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Smithsonian Presents the Mother Tongue Film Festival, “Coming Home”

Annual Festival Returns to In-Person Events Feb. 23–26

Still from Daughter of a Lost Bird (2020), directed by Brooke Swaney
Still from Daughter of a Lost Bird (2020), directed by Brooke Swaney

For the first time since 2020, the annual Mother Tongue Film Festival will return to the National Mall for in-person events Feb. 23–26. The festival, hosted by the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices initiative, centers around the International Mother Language Day to celebrate cultural and linguistic diversity. Now in its eighth year, the festival will feature 27 films in 23 languages from regions across the globe. 

“This year’s theme, ‘Coming Home,’ will focus on ideas of home, asking viewers to consider what makes a home, why people remain rooted there and what it takes to return home after a long time away,” said Amalia Córdova, festival co-director and museum curator of world cultures at the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

“We are delighted to come back to being in person and to share an incredible array of large and small films from around the world that explore the many dimensions of home,” said Joshua Bell, curator of globalization at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and festival co-director.

A schedule of screenings and events and registration information can be found on the festival’s website. All screenings and events are free.

The festival’s highlights include:

Returns: Opening Ceremony and Daughter of a Lost Bird Film Screening
Thursday, Feb. 23; 6:30 p.m.
Ring Auditorium at the Hirshhorn Museum

Following opening remarks from Smithsonian organizers, the festival’s first screening is the feature documentary Daughter of a Lost Bird. Brooke Pepion Swaney, the film’s director, and Kendra Potter, the film’s producer and protagonist, will discuss the documentary after the screening. 

Youth and Language Documentation: Sakha Media School in Russia
Friday, Feb. 24; 3:30 p.m. 
Q?rius at the National Museum of Natural History

Participants will take a deep dive into Sakha, an Indigenous language of the Subarctic Sakha Republic, Russia. The program includes a screening of three youth-directed shorts made in the Smithsonian-sponsored Sakha Media School, short panel discussions and a pre-recorded conversation with one of the youth participants in the city of Yakutsk, Russia.

Faya Dayi Film Screening
Saturday, Feb. 25; 3 p.m. 
Baird Auditorium at the National Museum of Natural History

The feature documentary Faya Dayi tells a series of intimate stories linked to the trade of Ethiopia’s most lucrative cash crop: khat. Inspired by an Ethiopian legend about khat and the search for eternity, Faya Dayi is a divine journey into the highlands of Harar. Director Jessica Beshir will participate in a Q&A session following the screening.

Roots of, and Routes to, Home
Saturday, Feb. 25; 6:30 p.m.
Baird Auditorium at the National Museum of Natural History

Home in Oceania is shaped by ancestral, historical and contemporary migration routes. The three films in this screening—the music video Dodge the Bullet, the short film Like a Mighty Wave: A Maunakea Film and the feature film Whetū Mārama/Bright Star—will explore the ways communities in Papua New Guinea, Hawai‘i and Aotearoa (New Zealand) are calling out the injustices of settler colonialism and asserting their sovereignty. The film screenings will be followed by a director Q&A.

Night Raiders Film Screening
Sunday, Feb. 26; 2 p.m. 
National Museum of the American Indian

Set in a dystopian future, Night Raiders is a female-driven sci-fi drama paralleling the experience of the Indigenous peoples of North America. The feature film follows a Cree woman who joins a vigilante group to rescue her daughter from a military regime. Following the film screening, director Danis Goulet will present a brief Q&A about the film. 

Dreams/Vaychiletik Film Screening
Sunday, Feb. 26; 7 p.m. 
Ring Auditorium at the Hirshhorn Museum

Dreams/Vaychiletik is a documentary film that follows one musician’s journey to heed a gift from the gods, bestowed upon him through dreams. After the film screening, participants are invited to a Q&A session with director Juan Javier Perez.

he Mother Tongue Film Festival is presented by Recovering Voices. This program received additional support from Arenet, the Embassy of New Zealand, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, Georgetown University Department of Anthropology, Planet Word, The Elizabeth and Whitney MacMillan Endowment, Wick and Bonnie Moorman, Embassy of Mexico to the U.S., and Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C.

About Recovering Voices

Recovering Voices is an initiative of the Smithsonian founded in response to the global crisis of cultural knowledge and language loss. It works with communities and other institutions to address issues of Indigenous language and knowledge diversity and sustainability. Recovering Voices is a collaboration between staff at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of the American Indian, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and Asian Pacific American Center.

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