Doc of the Day: Joe Buffalo

Posted by Greg on Mar 23, 2021 in Music |

Joe Buffalo | Official Trailer from Amar Chebib on Vimeo.

UPDATE: Joe Buffalo won the 2021 SXSW Audience Award for Best Documentary Short.

Documentary short films when done well do everything a non-fiction short story might do: they introduce you to a character, reveal said character’s story, detail a battle the protagonist has overcome and in the end leaves you feeling informed, educated and asking more questions. These aren’t questions that leave you trying to dot the I and cross the T. Instead these are questions that make you want to dig deeper into the protagonist’s story more now than ever before.

The latest example of that is Amar Chebib’s Joe Buffalo, a near-perfect sixteen-minute short that chronicles the life of skateboarding mentor and Samson Cree Nation legend Joe Buffalo. Fantastically photographed by Liam Mitchell and buttressed by a haunting soundtrack featuring the likes of Northern Cree, Joe Buffalo details how skateboarding became his saving grace. Carrying the wounds of the torture that he, his parents and loved ones endured at an Indian Residential School, Joe heads east from Alberta to Ottawa and finds favor in the skateboarding community.

But with that attention Joe spiraled into substance abuse and ultimately ends up in prison. Honest, tender and articulate Joe makes a candid omission at the end of the film that grounds the docs in ways only documentary cinema can. Discussing his future plans, he admits, “I don’t want to go the X Games or anything, I just want to influence others.” Shortly after the credits begin rolling. Chebib tactfully adds a graphic about the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and “Earth Echoes” by Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie (courtesy of Nagamo Publishing) begins to play. The entire final reel is perfectly orchestrated and makes for a fitting and optimistic conclusion. A solo production by Luminus Films in association with Even/Odd Films Joe Buffalo was one of our favorite doc shorts we saw last week at SXSW. The film is scheduled to continue at the festival circuit for the duration of 2021 but we’re certainly crossing our fingers the film finds a wide release sooner rather than later. Trust us, this is not a film to pass over.

As Boulder, CO and the United States as a whole grapples with yet another mass shooting, a film as uplifting, poignant and affecting as Joe Buffalo is just the tonic needed to help illuminate a dark day. Chalk another one up for the Canadians.

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