Hopinka Searches for Connection on the Road

Still from Sky Hopinka’s Jáaji Approx (2015)

“I feel like I grew up in a car,” says Sky Hopinka in the latest installment of the Atlas Obscura podcast. His parents met on the powwow circuit, he recalls, his mom dancing and his dad singing, and many of his memories of childhood are set in the back of a conversion van en route between powwows. These recollections are at the heart of 2015 video work Jáaji Approx., which presents an imagined road trip through the American West with his father and features recordings of his dad singing over a span of 10 years.

Hopinka shares that he felt distance from his father growing up (his video’s title melds the Ho-Chunk word one would use in directly addressing their father with the word approximate). “When I was making it, I was thinking about how to be in communication with this person. The abstractions in the piece are my way of trying to sing along with him. This is something he was good at, and this is the thing I want to be good at, making these films. It became a desire for communication.”

What else does he seek to communicate through his film work, Thuras asks.

I feel like there’s something about certain narratives in contemporary Native cinema that just don’t resonate with me. A lot of it has to do with historical trauma, historical representations of who are, and erasure, and countering those narratives. It’s very important to make that work and to have an audience that isn’t familiar with that history see the work.

But at the same time, it’s triggering. I don’t constantly want to live in that space in the media that I see. Rather than look at this spectrum of history, I’m interested in more of an Indigenous expanse of experience and seeing what else is out there. What are questions I have, about mythology, about homeland, about language that I can use this medium to try and ask? I think that’s an important part for any Indigenous filmmaker—or any filmmaker for that matter—to make work that is reflective of their experiences and try to connect with people in ways big and small.

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