Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015): Chloe Zhao’s Promising Debut

Developed at the Sundance Institute workshops, Songs My Brothers Taught Me was written and directed by Chloé Zhao, who makes an assured debut in a production overseen by Forest Whitaker.

Songs My Brothers Taught Me
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival


A Native American drama, set in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the film explores the bond between a Lakota Sioux brother and his younger sister.

The film premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Fest and later screened in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2015 Cannes Film Fest.

Songs My Brothers Taught Me
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Siblings Jashaun Winters and John Winters live with their mother, Lisa (Irene Bedard) on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. John illegally distributes alcohol to fellow residents to support his family. He is just about to graduate from high school and plans to leave the reservation to go to Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Aurelia (Taysha Fuller). Nervous about leaving he visits his brother, Cody, who is in prison and urges John to leave.

Carl Winters, their father, dies in an accidental house fire. The siblings go to his funeral, along with their mother, which is crowded as Carl had 25 children with 9 women.  Some of the siblings chose not to take Carl’s name as he was not around for most of their lives.

As writer and director, Zhao has made a naturalistic drama about the kind of setting and life seldom seen in mainstream Hollywood.
It’s a quiet film that earns its emotional resonance while building slowly a tale of network of relationships.
The movie announces the arrival of a major talent to watch.