Smoke that travels is film by Kayla Briet that has screened at festivals all over the world and earned her multiple fellowships. The young award-winning, self-taught filmmaker — as a child showcased her personal documentary short film and she is only twenty. In the film, that old home video footage of her dancing is juxtaposed with a clip of then-President Reagan in 1988, giving a speech about Native Americans. “Maybe we made a mistake,” says Reagan.
Briet has a say on the clip, “When I was young, I was talking to my dad about why it feels like many people aren’t taught about Native culture in their education and my dad told me about the first time he saw that clip of Reagan when he was a young man.” Also it was difficult decision to include that Reagan clip. She’s a fierce optimist who focuses on the positivity in her artwork, and that speech represents something painful in her familial history but she was determined to show both sides.
Briët’s father is one of only 10 people left on this planet who can speak his Native language. In Smoke, Briët allows the melodic tongue of her father to dissolve into a kind of spoken-word electronic track she composed, which was inspired by the traditional songs she heard as a youth.
Briët’s father, who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, was fortunate enough to be reared after the rise to prominence of the American Indian Movement (AIM), which allowed many Natives to reclaim their heritage and pride — though not necessarily their rights. Briët reaps the benefit of her father’s experience.
According to her, “I’ve met so many different Native filmmakers and storytellers traveling with my film, artists who also share a part of their childhood. It’s a very common theme in Native filmmaking, exploring the past and trying to capture that and share it with others. Native art at its core is very vulnerable art.”