Jennifer Denetdale: Film glosses over violence in border towns

Jeremiah Bitsui on the set of Drunktown's Finest. Photo from Twitter

Jennifer Denetdale, a member of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, offers a review of Drunktown's Finest, a film that depicts struggles in a border town:
Drunktown’s Finest, written and produced by Diné filmmaker Sydney Freeland, opened to positive reviews at the Sundance film festival in 2014. That upbeat reception followed the film as it screened in independent and major theaters throughout the country. By popular demand, it returned in recent weeks to Albuquerque, Phoenix, and several other cities with large Native populations.

The film follows three Navajo characters looking for meaningful lives in a town that borders the Navajo Nation. The characters, Nizhoni, Sick Boy, and Felixia, eventually meet up when their separate narratives converge at the home of their relatives, two elders who oversee the Kinaaldá, the Navajo puberty ceremony, for Sick Boy’s sister. Each character faces trials as they struggle to create meaning out of their lives.

Reviews have generally been positive, calling Drunktown a film that affirms Navajo traditional culture, and a possible source for individual redemption against the poverty, racism, and discrimination that characterize Native American life.

Drunktown's Finest Trailer (Official) from Legend Group on Vimeo
The intertwining narrative of the characters is set in a place that resembles the town of Gallup, New Mexico, a border town to the Navajo Nation that has been denounced for its treatment of Natives for decades. In several interviews, Freeland speaks to the depiction of her hometown in a 20/20 news story that aired in the 1980s. The story earned Gallup the name “Drunk Town, USA.” Freeland addresses the damning assessment of Gallup to show that hope and humanity can exist in such a place.

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Jennifer Denetdale: 'Drunktown's Finest' Papers Over Border Town Violence and Bigotry (Indian Country Today 1/27)

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