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Songs My Brothers Taught Me 2015

Songs My Brothers Taught Me

Songs My Brothers Taught Me

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About the Songs My Brothers Taught Me 💬

"Thing about breaking a horse is, don't run him out of time, 'cause if you're gonna just keep on running your horse, you're gonna break his spirit. Anything that runs wild got something bad in him. You want to leave some of that in there, 'cause they need it to survive out here."
John Reddy as Johnny Winters

Chloé Zhao's debut feature, SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME is a compelling and complex portrait of modern-day life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that explores the bond between a brother (John Reddy) and his younger sister (Jashaun St. John), who find themselves on separate paths to rediscovering the meaning of home. The film sensitively infiltrates isolated Indian Country to offer a rare, modern gaze keenly felt through the eyes of its magnetic non-professional lead actors, providing a universally resonant tale set amid the magnificent, promising wild of young generation Lakotas.

17-year-old Johnny, a restless Lakota teen, and his spirited little sister Jashaun live with their troubled mother on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. While the Johnny looks for ways to escape his nihilistic life on the reservation by moving to LA with his girlfriend, Jashaun is holding onto her faith in the community and the simple pleasures she finds there. Things start to change after the funeral of their estranged cowboy father and Johnny's reckless behavior begins to catch up with him. After finding out about Johnny's plan to leave, Jashaun wanders away from her ruptured home life, exploring the rodeo world of her late father and forming an unlikely friendship with an ex-con. Jashaun's spirit is put to the test as she witnesses the self-destructive nature of those around her. While Johnny, who finds himself in a fight he can't win, is in danger of losing all those he holds dear.


"SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME" is a contemplation of the time I spent on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation during the four years of making this film. One of the most common questions people ask when they hear about some of the difficulties facing Pine Ridge is "Why don't they just leave? If life is hard, why don't they just leave the reservation and go somewhere else?" When considering how frequently I have moved around in my own life, I must confess that at times I have often wondered the same thing. I was born in Beijing and left home when I was fourteen, and have been moving from place to place ever since. As a result, there isn't one particular place in the world from which I cannot just uproot myself and leave behind. 'Home', to me, feels like only a concept, and I find myself often exploring its meaning in my films and writing.

During my time on Pine Ridge, as I became friends with some of the Lakota people living there, I became increasingly intrigued and almost envious of the deep connection they have to their homes, families, communities and their land. This bone-deep attachment also has its consequences, and over time I also became aware of the various struggles and isolation they face because of it. I found this very simple question, has an increasingly complicated answer, one that I find difficult to express in words. So in many ways, I made "SONGS" to explore this question "how do you leave the only place you've ever known?"

Set against the backdrop of the Badlands and the Great Plains of South Dakota, "SONGS" is also a kind of poem dedicated to my love for this wild, magnificent, yet a marginalized piece of the American West. I went into production with a tight budget, only a treatment and without a script, writing every morning for the scenes we were to shoot on that particular day. This approach has many challenges, yet many advantages since unlike in most conventional narrative shoots, my team and I were able to have the flexibility to incorporate real-life events as they occurred. We were completely indebted to our cast and friends on Pine Ridge, most of them were acting for the first time, and were born, raised and residing on the reservation. They trusted us completely and welcomed us into their homes and their lives. The film would certainly not have been possible without their kindness and support.

This trust touched on every aspect of the shoot. Sadly, during production, the childhood home of one of our leads (thirteen-year-old Jashaun) was burned down in a snowstorm. After much reflection, and talking with Jashaun and her family, I decided to rewrite the script and reshoot scenes, incorporating this event into her character's story. We filmed Jashaun seeing the ruins for the first time, and what was at first supposed to be a brief pickup, developed into something more as Jashaun decided to keep going, searching in the ashes as she tried to recover her things that were lost in the fire. Everyone present was moved by her strength and resilience, and to me, in that very heartbreaking forty-five minutes, I was only there to document the action, and simply observe as Jashaun and her life presented me with the story it wished to tell.

"SONGS" is not a generalized representation of Pine Ridge. There simply are not enough films made about this place and these people. As a result, the ones that are made often end up being used to generalize the community - something our mainstream media has done in its appropriation of Native Americans for a long time. This needs to change. My hope is for the audiences to leave the theater feeling that they have gotten to know a group of very complex characters and to have a glimpse into just how diverse and vivacious the Lakota people of Pine Ridge really are, instead of the two-dimensional stereotypes we often see represented in today's dominant culture.

The making of "SONGS" was a family affair and it has changed me in many ways. For me, filmmaking will always be driven by my desire to learn about the world I'm not familiar with. Sometimes on that journey, I also get to rediscover who I am. I will always be grateful for my friends on Pine Ridge for giving me that opportunity and for showing me a different way of life.

Songs My Brothers Taught Me Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Chloé Zhao

Writing Credits

Chloé Zhao


John Reddy

Jashaun St. John

Irene Bedard

Kevin Hunter

Taysha Fuller

Eleonore Hendricks

Travis Lone Hill

Cat Clifford

Music by

Peter Golub

Tom MacLear

Genres: Drama, Western

Country: United States

Songs My Brothers Taught Me Official Trailer

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