Dreams, lack of means, and poodle schemes on the rez! Aided by their community, two young men push back against deprivation and systemic discrimination to forge their own paths.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
A swirling mélange of hardship and resourcefulness, disappointment and hope. War Pony mines the experiences of Lakota scriptwriters Franklin Sioux Bob and Bill Reddy into the proximal journeys of twentysomething hustler Bill and school-aged runabout Matho, who live within a dog’s bark of each other on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota.
Bill (Jojo Bapteise Whiting) can barely support himself, let alone his two young children and their respective mothers, but he is committed to improving his situation, possessed of an infectious, creative optimism, such as a hare-brained scheme to breed poodles for big money. Matho (LaDainian Crazy Thunder) spends his time larking with friends, wooing his crush, and attempting to impress his volatile father, until circumstances conspire to rob the youngster of his childhood freedoms.
Despite their difficulties, Bill and Matho display a natural warmth, mirrored in the film’s visual tone. Cinematographer David Gallego, who delivered grandeur in Embrace of the Serpent and Birds of Passage, here renders the intimate just as ably. His camera captures well-worn details of family homes and the expressive faces of the young leads, giving texture to the unfolding narrative. First-time directors Riley Keough and Gina Gammell, alongside their writing partners, paint a rich portrait of community, exploring the challenges of navigating life with splintered identities in a society engineered to disempower and exploit indigenous bodies and indigenous labour. — Jacob Powell
“Keough and Gammell were careful not to centre themselves (as white women) here, instead using the film as an opportunity to amplify the voices of their scriptwriters, Bill Reddy and Franklin Sioux Bob—two Lakota men that Keough met near Pine Ridge while filming American Honey in 2016. Every scene is shot in Pine Ridge, and the cast is entirely comprised of first-time actors from that community—and it’s these factors that really give the film a raw authenticity rarely found in film depictions of reservation life.” — Adena Maier, Time Out