Chris Eyre

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Chris Eyre - photograph by Tim Warner

Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/Arapaho) has been described as "the preeminent Native American filmmaker of his time" by People magazine. In 2007 he was selected for two prestigious artist awards—the United States Artists Fellowship and the Bush Foundation Artists Fellowship in Film/Media. In 2007 he also received an All Roads Film Project Seed Grant for Lazarus Rises (working title). Eyre has been awarded many other artists honors and fellowships. He was one of three established filmmakers selected to participate in the inaugural Tribeca All Access program in 2004. He was a 1995 recipient of the Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship (now a fellowship program of the Tribeca Film Institute).

Eyre was chosen to direct three of the five films in the groundbreaking 2009 Native American history series We Shall Remain, produced by PBS' American Experience. The theatrical world premiere of one of these, Trail of Tears, opened the 2009 Native American Film + Video Festival. He has also directed episodes of two popular NBC series, Friday Night Lights and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Eyre has been working with emerging filmmakers as an executive producer and producer, and recent works include Imprint (director: Michael Linn) and California Indian (director: Tim Ramos (Pomo)). Eyre's first feature, Smoke Signals, was one of the five highest-grossing independent films in 1998. It won the Audience Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, and Eyre was awarded the festival's Filmmaker's Trophy.

In 2004 Eyre was again honored at Sundance when Edge of America, based on a true story of a reservation high school girls basketball team's road to the state finals, was selected for the festival's Salt Lake City opening night. In 2006 Edge of America, produced by Showtime, received the Peabody Award, one of the most prestigious awards in electronic media. The film also received the 2005 Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement from the Directors Guild of America and the 2006 Parents' Choice Award. In 2005, for the opening of the new National Museum of the American Indian, Eyre produced the museum's signature film, A Thousand Roads. His other films include A Thief of Time and Skinwalkers, based on the novels of Tony Hillerman, for the PBS series Mystery!, documentaries and music videos. He currently resides in Rapid City, South Dakota, with his daughter, Shahela.

In 1995 & 2009 he served as a guest selector for NMAI’s Native American Film + Video Festival.

February 2009


"With my work I like the shades: very rarely are our thoughts really black or white except in the case of our own bias and the limitations of our own experience. We tend to be so limited in our perceptions of what AMERICA is. We don't know about our own history, about being real with those that aren't of us. We need some more social/shared understanding and laughter. There is no one truth to our diversity."


2007, United States Artists Fellowship
2006, Edge of America, Peabody Award, Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication
1998, Smoke Signals, Outstanding Achievement in Directing, First Americans in the Arts
1999, Smoke Signals, Best Newcomer, Florida Film Critics Circle
2006, Edge of America, DGA Award, Directors Guild of America

Screened by NMAI:

Hide Away (2011), Director
We Shall Remain: Trail of Tears (2008), Director
We Shall Remain: Tecumseh's Vision (2008), Director
We Shall Remain: After the Mayflower (2008), Director
Imprint (2007), Producer
A Thousand Roads (2005), Director
Edge of America (2003), Director
A Thief of Time (2003), Director
The Doe Boy (2001), Producer
Skins (2001), Co-producer, Director, Cast
Smoke Signals (1998), Director, Co-producer
Bringing It All Back Home (1998), Director
Tenacity (1994), Director


Interview Text:

Interview with Chris Eyre
by Melissa Bisagni, October 2008

MB: I am curious, how long you have known about the Film and Video Center (FVC) and the film festival?

CE: I met Elizabeth through the Film and Video Center in 1992, when they were on 155th Street. I went up there, met her and just started to talk to her about Native film when I first got to New York....I think [the festival] is great; the Film and Video Center is like second to nothing else in the country for filmmakers and archiving indigenous work from the hemisphere; it is pretty unique.

MB: What was your first film that showed here at the museum?

CE: I think the first movie of mine that showed here was Tenacity...Thief of Time and Skins we premiered here…Smoke Signals we did the premiere here at the Smithsonian, so there has been a relationship that's been really great over the years.

MB: From your experience with the festival in past years, do you feel there is a difference now, has there been an evolution?

CE: I think the biggest evolution that I've seen is that there are so many Native filmmakers now. Maybe it is just because the FVC has shown us all these different people by searching them out in South America and Central America, Canada and the US, but it does seem like there are more Native filmmakers then ever. When I came to New York in '92, I remember the handful of Native filmmakers who were in the country—George Burdeau, Phil Lucas, Sandy Osawa, Ava Hamilton, Dean Bear Claw, Victor Masayesva and probably a few others—that was really the mainstay of documentary Native American cinema.

Dances with Wolves and all those movies made a lot people say they wanted to be Native actors, and I guess, at the same time, it grew [to include] Native filmmakers. It seems like it has been growing rapidly and steadily, and it's fun to see what everybody is doing. It seems like if you sit on a festival or programming panel every couple years you get a new group of people that are really talented, and it just seems to keep growing, which is great.

MB: When you started working in the 1990s almost everyone worked in documentary film, and you, of course, have been working in narrative fiction since the beginning of your career. How do you feel about the work that the young Native narrative filmmakers are doing now?

CE: I remember telling non-Native people that I made films, and they'd always take a pause and stare deep at you and say, "You mean documentaries?" There was some strange idea that all we could do was make documentaries. Docs are probably my favorite form just because the proximity to reality is so much closer then narrative. In narrative that is what you are going for, but in documentary…you are actually seeing a piece of reality in all its forms, and I love that. I love that sense of heightened reality.

I got into narrative feature just because I was raised on narrative features, like Little House on the Prairie, if you call that a narrative feature. Now it seems as though it is shifting, and the generational thing is that people are making more narrative work. I wonder how the work is going to be different; we see a lot of work that is from the north…there is a huge movement of northern Canadian aboriginal stories, it seems like we're seeing a huge explosion in the past couple of years after The Fast Runner…and Canada has more resources, I think, then we do it terms of film and video support and subsidizing their film makers, so maybe we'll continue to see that.

MB: What did you think of The Fast Runner when you saw it for the first time?

CE: The Fast Runner is probably the most successful Native or aboriginal commercial movie ever made. And it's an interesting movie, it's a great movie. I laughed at certain parts, because when I saw the guy running naked across the ice and running through the water and running through the snow, and falling down, and just continuing and continuing, I laughed to myself quite a bit because I thought, "I can't get an actor to do that!"

So I know I was watching something really wonderful unfolding. It was part cultural—it wasn't actor-driven, director-driven commercial work—it was actually culturally passionate. I realized I was watching something different…something that is unique and much more Native than something like Smoke Signals or Skins. It's a real look at a culture and a language, and stories, tribal stories. I was fascinated by The Fast Runner.

Young Native filmmakers, or older, Native filmmakers trying to bring that authenticity to a commercial audience…that is kind of what the front line of war is….For me, in order to get work seen is a really difficult thing. I have done a few shows for PBS recently, and I'm working in television now, but to bring what I want to see to the screen is a whole different ordeal. I see Native filmmakers bringing what they want to the screen, but there is not an audience for it, so they play film festivals and they play in vacuums a little bit. And so to merge those two things together, I think is the whole achievement….I think The Fast Runner is a pretty awesome example of where I think people want to go.

MB: In The Fast Runner you see a commitment from the community that helps in delivering cultural specificity to the film. Today, we saw a little of your Trail of Tears, and it seems that you have all of these very strong Cherokee voices in the work, not just as historians but even your actors. Was the experience of having a culturally specific story to tell a different experience for you?

CE: They're all culturally specific, but some of them you dig deeper in that experience. You know, Skins was a deep cultural experience; Tenacity is about the Onondaga, and it is a metaphor—they're just different depths of that cultural experience. I always find that we are looking for an answer as Native filmmakers, "Ok, this is the definitive Native movie, this is the Native movie that is going to deliver us, this is the Native movie that will make white people understand us, this is the one movie that [will] bring new legislation to Congress, if they just understand this component of our history." And there is not that one movie.

So, for me, the Cherokee movie is tied deeply to a lot of Cherokee people, but it is not unlike the Wampanoag movie that we made or the Absentee Shawnee movie, they just have different depths of culture in different times and places. They are like having children, they're experiences, journeys, and they're wonderful things. So I can't say this one is better than this one, or this one is more culturally relevant than this one; there are some that I am less excited about, but they are all just kinda cool, they are all just fun.

MB: What do you want to bring to the screen next?

CE: There are a ton of things I would like to bring to the screen….I would like to make a movie or a series on Native gaming in this country….in 1973 there was an attorney that tested tribal sovereignty through bingo in Connecticut and that story is 35 years old almost. So there are still stories out there that are pretty recent that need to be told, and we're not being allowed to tell these stories for a commercial audience. We can make these movies and they can spend the rest of their days at Native film festivals-and I think that is important—but I think we all want our work to be seen in a wider context so we educate the people that need to be educated.

The other thing is—we've seen The Exiles recently—I come from that whole [era] where my grandparents were moved from Oklahoma to Oakland and lived in the "exiles" world, and then eventually moved to Warm Springs in Oregon….There is a whole '50s and '40s look at Native people that I think is fascinating and amazing, and to dramatize some of that '50s world in the urban areas would be a pretty wonderful movie, too.

MB: That is definitely an interesting thing about this festival, where there are so many different Native communities represented—some with similar elements of history and story, and others so different from each other.

CE: I also find that a lot of times people want to have an all-Native crew—it's like this utopia—if we just had a Native caterer and a Native PA, and I can be the producer, and we have the Native actor, you know-then everything would be great. Everybody wants that definitive answer.

I don't think it's going to come in that way or that shape; there is not going to be that perfect movie; it's going to be a community of movies that have an overall effect. Nobody is going to make that definitive movie—there will be some great movies—-but what we know about Indian country, it is about all of us; it's about a community of us, and about the movement of it—so, hopefully, I'll be able to make one of those great movies, and other people will [make others] and it will just keep going.

En Español

Chris Eyre

Chris Eyre (Cheyenne/Arapaho) ha sido descrito como “El Realizador Indígena Americano más preeminente de su época” por la Revista People. Fue elegido para dirigir trés de las cinco películas de la serie sobre historia indígena americana “We Shall Remain” [“Permaneceremos”] producido por la serie PBS American Experience y programado para transmisión en Abril de 2009. En 2007 fue nominado para dos prémios artisticos prestigiosos—La Beca para Artistas Estadounidenses y la Beca Artistica de la Fundación Bush en Cine/Video. En 2007 también recibió una beca de inicio del Proyecto All Roads para su proyecto “Lázaro se levanta” [Lazarus Rises]. En 2004 Eyre fue seleccionado para participar en el programa inaugural Tribeca All Access, y en 1995 recibió la Beca Rockefeller en Artes de Medios de Comunicación (hoy un programa del Instituto del Cine Tribeca ).

El primer largometraje de Eyre, Smoke Signals (Señales de Humo), ganó el Premio del Público en el Festival de Cine Sundance en 1998, y Eyre fue honrado con el Trofeo al Realizador del festival. Su obra Edge of America fue seleccionada para ser la noche inaugural del Festival del Cine Sundance 2004 en Salt Lake City. Recibió el prestigioso Premio Peabody, el Premio 2005 para proyectos de realización como director del Gremio de Directores de América y el Premio 2006 Selección de los Padres. En 2005, Eyre produjo la película emblemática para el Museo Nacional del Indo Americano, Mil Caminos (A Thousand Roads). Otras de sus películas incluyen Un Ladrón del Tiempo (A Thief of Time) y Skinwalkers, basadas en las novelas de Tony Hillerman, para la serie PBS Mystery! Vive en Rapid City, South Dakota.

marzo 2009


"En mi trabajo me gustan los grados de sombra: muy rara vez son nuestros pensamientos en verdad blancos o negros, esto solo ocurre con nuestos prejuicios y las limitaciones de nuestra experiencia. Nuestra percepción de lo que es "América" tiende a ser muy limitada. No conocemos nuestra historia, no sabemos ser honestos con los demás. Necesitamos un mayor entendimiento social, colectivo, y necesitamos reírnos mas. La verdad no es sólo una en nuestra diversidad."

Film & Video Center, NMAI–NY
National Museum of the American Indian 
Smithsonian Institution 
One Bowling Green
New York, NY 10004
Phone: 212-514-3737
Fax: 212-514-3725