The acclaimed coming-of-age comedy-drama will debut on Netflix and in select U.S. theaters on Native American Heritage Day.
It’s 1990, and Native American youngster Benny (Keir Tallman) is looking forward to attending a concert by his favorite band, Fleetwood Mac, in his hometown of San Diego. But for reasons only gradually made clear in writer-director Billy Luther’s exceptionally well-crafted and furtively affecting comedy-drama Frybread Face and Me, the boy’s parents have other ideas. Specifically, they want to ship him off for the summer to stay on a Navajo reservation in Arizona with his loving but feisty Grandma Lorraine (Sarah Natani) — who has never bothered to learn how to speak English — and his quirky Uncle Marvin (Martin Sensmeier).
Not surprisingly, Benny is disappointed, if not downright furious. But his attitude changes — slowly, grudgingly — as he spends more time at his grandmother’s sheep ranch with another visitor, his younger but larger cousin Dawn (Charley Hogan), who is not entirely happy about being saddled with the nickname of Frybread Face.
Initially, Dawn’s is rankled by Benny’s presence, since Grandma Loraine’s place has long been a kinda-sorta refuge for her. But the longer they spend summer days and nights together — doing chores, swapping stories, and repeatedly rewatching a worn VHS copy of Starman, a movie Dawn loves so much that she has named her doll Jeff Bridges — the easier it is for the cousins to forge a friendship. And, not incidentally, to also have a mostly good time in a seriocomic coming-of-age story that is specific in its details, but universal in its appeal.
Written and directed by Native American filmmaker Billy Luther (Miss Navajo) of the Navajo, Hopi and Laguna Pueblo tribes, and executive produced by Taika Waititi (Reservation Dogs, JoJo Rabbit), Fybread Face and Me was greeted with critical acclaim and enthusiastic audience response earlier this year at the SXSW and Toronto film festivals before it was picked up by ARRAY Releasing, the distribution arm of Ava DuVernay’s Peabody Award-winning narrative change collective. It will premiere on Netflix and in select theaters November 24, Native American Heritage Day.
Luther, heretofore best known as documentarian, recently visited the C&I Studio to chat about Frybread Face and Me, his debut effort as a narrative feature filmmaker. We began the conversation with the obvious question: How much of Benny’s story is his story?