What makes us want to tell the stories of our lives? Perhaps it’s the fear of being forgotten after we die. Maybe it’s about taking ownership of them, to avoid somebody else telling them for us and misrepresenting our experiences. These concerns occupied Kayla Briët, the 19-year-old director of Smoke That Travels, who decided to tell the story of her family’s origins and her relationship to her Native American background. The result is at once private and political, a deeply personal family document on the one hand and a cultural study of Native American identity on the other.

The Potawatomi tribe once occupied 28 million acres of land in the Great Lakes, but due to Federal Removal Acts during the 19th century, the tribe lost this territory. Displacement and incarceration followed. Those who survived had to adapt their lifestyles and learn to exist among values very different to theirs. Today, a lot of people assume that Native Americans receive reparations from the government. But the reality looks a lot bleaker. Alienated from their values and traditions, tribes face high rates of depression, alcoholism and suicide.

Smoke That Travels thoughtfully raises questions of what it means to be a Native American today. It is careful to point out that simply holding on to the old ways is not likely to bring fulfillment. Briët and her father are mindful of the fact that they are “descendants of something that once was,” yet it clearly plays a vital role in the way they both centre themselves in today’s world. And perhaps that’s exactly how they keep their Native American identity alive, through their connection to the philosophy and perspective of their ancestors.

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DIRECTOR: Kayla Briët

EDITOR: Kayla Briët


MUSIC: Kayla Briët

HISTORICAL RESEARCH: Gary Wis-ki-ge-amatyuk

SYNOPSIS: What happens when a story is forgotten?

About The Author


I am a London-based PhD student working on a project about contemporary historical cinema. My taste is diverse, but I am particularly interested in films about the cinema. There are lots of different filmmakers I admire, from P.T. Anderson to Michael Haneke and Sarah Polley, but at the end of the day I am convinced that Kieslowski was as good as it gets.