an evocation of his ancestors and memory through a contemplation of the landscape. There is a melancholy that trespasses his work as a backbone referred to his Chinook roots. In malni- towards the ocean, towards the shore (2020) the author once again develops a rupture of the common and normal ethnographic approach to native communities. This is the artist’s first feature film, which opened the 33rd edition of the Images Festival 2020.

malni- towards the ocean, towards the shore is based on the Chinook myth of the origin of death, in which two people dialogue and ramble about the mystery of death and reincarnation. Hopinka inquires into the myth, while accompanying two of his friends Jordan Mercier and Sweetwater Basin, who are waiting for the next birth of their children. Jordan and Hopinka communicate in Chinook Wawa, he wears long hair as part of his identity, attends Chinook dance and music gatherings, and is ritual related to nature. For her part, Sweetwater seems more distanced from that ancestrality, but she keeps recognizing it and still practices rituals such as the Waterfall water baths that she performs throughout her pregnancy, and to which Sky accompanies her. All three manifest a spirit that unites and identifies them, a worldview which is spring for Hopinka’s cinema.

In his latest films, such as Lorie (2019), When you’re lost in the rain (2018) or Fainting Spells (2018), Hopinka composes conceptual and sensory experiences, which dialogue with the constant of his cinema, personal reflections that weave ideas and feelings about life, time, language, memory, landscape, indigenous and myth. In malni- towards the ocean, towards the shore that experimentation remains, but to a lesser extent than the documentary approach to the experiences of their friends and their ancestors. However, this documentary approach explores its own limitations with blurs or distances that resist the common colonization which occurs when one wants to create knowledge about the other. In malni- towards the ocean, towards the shore, the human movement that holds the camera is evidenced and the micro-decisions that result from the documentary filmmaker’s face-to-face relationship with his present while filmmaking, are as well manifested with fleeting camera movements and contrasted out-of-focus when portraying the characters. Decisions that are purposeful as disruptions to the construction of documentary’s “truth”. Likewise, the body of Sky is evidenced as an operator subject who, according to Roland Barthes, would be that creator of the photography -in this case cinematography-, which transfers his photographic knowledge and intentions to the image. In Hopinka’s case, the vision of the images becomes saturated and opaque, creating a tenuous abstraction that does not completely break with a verité look. The author’s intentions seem spontaneous and exploratory about the constant motifs in his work, like an openness that permeates towards mythology.

The sound dimension of the film is made up of the author’s constant voice-off and original music. As for the voice, Hopinka speaks her intimate thoughts as main context and wonders about the myth of death, thus it operates as a needle that sew us with the other fabrics and threads evoked by the myth and that Hopinka glimpses in his immediate environment. The music refers to a custom of the Chinook peoples, who meet to collectively interpret songs of an undeniable emotional and spiritual interpellation. The constant sound of the film meets saturation and high contrast of color, which also hide the faces of the interviewees and intervene the apparel of landscape to intensify what was previously commented, as a resistance to a contemplative, silent, “natural” and “neutral” style of author’s ethnographic documentary. In Hopinka’s cinema, there is a hybridization between documentary and experimental, with a greater interweaving in his previous works. The artist from the Ho-Chunk nation and from the Pechanga Band tribe of Luiseño Indians, creates a landscape in which art becomes into a new liminal space, where Chinook mythologies converge and dialogue with his personal memory and the present.

Opening Film

Director, Camera, Sound and Text: Sky Hopinka
Country: USA
Year: 2020
Duration: 80 min