Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi: Before the Sun Review

Before the Sun follows a young Indigenous woman as she tries to break out in the tough world of Indian Relay Racing.

Horse racing and rodeo events have always been filled with danger, and often outsiders often question why anyone would want to participate. To those that live rancher lifestyles, it’s just a natural thing to do. To Indigenous communities, it’s a way to continue family traditions that are generations old. In Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi: Before the Sun, directed by Banchi Hanuse, we get an inside look at the world of Indian Relay Races. 

The film focuses on Logan Red Crow, a young woman following in the footsteps of her family. Her recently-passed grandmother used to ride show horses, a tradition that Logan continues, but with a twist. Red Crow participates in Indian Relay Races, which consist of riding bareback on a track and after each lap, you jump off of one horse and onto another. Not only is this form of racing a niche sport, as it is only done by Indigenous people but it’s largely made up of male riders — making Logan a bit of a unicorn. 

The most popular type of women’s equestrian events in her community is side-saddle racing, a huge throwback to olden times. Red Crow believes she is “too savage to participate in such races” and prefers to race with the boys in the more thrilling and dangerous event. 

We get to see Logan’s complicated relationship with her parents throughout the film. They both encourage her to race, but only view it as a part-time hobby, not a full-time career. They also want Logan to obtain a better education — one that will allow her to become something other than a rancher, something Logan has no interest in as she aspires to keep working with horses. Her brother believes in her the most, as he helps her with training and acts as one of her horse handlers during races. 

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The film does gets a bit repetitive as it revisits the same conflicts several times. Red Crow is a woman and women don’t relay race. Red Crow wants to race and her parents want her to go to school. Women don’t get their own relay races and have to compete against men, often being outmatched. She is always spot on with her frustrations, but rehashing the same narratives throughout drags the film out.

While relay racing doesn’t look easy by any stretch, the riders have such fluidity and grace that it looks far simpler than it is. Before the Sun becomes extremely compelling when Red Crow talks about her biggest fear: falling off a horse and potentially becoming paralyzed. This is actually a subject matter that the Oscar winning director Chloé Zhao explored in her 2017 film The Rider, where a professional bronco rider falls off his horse and becomes paralyzed and has to figure out how to move forward with his life.

We get a montage of relay racers falling off of their horses and being trampled, including footage of Red Crow falling off and her showing off her numerous cuts and bruises she received. In the final race shown in the film, a competitor actually falls off her horse and you get a lump in your throat for their safety. 

The film is filled with gorgeous shots of horses in action and director Hanuse deftly demonstrates and understands the strong bond that rider and horse share. It is worth a watch to see a unique lifestyle and lesser-known sport that should perhaps be better known than it is.

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Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi: Before the Sun was seen during the Hot Docs film festival and will be playing at other festivals this spring.



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