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About

The Smithsonian’s Mother Tongue Film Festival celebrates cultural and linguistic diversity by showcasing films and filmmakers from around the world over four days of free screenings in Washington, DC.

Since 2016, the annual festival has celebrated International Mother Language Day on February 21. The fifth annual festival will take place February 20–23, 2020.

Our Mission

Through digital storytelling, the festival amplifies the work of diverse practitioners who explore the power of language to connect the past, present, and future.

Feature Films

Short Films

Special Events

Uptown Boyz

Opening Ceremony

Thursday, February 20, at 6 pm
Potomac Atrium, National Museum of the American Indian

Celebrate the opening of the fifth annual Mother Tongue Film Festival with complimentary food and drinks, remarks from Smithsonian organizers, and a presentation by the Uptown Boyz, an intertribal powwow group based in Washington, DC.

Still from <em>Puhi toprao</em>

Cinemática Indígena Roundtable:
Translation & Collaboration

Friday, February 21, at 2:30 pm
Q?rius Theater, National Museum of Natural History

Following the Cinemática Indígena program on Friday afternoon, join us for roundtable discussion on the circulation of Indigenous media, language, and translation. Panelists include professor Charlotte Gleghorn and directors Raul Máximo Cortés, Marilen Llancaqueo, Jose Carlos Pons, and Marlon Eduardo Mutzumá Say, with moderator Mary S. Linn.

Production shot from <em>Winter’s Yearning</em>

Directors Panel

Friday, February 21, at 4 pm
Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History

Preceding the Friday evening Sea of Islands program, directors Becs Arahanga, Jeff Barnaby, Marie-Helene Cousineau, Sidse Torstholm Larsen, and Naomi Mizoguchi will gather for a discussion moderated by Amalia Córdova.

Early concept sketch from <em>Blood Quantum</em>

Zombie Happy Hour

Saturday, February 22, at 7 pm
NYU Washington DC

Prior to the screening of Blood Quantum, we will host a reception in partnership with the Québec Government Office in Washington, DC, which is providing Québec beer for guests 21+. The event will be open to registered guests before opening up to the public on a first-come-first-serve basis. Register for free online.

Venue Map


Partners

The Mother Tongue Film Festival is a public program of Recovering Voices, a collaboration between Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

National Museum of the American Indian logo
National Museum of the American Indian logo
Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage logo

Funding for the Mother Tongue Film Festival has been provided by Recovering Voices partners across the Smithsonian Institution: the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. This program received federal support from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Q?rius, The Coralyn W. Whitney Science Education Center.

Additional support has been provided by the Embassy of Canada to the United States, the University of Edinburgh, New York University at Washington DC, the Québec Government Office in Washington DC, Eaton Workshop DC, the Georgetown University Department of Anthropology, The WEM Foundation & Betty and Whitney MacMillan, as well as anonymous donors.

We would like to extend a special thank you to the Uptown Boyz.

Smithsonian American Art Museum logo
Q?rius logo
Embassy of Canada to the United States logo
University of Edinburgh logo
NYU Washington DC logo
Québec Government Office in Washington logo
Eaton DC logo
Georgetown University Department of Anthropology logo
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Restless River

Thursday, February 20, at 7 pm
Rasmuson Theater, National Museum of the American Indian


Directors

Marie-Helene Cousineau,
Madeline Ivalu (Inuk)

Country

Canada

Languages

Inuktitut, English

Year

2019

Runtime

98 min.

Category

Narrative Feature

Set at the end of World War II, Restless River follows a young Inuk woman as she comes to terms with motherhood after being assaulted by a soldier. Navigating the social norms of the colonizers and her own heritage, Elsa draws courage from her rugged land to become a woman as strong and independent as the river that cuts across it. Based on Gabrielle Roy’s 1970 short novel Windflower (La Riviere Sans Repos).

Disclaimer: This film contains a scene of sexual violence that some viewers may find disturbing.

Registration for this screening is recommended. For best seating options, we encourage you to arrive thirty minutes before the scheduled start of the event. After that, seats will be released to non-registrants on a first-come-first-serve basis. Register for free online.

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N!ai, The Story of a !Kung Woman

Friday, February 21, at 11 am
Q?rius Theater, National Museum of Natural History


Directors

John Marshall, Adrienne Miesmer

Country

USA

Languages

English, !Xung (!Kung)

Year

1980

Runtime

59 min.

Category

Documentary Feature

In 1978, N!ai was in her mid-thirties. In this intimate portrait, she tells her own story, and, in so doing, the story of Ju/’hoan life. As N!ai speaks, the film presents scenes from the 1950s that show her as a young girl and a wife. This classic ethnographic documentary portrays the great changes in Ju/’hoan society over thirty years, yet never loses sight of the protagonist.

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Vai

Friday, February 22, at 7 pm
Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History


Directors

Becs Arahanga, Amberley Jo Aumua, Matasila Freshwater, Dianna Fuemana, Mīria George, ‘Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, Marina Alofagia McCartney, Nicole Whippy

Country

Āotearoa New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Kuki Airani (Cook Islands), Samoa, Niue

Languages

Fijian, Tongan, Roviana (Solomon Islands), Samoan, Cook Islands Māori, Niuean, English, Māori

Year

2019

Runtime

90 min.

Category

Narrative Feature

Created by nine Pacific women directors, this portmanteau feature film was shot in seven different Pacific countries: Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Kuki Airani (Cook Islands), Samoa, Niue, and Āotearoa (New Zealand). In each of these nations, vai means water. The film represents a journey of empowerment through culture over the lifetime of one woman, Vai, played by a different Indigenous actress in each country.

Registration for this screening is recommended. For best seating options, we encourage you to arrive thirty minutes before the scheduled start of the event. After that, seats will be released to non-registrants on a first-come-first-serve basis. Register for free online.

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Ainu: Indigenous People of Japan

Saturday, February 22, at 12 pm
Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History


Director

Naomi Mizoguchi

Country

Japan

Languages

Ainu, Japanese

Year

2019

Runtime

60 min.

Category

Documentary Feature

Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, was previously called Ainumosir, or “Land of the Ainu.” Over the years, the Ainu population has experienced a decline, with now fewer than 20,000 living in Hokkaido. Through the stories of four elders, this documentary sheds light on Ainu traditions, both past and present, and the efforts to keep the culture and language alive in Japan.

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Winter’s Yearning

Saturday, February 22, at 5 pm
Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium, Smithsonian American Art Museum


Directors

Sidse Torstholm Larsen, Strurla Pilskog

Countries

Greenland, Norway, Denmark

Languages

Greenlandic, English, Danish

Year

2019

Runtime

77 min.

Category

Documentary Feature

When an American industrial giant decides to build their next plant in Maniitsoq, a remote town in Greenland, the billion-dollar project is welcomed with excitement. This could be an opportunity for a town in decline to turn things around, and even the first major step toward the long-awaited Greenlandic independence. But years go by without any signs of the plant, and Maniitsoq falls into a state of waiting. The future has been postponed, but for how long?

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Blood Quantum

Saturday, February 22, at 8 pm
Abramson Family Auditorium, NYU Washington DC


Director

Jeff Barnaby (Mi’gmaq)

Country

Canada

Languages

Mi’gmaq, English

Year

2020

Runtime

96 min.

Category

Narrative Feature

The dead are coming back to life outside the isolated Mi’gmaq reserve of Red Crow, except for its Indigenous inhabitants who are strangely immune to the zombie plague. Traylor, the local tribal law enforcement, armed with nothing but a gun, a hangover, and a six-pack, must protect his son’s pregnant girlfriend, apocalyptic refugees, and the drunken reserve riff raff from the hordes of walking corpses infesting the streets of Red Crow.

Disclaimer: This film contains strong bloody violence and is not suitable for younger audiences. Unaccompanied minors will not be permitted to attend the screening.

Registration for this screening is recommended. For best seating options, we encourage you to arrive thirty minutes before the scheduled start of the event. After that, seats will be released to non-registrants on a first-come-first-serve basis. Register for free online.

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One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk

Sunday, February 23, at 3 pm
ICC Auditorium, Georgetown University


Director

Zacharias Kunuk (Inuk)

Country

Canada

Languages

Inuktitut, English

Year

2019

Runtime

121 min.

Category

Narrative Feature

In April 1961, the Cold War heats up in Berlin and nuclear bombers are deployed from bases in the Canadian Arctic. In Kapuivik, north Baffin Island, Noah Piugattuk’s nomadic Inuit band live and hunt by dog team as his ancestors did. When an agent of the Canadian government arrives, what appears as a chance meeting soon opens up the prospect of momentous change, revealing Inuit-settler relationships humorously and tragically lost in translation.

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Pire

Thursday, February 20, at 7 pm
Rasmuson Theater, National Museum of the American Indian


Pire
Director

María Manzanares

Country

Argentina

Language

Mapuzungun

Year

2016

Runtime

3 min.

Category

Music Video

Anahi Mariluan (Mapuche) stars in this music video filmed in southern Argentina, an ancestral Mapuche territory. Her lyrics are written almost exclusively in Mapuzugun, the Mapuche language. She uses Mapuche music, combining traditional instruments with contemporary influences. In addition to being a musician, Anahi describes herself as a translator of the sounds that surround us.

Registration for this screening is recommended. For best seating options, we encourage you to arrive thirty minutes before the scheduled start of the event. After that, seats will be released to non-registrants on a first-come-first-serve basis. Register for free online.

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Felicia: The Life of an Octopus Fisherwoman

Friday, February 21, at 11 am
Q?rius Theater, National Museum of Natural History


Director

José Carlos Pons

Country

Madagascar

Language

Malagasy (Vezo Dialect)

Year

2019

Runtime

11 min.

Category

Documentary Short

Felicia is one of the thousands of Malagasy fishermen and women on the Velondriake archipelago whose way of life is increasingly threatened by poverty and political marginalization. As an orphan and later as a mother, she turns to the sea as a means for sustenance, even when migration and commercial trawling threaten small-scale fishing operations. Like many other women in Madagascar, she embodies a steadfast willingness to keep moving forward in the face of major challenges.

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Kiñe Rupa: Treng Treng Kai Kai

Friday, February 21, at 1:30 pm
Q?rius Theater, National Museum of Natural History


Directors

Andrea Salazar, Lucía Pérez, Marilen Llancaqueo (Mapuche)

Country

Chile

Languages

Mapuzungun, Spanish

Year

2018

Runtime

13 min.

Category

Children’s Short

Kiñe Rupa (“Once Upon a Time”) is an innovative children’s web series that explores Mapuche forms of storytelling with Segundito and his Grandmother Paskuala, who live in the valleys of southern Wallmapu, the Mapuche ancestral territory. In “Treng Treng Kai Kai,” Segundito learns about the legendary creature that made it rain until the land was completely flooded and another who saved the community’s families from turning into fish.

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Puhi toprao
To Be Happy

Friday, February 21, at 1:30 pm
Q?rius Theater, National Museum of Natural History


Puhi toprao / To Be Happy
Director

Carol Cazares

Country

Venezuela

Language

Yanomami

Year

2018

Runtime

13 min.

Category

Documentary Short

Sheroanawë Hakihiiwë (Yanomami) is a contemporary artist who uses his voice and visual art to tell stories about his people: the Yanomami of Pori Pori, on the upper Orinoco River of the Venezuelan Amazon. Since the 1990s, his work has centered around recovering the oral memory of his people, their worldview, and ancestral traditions. This short, abstract film explores his connection to his art and the creation stories of the Yanomami.

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Kat At Kat’ex
Where Are They?

Friday, February 21, at 1:30 pm
Q?rius Theater, National Museum of Natural History


Directors

Eduardo Mutzumá Say (Ixil Maya), Colectivo Cine en la Calle

Country

Guatemala

Language

Ixil

Year

2017

Runtime

18 min.

Category

Documentary Short

Pedro and Catarina survived the horrors of the civil war in Guatemala, but over thirty-five years of conflict and disappearances destroyed their families. Catarina reconnects with her sister years later, while Don Pedro continues to dream of reuniting with his son. These Ixil testimonies of war, and Pedro and Catarina’s efforts to honor and connect with disappeared loved ones, remind us of the particular toll of Indigenous lives lost to genocide.

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Tata Jenaru Uajpa
The Son of Don Jenaro

Friday, February 21, at 1:30 pm
Q?rius Theater, National Museum of Natural History


Director

Raúl Máximo Cortés (Purhépecha)

Country

Mexico

Languages

Purhépecha, Spanish

Year

2019

Runtime

26 min.

Category

Documentary Short

In 2010, the vibrant Indigenous musical tradition of the pirekua (traditional Purhépecha song), was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. In Angahuan, Michoacán—for many the heartland of the tradition—a community mourns the loss of one of its great pirekua masters, Tata Jacinto Rita Toral. Through stories told by bandmates, friends, and family, we learn of his life and contributions as a pirériecha, a mediator, and vessel of Purhépecha culture.

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Grá & Eagla

Saturday, February 22, at 12 pm
Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History


Director

Caitríona Ní Chadhain

Country

Ireland

Language

Gaeilge (Irish)

Year

2019

Runtime

15 min.

Category

Documentary Short

In Gaeilge, grá and eagla mean “love” and “fear.” This short follows comedian Áine Gallagher as she prepares material for her bilingual stand-up comedy show, giving her an opportunity to explore why so many Irish people feel passionate about the Irish language but lack the confidence to speak it. As a learner herself, Áine gives us a fresh perspective to the insecurity that holds many people back from speaking their own native language.

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The Gringo Mapuche: Carlos Catrileo

Saturday, February 22, at 3 pm
Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium, Smithsonian American Art Museum


The Gringo Mapuche: Carlos Catrileo
Director

Anthony Rauld

Country

Chile

Languages

Spanish, English

Year

2012

Runtime

9 min.

Category

Documentary Short

Chris Culbertson, also known as Carlos Catrileo, is a young American who, upon discovering that he is Mapuche, goes back to find his roots in southern Chile. This documentary short is part of the Encoded Textiles project by Los Angeles-based artist Guillermo Bert.

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Uu?uu~tah

Saturday, February 22, at 3 pm
Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium, Smithsonian American Art Museum


Directors

Chad Charlie

Countries

Canada, USA

Language

Nuu-chah-nulth

Year

2019

Runtime

9 min.

Category

Narrative Short

A young chief, Uu?uu~tah, is entrusted to be the whale hunter of his village. In order to undertake such a task, his grandmother leads him along the long, hard path of his rite of purification and growth.

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Mud
Hashtł’ishnii

Saturday, February 22, at 3 pm
Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium, Smithsonian American Art Museum


Director

Shaandiin Tome (Diné)

Country

USA Diné Bikéyah (Diné Territory)

Languages

Diné (Navajo), English

Year

2017

Runtime

10 min.

Category

Narrative Short

Ruby lives in Window Rock, Arizona, with her son, Joseph. In order to hide her alcoholism, she chooses to suffer rather than seek help. One day, she finds her secret is at risk.

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Hooghan

Saturday, February 22, at 3 pm
Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium, Smithsonian American Art Museum


Hooghan
Director

Blackhorse Lowe (Diné)

Country

USA Diné Bikéyah (Diné Territory)

Languages

Diné (Navajo), English

Year

2018

Runtime

11 min.

Category

Documentary Short

Larry and Carmelita Lowe tell their family history over the process of building a hooghan, a traditional Navajo dwelling.

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Beles

Saturday, February 22, at 3 pm
Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium, Smithsonian American Art Museum


Beles
Director

Sam Gebremiche

Country

USA, Eritrea

Language

Tigrinya

Year

2019

Runtime

6 min.

Category

Narrative Short

Each morning, a group of children wake up and go to collect a valuable cactus fruit called beles from deep in the mountains near their village. The short is based in part on the childhood memories of director Sam Gebremiche, who grew up in Eritrea before his family moved to the United States.

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Mino Bimaadiziwin

Saturday, February 22, at 3 pm
Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium, Smithsonian American Art Museum


Director

Shane McSauby (Anishinaabe)

Country

USA

Languages

Anishinaabe, English

Year

2017

Runtime

10 min.

Category

Narrative Short

Jim Asiginaak, a transgender Anishinaabe man, has lost all connection to his Native culture until he has a chance meeting with a mysterious Anishinaabe woman, Bangishimogikwe.

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Te gusta
(Uts taj wich)

Saturday, February 22, at 8 pm
Abramson Family Auditorium, NYU Washington DC


Directors

ADN Maya Films with Jaime Magaña (Yucatec Maya)

Country

Mexico

Languages

Spanish, Yucatec Mayan

Year

2019

Runtime

3 min.

Category

Music Video

In this music video, Jesús Pat Chablé aka Pat Boy raps in his mother tongue of Yucatec Mayan, carrying a message of Indigenous pride. Pat Boy is part of ADN Maya, a collective of artists from the Yucatec Peninsula who all sing in Maya.

Registration for this screening is recommended. For best seating options, we encourage you to arrive thirty minutes before the scheduled start of the event. After that, seats will be released to non-registrants on a first-come-first-serve basis. Register for free online.

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Last Whispers

Oratorio for Vanishing Voices, Collapsing Universes and a Falling Tree

Sunday, February 24 at 6 pm
Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Last Whispers is an audiovisual installation and a virtual reality experience—an immersive oratorio—dedicated to the extinction of languages.

Director

Lena Herzog
Sound design and compositions by Marco Capalbo and Mark Mangini

Country

United States

Languages

Ahom, Ainu, Ayoreo, Bathari, Central Balsas Nahuatal, Chamacoco (Ishir Ibitoso), Dalabon, Duoxu, Enxlet Norte, Great Andamanese, Ikaan, Ingrian, Ixcatec, Ju|'hoan, Kotiria (Wanano), Koyukon, Laklãnõ Xokleng, Light Warlpiri, Los Capomos Mayo,Mani Manx, Mbya Guarani, N|ng, Nafsan (South Efate), Nivkh, Olekha, Ongota, Paunaka, Pite Saami, Qaqet, Sadu, Selk'nam (Ona), Selkup, Sumtu (Sone Tu), Surel, Tehuelche, Trung (Dulong), Warlpiri, Yanesha, Yauyos Quechua, Yoloxóchitl Mixtec

Year

2016

Runtime

46 min. (VR: 7 min.)

Category

Video and Sound Installation

In Lena Herzog’s oratorio, image and sound are poetically linked through 3D animation, drone video footage, and still images in black and white. Composed of historical linguistic recordings punctuated by the sound of collapsing stars, Last Whispers is a chorus of extinct and endangered languages, both spoken and sung. Following the oratorio, visitors can experience a short virtual reality projection.

This U.S. premiere is pesented in partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as part of the Millennium Stage program series in the Terrace Theater. Free general admission tickets—up to two per person—will be distributed in the States Gallery beginning at 5 p.m.

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