Recovering Voices: The Mother Tongue Film Festival

Language is intrinsic to culture and we are always our most authentic selves when we speak our mother tongue. This month we’re celebrating the second anniversary of the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices Mother Tongue Film Festival, a a collaborative celebration of communities around the world representing 33 languages across six continents.


Recovering Voices will present films from across the globe beginning Feb. 21, United Nations Mother Language Day. The free five-day festival will feature films on music, identity and place from communities around the world representing 33 languages across six continents.

The festival will run through Saturday, Feb. 25, at multiple locations across the Smithsonian and Washington, D.C. Complete festival listings, times and locations are available at recoveringvoices.si.edu. Doors will open approximately 30 minutes before each show. All screenings are free and open to the public.

Among the highlights screening on opening night, Feb. 21, is Mele Murals, a film by Tadashi Nakamura that centers on two graffiti artists and their joint quest to uphold Hawaiian culture through mural-making. The feature-length documentary shows how public art fused with Native Hawaiian traditions transforms the students, the local community and, unexpectedly, the artists themselves. This film will be hosted at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Artist with back to camera paints a mural

Still image from the film, “Mele Murals”

On Saturday, Feb. 25, the festival will feature Poi E: The Story of Our Song, a New Zealand film from Tearepa Kahi that tells the true story of the visionary musician and leader Maui Dalvanius Prime, the entrepreneur responsible for the iconic New Zealand song “Poi E,” the upbeat song that could be called the country’s unofficial national anthem. This film will be shown at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in conjunction with the New Zealand Embassy.

New Zealand singers in native dress

Still image from “Poi E: The Story of Our Song”

The festival also includes a selection of international dramas such as Avant les rues, a 2015 film from Chloé Leriche which focuses on Shawnouk, a Native teenager, who kills a man during a robbery before fleeing from his Atikamekw village in Quebec. Upon his return, Shawnouk attempts to redeem himself using traditional cleansing rituals. This film will be screened at the NYU Washington DC Abramson Family Auditorium at 1307 L St. NW.

Two young people walking in dim forest

Still image from “Avant les rues”

Another festival highlight at the National Museum of the American Indian is Dauna/Gone with the River, by Mario Crespo. The film is the first made in the Warao language and was Venezuela’s official submission to the 88th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. The film tells the story of Dauna, a woman struggling to bridge her culture and the one beyond the Orinoco River. Dauna, defined by her individuality, chooses eventually to use both her Native tongue and Spanish to preserve and pass on her legacy.

Small group sitting on dock

Still image from “Dauna/Gone with the River”

Another international film rounding out the festival is El Sueño del Mara’akame/ Mara’akame’s Dream, an award-winning Mexican film by Federico Cecchetti that tells the story of Nieri, a young Wirrárika (Huichol) Indian who dreams of performing in concert with his band in Mexico City. Nieri’s father, a Mara’akame, or shaman, has different plans for his son, who must find the Blue Deer in his dreams in order to become a Mara’kame himself. El Sueño del Mara’akame is presented in cooperation with the Mexican Cultural Institute.

Colorful drawing of tiny hunters and giant deer

Still image from “El Sueño del Mara’akame/ Mara’akame’s Dream”

Recovering Voices is an initiative of the Smithsonian Institution founded in response to the global crisis of cultural knowledge and language loss. It works with communities and other institutions to address issues of indigenous language and knowledge diversity and sustainability. Recovering Voices is collaboration between staff at the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of the American Indian and the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Posted: 3 February 2017
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