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A week before Gil Birmingham and Chaske Spencer once more take their places on the big screen as Billy Black and Sam Uley in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, they will appear together as father and son in an altogether more intimate drama, Korinna Sehringer’s Shouting Secrets. The tale of a fractured family brought together by tragedy makes its world premiere at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts on Thursday, November 10 at the 36th American Indian Film Festival. Nominated for six awards at the festival, including Best Film and a Best Actor nod for Spencer, it is a richly realized portrait of kin repairing bonds once thought irretrievably broken.

Cal (Birmingham) and June (Tantoo Cardinal) are getting ready for their 40th wedding anniversary party when June suffers a stroke. Eldest son Tushka (Tyler Christopher), drowning in a midlife crisis, is separated from his wife Annie (Molly Cookson) and living at home. Daughter Pinti (Q’orianka Kilcher) also lives nearby with her musician boyfriend Brody (Connor Fox). But younger son Wesley (Spencer) long ago left Arizona and the San Carlos Apache Reservation in his rear view mirror. A successful novelist who remains close to his mother but who alienated the rest of the family with his autobiographical bestseller, he had no intention of returning for the anniversary fete but now finds himself pulled back into the fold.

Coming home only underlines what a mess Wesley’s life has become, but he’s not alone in that. The entire clan is in flux in a story that is at once about the constancy and the fragility of love, as well as the importance of family. Screenwriters Mickey Blaine, Tvli Jacob, and Steven Judd have constructed a strong narrative that resonates and filled the tale with memorable and only too human characters. Performances are strong across the board, justifying the four AIFF acting nominations that – in addition to Spencer’s – include nods for Christopher (Best Supporting Actor), Kilcher (Best Supporting Actress), and Tonantzin Carmelo (Best Actress), who plays the old friend that Wesley regards as “the one who got away.”

The AIFF’s sixth nomination went to Sehringer for Best Director. Shouting Secrets is an impressive directing debut, not just for the way she handles her actors and the demands of the story, but for the way she transforms the reservation into another character. Wesley jokes at the movie’s beginning that the rez ranks as one of Time magazine’s most desirable places to live. By the end of the film, the description no longer seems like such a joke, and not just because of the natural beauty of desert and mesas. – Pam Grady

The 36th American Indian Film Festival continues through Saturday, November 12. For tickets and further information, visit http://americanindianfilminstitute.com/.

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