On Kanopy: ‘Malni – Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore’

An experimental documentary that weaves a brooding tapestry of traditions and personal histories

Mason Hickok, Web Editor

A piece of filmmaking that nestles itself into the fabric of dreams, ritual and native perspectives, “Malni – Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore” invites the viewer –– with reverence and care –– into its austere, circular journey inward. Through a detailed sonic landscape and visuals that linger long after the voices stop, the film weaves a brooding tapestry of traditions and personal histories.

Sky Hopinka debuted his first feature in 2020. Rooted in the tales of the Chinookan people of the Pacific Northwest, the film follows two seemingly unconnected people on their journeys toward nature, the spirit world and a death myth rooted in their Chinookan histories. Hopinka had already established himself as a successful video artist before the release of “Malni,” but the film presents a narrative heightened by Hopinka’s work in experimental film.

The film functions both as non-fiction and documentary. As noted, the film’s sound design is both brooding and calm, rich and heavy as the fog that fades over the verdant forests surrounding this world. The two characters in the film –– Jordan and Sweetwater, both friends of Hopinka, but strangers to each other –– ponder their place in the cyclical tale of life and death.

Early in the film, Sweetwater recounts a story about her grandmother on hospice in the final days of her life. Sweetwater hoped that her grandmother –– from the spirit world –– would aid her in the delivery of new life through her own home birth. This story is told over canoers rowing through a shipping canal; the presence of water as a literal channel to the aforementioned spirit world is presented many times throughout the film. On the other hand, Jordan is often seen speaking the Chinuk wawa language, upholding his traditions and walking the paths of his ancestors.

“Malni” is very much a film that deserves the viewers full attention. Relying on subtitles for both English and the Chinuk wawa language, long shots and an unorthodox structure, the narrative can be dense. “Malni” is not a film that necessarily explains itself to the viewer, nor should it have to. The film depicts a forgotten language through a genre of filmmaking often overlooked. Though –– as a ghost of such times –– its meditations on nature, Indigenous practices and legacies are felt long after the waters stop flowing. 

Runtime: 81 minutes

This film can be viewed on Kanopy’s website, which all UTSA students may access through the library’s databases page.

You can find more of Hopinka’s work at skyhopinka.com.