Sky Hopinka navigates Jáaji Approx

Simple Movements, Complications, Fainting Spells, and Present Joys

With Sky Hopinka at the Tahoe Art Haus and Cinema

On Friday, June 17th, Sky Hopinka will bring a program of moving image work to the Tahoe Art Haus cinema. His latest work, Jáaji Approx., followed its screening at Sundance 2015 for what seems to be an endless list of screenings around the world.

Jáaji is a near translation for directly addressing a father in the Hočak language. In my mind, the most appropriate honor it has garnered so far has been Toronto’s Images Festival and the award for “More with Less.” Jáaji Approx. is a strangely moving film, strung together from moments of life and a son’s recordings of his father’s stories and songs. Western landscapes blend with the roadside and the coast as Hopinka’s jáaji draws us into the circle. “You want the dancers to dance…” he says, “Because once they dance, everything goes into place…” With that line, Sky’s father sets a suitable context for the film to unspool into.

Language is literally the central theme of Hopinka’s composition. It is the language — his father’s words transcribed into the International Phonetic Alphabet — that dominates the screen in the beginning, and creates an initial barrier to the movie. As Jáaji Approx. moves forward, everything begins to fall into place. Jáaji Approx. is at once both literal and lyrical: two landscapes occupy the screen on the verge of meeting, as two voices meet and exchange words.

“The main thing I think I’m trying to get at is attempting to understand and reconcile this relationship I have with these recordings, documentations that I took of my dad,” says Hopinka, “and how those serve as a sort of proxy or approximation of him and our own relationship.  And ultimately trying to create my own proxy to communicate with his.”

The image maintains the separation between their individual travels across vast landscapes. For a time, the text supports our separation from them as well. Over the course of the film, however, this separation breaks down for all involved, as the two spaces — the two journeys — overlap and multiply one another. As with the best moments of all oral traditions, it becomes difficult to separate the present from the past, and the real from embellishment. We all arrive together at the end, and it feels natural.

Jáaji Approx., as a film, also makes strange approximations as it navigates the screen. Many moments are familiar on cinematic terms, as it crosses landscapes that are strangely familiar to movie-goers. This visual familiarity combines with Sky’s filmmaking style and his father’s words to create a strong mnemonic — and, once they dance, everything goes into place.

Join us in Tahoe City, at the Tahoe Art Haus, June 17th at 7 pm, with Sky Hopinka in attendance. In addition to Jáaji Approx., Sky will also screen

Visions of an Island – 2016

wawa – 2014

Kuninkaga Remembers Red Banks, Kuninkaga Remembers the Welcome Song – 2014

Venite et Loquamur – 2015

I’ll Remember You As You Were, Not As What You’ll Become – 2016

7 pm, June 17th at

Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema
475 N Lake Blvd
Tahoe City, California 96145

Sponsored by Sierra Nevada College and the Tahoe Underground Film Festival, 2016. The Tahoe Underground Film Festival will take place November 4th and 5th, 2016, in Incline Village. TUFF is a no-entry fee festival looking for work from around the world.


About Sky Hopinka

Sky Hopinka is a Ho-Chunk Nation national and descendent of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians.  He was born and raised in Ferndale, Washington and spent a number of years in Palm Springs and Riverside, California, and Portland, Oregon.  It was in Portland where he received his BA from Portland State University in Liberal Arts and studied and taught chinuk wawa, a language indigenous to the Columbia River Basin. His work centers around personal positions of homeland and landscapes, designs of language and facets of culture contained within, and the play between the accessibility of the known and the unknowable, and how those concepts interact with the screen and the audience.

His work has played at various festivals including ImagineNATIVE Media + Arts Festival, Images Festival, Courtisane Festival, American Indian Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Antimatter Film Festival, Chicago Underground Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, FLEXfest, and Agua Caliente Native FilmFest.  He was awarded jury prizes at Milwaukee Underground Film Festival, Student Experimental Film Festival in Binghamton, Ann Arbor Film Festival, and 3rd Prize at the 2015 Media City Film Festival.