Chinuk Wawa filmmaker gets MacArthur “genius grant”!

A news release from Portland State University brings wonderful tidings…


Sky Hopinka (credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Portland State alumnus Sky Hopinka ’12 has been named a 2022 MacArthur Fellow for his work as a filmmaker, video artist and photographer.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awards MacArthur “Genius Grants” to individuals who have shown exceptional originality in and dedication to their creative pursuits. Fellows are nominated by leaders in their respective fields and selected via an anonymous committee. The award comes with a $800,000 no-strings stipend that fellows can use as they see fit.

“I was fortunate to get to know Sky Hopinka when he contributed insights and energy in bygone undergrad and graduate courses, coordinated public events, and put on film festivals for the community. I am thrilled (but not surprised) that he has gone on to create amazing films and community outreach that have led to a 2022 MacArthur Fellowship,” says Grace Dillon, professor of Indigenous Nations Studies at PSU. “I have been incorporating recent Indigenous Futurisms from many mediums that emphasize bringing about climate justice and awakening awareness of trauma but also of healing. I think that Sky’s work illustrates this process gracefully and quietly yet passionately. I am grateful to know him as a friend and a colleague and professionally as an emerging star in the field.”

Sky Hopinka, Artist and Filmmaker | 2022 MacArthur Fellow
credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

After earning his Bachelor’s degree from Portland State, Hopinka received an MFA from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee in 2016. He is currently an assistant professor in the Film and Electronic Arts Program at Bard College.

Hopinka’s films have been shown at many film festivals, including Sundance and the Toronto International Film Festival. He has exhibited his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among several other venues.

Hopinka, who is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and a descendant of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, centers Indigenous experiences and history in his films.

“Sky Hopinka’s work transcends conventions of media-making, including fidelity to a particular medium, transparent and unambiguous messaging, and the need for apprehension by a general audience. But it is not rudderless,” says Courtney Hermann, associate professor of film at PSU. “In fact, its refusal to mimic the trappings of popular (white) media makes space for a brand of anti-colonial, lyrical storytelling that is anchored by the experience of indigeneity, without casting indigeneity as a monolith.”

Hopinka’s films layer abstract imagery, sound and text to create what the MacArthur Foundation calls an “innovative cinematic language.”

A description of one of his films by the MacArthur Foundation reads:

Sky Hopinka (credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

“In the short film Anti-Objects, or Space Without Path or Boundary (2017), magenta and lilac alternate with white before expanding into a spectrum of continuous color.  Gradually, the silhouette of a low mountain appears at the bottom of the frame. As the scene moves from glimpses of a cityscape to deep forest paths, a recording of a conversation between an anthropologist and one of the last speakers of chinuk wawa, an Indigenous language of the Pacific Northwest, provides the soundtrack. Their conversation, the treatment of color, and the shifting imagery further Hopinka’s exploration of the interconnectedness of objects and individuals.”

In his films, Hopinka also experiments with different ways to tell stories.

“What I’m interested in doing is working on a more circular form of storytelling or one that doesn’t necessarily have a beginning, middle, and an end in the way that we’re accustomed to living in the culture that we live in right now,” he says in a video produced by the MacArthur Foundation.

Hopinka’s unique and purposeful use of language—both spoken and presented via subtitles—was another element highlighted by the MacArthur Foundation. In his films, he has included his own poems and stories in English and chinuk wawa as well as recordings with family members and elders.

“The more that I can be seen as one small part of a larger constellation of works and voices that make up Indigenous peoples in this country, the better,” says Hopinka in the video. “I hope that these works will also instill a sense of curiosity for an audience that might not be familiar with Indigenous film, to see that there’s more out there than the things they might have encountered, if they’ve encountered any of them at all.”

Learn more about ​​Hopinka’s work at his website: 


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