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“Reading” a Film – Smoke Signals

Segment 1
0:00:00 – 0:30:00
Begins with: opening credits
Ends with: Thomas telling his story about Denny’s

1. What is the significance of a person cutting their hair? Why would Arnold Joseph cut his hair?

2. The writer and director intended to include the 4 elements – fire, earth, air, water. Where do we see any of these elements?

3. What is the effect of all of the time shifts in the film?

4. How does Thomas feel about Victor’s father?

5. What is Victor Joseph’s attitude toward his father when he begins his journey?

6. Describe each relationship Thomas and Victor have with their home and the women that raise them.

7. Fry bread is a symbol in this film. Where do you see the fry bread? How can it be a symbol in this segment?

8. How is KREZ different from radio stations run by non-Indians? What was the screen writer attempting to tell us by repeatedly referring to the station in the film?

9. In the film Victor Joseph’s mother makes him promise several times that he will come right back from Phoenix. He says: “I promised you I would. You want me to sign a written contract, Mom? She replies, “Nah, we Indians have a thing about signed documents.” What was she referring to?

10. What are some historical references mentioned in the film?

11. Describe the relationship between Thomas and Victor.

12. Describe the life depicted on the reservation so far. What do you think are the writer’s and/or director’s feelings about the reservation?

Segment 2
0:30:00 – 1:01:00
Begins with: Victor’s painful flashback about his father’s leaving Ends with: Victor going into his father’s trailer

1. How is the importance of hair mentioned in this segment?

2. How is the reality of life off the reservation made clear for Victor and Thomas? Think back to the discussion where Victor tries to teach Thomas how to be a real Indian?

3. What does Victor think of as a “real Indian”? Why do they sing “John Wayne’s Teeth”? Why does the song switch from diegetic (sound the characters can hear) to nondiegetic (sound only the audience can hear), and how is it different when it becomes nondiegetic?

4. Fry bread is a symbol in this film. Where do you see the fry bread? How can it be a symbol in this segment?

5. The writer and director intended to include the 4 elements – fire, earth, air, water. Where do we see any of these elements?

6. What are some historical references mentioned in the film?

7. Everyone in the film seems to like to tell and hear stories except Victor. Why do you think this is? Are the stories that Thomas tells the truth or fiction? Does it matter?

8. Describe Suzy’s character. What purpose is she serving in the story? What is she trying to teach Victor?

Segment 3
1:01:00 – end
Begins with: Victor in his father’s trailer
Ends with: closing credits

1. Why do you think Victor cuts his hair?

2. What does Thomas mean when he tells Victor that they are “traveling heavy with illusion”?

3. What does Victor mean when he says “everything burned up in the fire”?

4. What do you think Thomas means when he says “I think we were in 2 wrecks last night? Then Victor goes on to say that he’s sorry about “every wreck”?

5. The writer and director intended to include the 4 elements – fire, earth, air, water. Where do we see any of these elements?

6. How is the ending a perfect contrast to the opening fire scene?

7. Look at the lyrics to “Father and Farther.” Even though this song was not written specifically for the film, it fits very well. How does it relate and comment on the events that have been depicted?

8. What do you make of the film’s ending?...
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