Sky Hopinka is a Ho-Chunk and Pechanga filmmaker, who's most
recent film, Jaaji Approx., has been selected to Sundance Film Festival
2016. The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 21-31 in Park
Sky is the son of Mike Hopinka, from Wittenberg, Wisconsin and
Brandy Good Buffalo, from Bremerton, Washington. He is the grandson
of Dolli Big John.
"I was surprised to be selected for Sundance (Film Festival).
I talked with my friend, Brooke Swaney, and she encouraged me to
submit my project. It's like $60-80 to submit," said Hopinka.
"I'd call this a short experimental documentary film. It's an
ethnographic piece. I went back and forth on its title. Whether
to go with Jaaji Approx. or Jaaji Approximate. I submitted my film
last summer, and was notified I was selected in late November."
Jaaji Approx. is video and audio recordings of his dad that Sky
collected over a 10 year period throughout Wisconsin, Seattle, San
Francisco, and Los Angeles.
"My parents met over 30 years ago on the powwow trail. I've
recorded my dad singing and talking about his life. The film is
my relationship with these recordings," continued Hopinka.
"There are also layers of tradition and history in the film.
I wanted to be aware of the language and history entailed."
Hopinka earned an English degree at Portland State University
in Portland, Oregon. After he graduated, Sky knew he wanted to do
something with film. He also knew he wanted to come to Wisconsin.
That's when he enrolled in UW-Milwaukee's graduate film program.
"I've been at UW-Milwaukee for two years now. I've produced
five films there. My goal is to have a 60 minute program I can share
and present," said Hopinka.
Hopinka has produced the films: Wawa, Kunika Remembers Red Banks,
Come All and Let Us Speak, Visions of an Island, and Jaaji Approx.
Excerpts of these films can be seen at his website: www.skyhopinka.com.
Hopinka is an active learner of the Ho-Chunk language. He has
also studied Chinuk wawa language for five years and has attained
advanced-medium fluency. He has worked as linguist with the Where
are your Keys organization.
"I've taught Chinuk wawa at St. Paul Island, Alaska. My teacher,
Evan Gardner, said your first second-language is the hardest to
learn. You'll be helping save Chinuk wawa by learning it," said
One the filmmaking level, Hopinka shot Jaaji Approx. on a Panasonic
GH4, and edited on Final Cut Pro and After Effects.
Sky said he is excited to meet other native filmmakers in the
"There isn't that great of a hub for narrative and feature length
film, like at Sundance," said Hopinka.
Hopinka is familiar with the native film festival circuit in
the U.S. and Canada. His film, HuyHuy (Trade), made the rounds of
American Indian Film Festival 2013, Agua Caliente Native Film Fest
2014, NMAI Native Cinema Showcase 2014, ImagineNATIVE 2013, First
People's Festival 2014, and One Flaming Arrow Media + Arts Festival
to name a few.
"I'm serving as a film festival programmer for the One Flaming
Arrow Media + Arts Festival in Portland, Oregon. That'll be happening
in July. We just had our first programming meeting last weekend.
We are planning for more networking and socializing opportunities
for filmmakers and festival goers," said Hopinka.
Hopinka will be graduating from UW-Milwaukee this spring, but
he will remain at the school on an Advanced Opportunity Fellowship
which will allow him to complete his current project. He is working
on a feature length documentary on the Ho-Chunk Nation.
"I'm looking at landscape and identity. What are Ho-Chunks doing
to become contemporary? It's not entirely based on historic trauma,
but the act to survive instead," said Hopinka.
"The holidays and Sundance provide me with a month of transition
into the fellowship and working on my thesis. I'm enjoying the freedom
and opportunity. After school, I will be happiest if I can continue
working with the language and making movies. I want to contribute,
however I can, back to the tribe."
Jaaji Approx. will be competing in the Documentary Shorts Program
at the Sundance Film Festival and have four screenings, with three
occurring over the weekend of January 22, 23, 24. The final screening
is scheduled for Thursday, January 28.
Sky Hopinka was born in Bellingham, Washington on March 20th, 1984
at 2:47AM to him and her. He lived in Ferndale, Washington for thirteen
years and is a Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin national. He lived in
Southern California for nine years and made some songs. Lived in
Portland, Oregon for seven years. Talks and teaches chinuk wawa.
Lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for now, learning Ho-Chunk and making
videos. Graduated some years ago from Portland State University.
Graduating someday from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee with
an M.F.A. in Film/Video/New Genres.