Virtual Cinema Presents the Poetic New Documentary “Małni” April 20, 2021

Małni – Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore
Sky Hopinka is probably the highest-profile Indigenous media artist working in the United States. He is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, and his lyrical, painterly films engage with questions of personal and cultural memory, particularly relating to First Peoples living in contemporary society. His work focuses on history as a material process, a set of actions bound to the land and inscribed on the body. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hopinka has made his exquisite short films available online, and they are well worth checking out.

A Vibrant Look at Nature
The beginning of Małni — Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore echoes those films, especially in its vibrant treatment of nature. Eventually, Małni begins to take the shape of a somewhat conventional documentary about two members of the Chinook Nation, as they describe their current relationship to their Native heritage.

Jordan Mercier (who speaks only Chinook Wawa in the film) is a family man looking to actively reconnect with his Indigenous roots. Sweetwater Sahme (who speaks English) is spiritual, but somewhat ambivalent about her family past. Hopinka subtly contrasts the two figures, never forcing connections, allowing the resonances to simply vibrate throughout the film.

Shifting Sequences
As Małni comes together, the overall objective becomes clear. It is a free-flowing film working between the genres of personal documentary and poetic, experimental film. Hopinka features numerous interludes of land- and seascape, including repeated use of a camera obscura shot of the waves, implying temporal as well as spatial distance. But even the more factual sequences, like the Native gathering, with arrival by canoe and collective song, tend to start out as “objective” and then veer off into distraction, following Hopinka’s own interests, or the shifting moods of Jordan, in particular.

Reverberations across Time
In many respects, Małni resembles Hopinka’s 2017 short film Dislocation Blues. Composed of reflections following the protests at Standing Rock, Dislocation Blues combines reportage, interviews, and the force of memory in a fragmented, nonlinear approach to nonfiction that zeroes in not on the moment itself, but on the ramifications of the moment—its reverberations across time. Małni is Hopinka’s most ambitious work to date, and it welcomes new audiences to share his singular vision.

• “Małni – Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore” / WATCH HERE April 30–May 30. Your ticket ($12) supports the MFAH and provides a 3-day pass to the film. SEE THE TRAILER

About the Author
Michael Sicinski, a Houston-based writer and teacher, is a regular contributor to Cineaste magazine, Cinema Scope magazine, and MUBI Notebook.

Underwriting for the Film Department is provided by Tenaris and the Vaughn Foundation. Generous funding is provided by Nina and Michael Zilkha; The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea; Franci Neely; Carrin Patman and Jim Derrick; Lois Chiles Foundation; ILEX Foundation; L’Alliance Française de Houston; and The Foundation for Independent Media Arts.