“małni”: the feature film & the old word


From the Tate Modern (London, UK) website, news dated January 8th of a feature film using Chinook Jargon:

Catch a sneak preview of the artist’s debut feature film

Artist Sky Hopinka joins us to present a special sneak preview of his soon-to-be-completed feature film małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore. This lyrical film guides viewers along parallel journeys with two protagonists, Sweetwater Sahme and Jordan Mercier, as they share thoughts on their own personal rituals and relationship with traditions, the spirit world and circularity.

The film is shaped by its poetic approach to framing, language and composition that Hopinka has developed through his acclaimed body of short films. Criss-crossing personal paths and bodies of water, it extends his look at positions on homeland, landscape, language and myth in a contemporary Indigenous world.

The film will be screened alongside Visions of an Island, which weaves together different glimpses of the landscape and community living in Aleutian and Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea: an Unangax̂ elder describes cliffs and summits, drifting birds and deserted shores; a group of students and teachers invent games that revitalise use of the Unangam Tunuu language; a visitor offers a quixotic chronicling of earthly and celestial terrain.


Visions of an Island [US] 2016, DCP, colour, sound, 15 min, English and Unangam Tunuu with English subtitles

małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore [US] 2020, DCP, colour, sound, approx. 82 min, English and Chinuk Wawa with English subtitles

Discussion with the artist and Tate Film curators


Sky Hopinka (b.1984, United States) is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and descendent of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians. Working as a filmmaker, teacher, curator and artist, his practice explores the place of myth in a contemporary Indigenous world.



[Dave back with you again — At the risk of getting much, much too nerdy, I’m going to point out some of the history behind the Chinuk Wawa word máł(i)ni.

It’s a good old Chinookan word for ‘seaward’, built from the root máł (also used in the word for ‘Columbia River’) and the suffix -ni ‘toward’ (which Jargon folks also know in the word łáx̣ani ‘outside’, and, I think, some other places).

By the craziest of coincidences, it’s also a word up in Vancouver Island territory, where Nuučaan’uł has the locative -małni for ‘out on the water’! It’s used in their word for non-Aboriginal people, mamałni ‘living on the water’ — Drifters. I’m not sure -małni can be said by itself as a word; the dash at the start of it in the dictionary indicates it’s a “bound form”. So I’m thinking that that lessens the chance of the Chinookan & Chinook Jargon word being borrowed via the oldtime Nootka Jargon. But you never know!]

What do you think?