Sydney Freeland’s Drunktown’s Finest is a touching story about three lives that for all intents and purposes would never collide with one another, but when they look within themselves and their roots, the similarities become hard to avoid. Freeland’s tale of ambition and drive within a life of hard knocks follows a transexual, Felixia (the powerful Carmen Moore), the hard boy who is trying to change his life around, Sickboy (played by Jeremiah Bitsui) and Nizhoni (Morning Star Wilson), a girl who lost her parents at an early age and was adopted by a middle class white couple. Drunktown’s Finest is a wonderful look at a group of people who are otherwise rarely represented in cinema; looking at the Native American tribes that continue to exist to this day.
The three stories of the film are kept separate for the majority of the film; Felixia dreams of becoming a model of the Navajo calendar but she just hopes that the judges do not find out that she is a transexual. She is promiscuous and trying all she can do to find her own place in the world – she has a handle over technology and finds men to sleep with through social media. Her conversations with these random men are illustrated on screen by Freeland, and they open up Felixia’s headspace a little for the audience. She lives with her grandparents on a reserve, where the tribesmen and women live, but they are accepting and aware of Felixia’s lifestyle. Her grandfather, a wise man, tells her of a third gender alongside men and women, that they acknowledge and see as powerful – he is telling Felixia that it is okay to be herself. Whilst she gets through to the final round for the calendar, a fellow model who knows her past, decides to out her to everyone.
Sickboy’s story isn’t something new, but Freeland’s storytelling and Bitsui’s talent allow an entry into the story, which feels fresh. He is a hard man, someone who most probably has a violent past but he is trying to get a fresh start in the army. He is also married with a child on the way and is currently trying to find a path in his mind to accept all these new changes in his life. He believes that if he can’t even look after himself, then how is he meant to try and look after a child? He gets himself caught up with friends and drugs, with local gangs and cannot yet find it within himself to walk away from violence when he sees others in danger, which causes the audience to ask many questions about morality and responsibility. What Sickboy needs more than any of the characters in the film is to work out where he came from and his Navajo roots allow him to figure out his own spiritual calling in the hope that he will one day be able to care for another.
The final story; Nizhoni’s is an intellectual conundrum. After her parents died when she was younger (they were from the tribe), she was adopted by a middle class white couple who have brought her up in a way that would have been very different to her own parents. They have sent her to boarding school across the country and she returns back rarely to where she was born but this time around she wants to do things differently. She tries to immerse herself in local culture, with the people and the workers in the hope that she can find out more about her deceased parents. Her adoptive parents have an issue with this, and think that if she gets to know her real family, she will become caught up in their bad habits but they don’t realise or understand what else the tribespeople go through to live. When Nizhoni finds out her fathers name, she manages to track it back to her own grandparents, the same as Felixia’s (they are cousins) and against the wishes of her adoptive family, she goes to them to learn about her roots. This will enable her to figure out her own path in life.
The performances in particular from Bitsui and Moore are touching and powerful, whilst Freeland’s direction is subtle, exploratory and intriguing. Drunktown’s Finest’s best merit goes to the hope that it succeeds in instilling within the audience by the end; there is an incredible representation of the Navajo tribe within the film, which truly should open the eyes of audiences around the world.