TIFF 2023 | Frybread Face and Me (Billy Luther, US) — Discovery

By Ally Oman

“My grandmother once told me in Navajo storytelling, symbols mean more than facts. And time means nothing at all.” What follows this declaration in Billy Luther’s narrative debut Frybread Face and Me inches the film away from that promise of experimentation towards a straight-forward coming-of-age story; still, the tension between Luther’s experience as a documentary filmmaker and the fictional story of a Navajo pre-teen’s summer spent on the Rez generates at least the potential for an alternative narratological approach.

Injecting the familiar quirk of an indie film with occasional archival footage and voiceover from an older Benny, the blending of forms recalls the thorny demands for stories about underrepresented communities to somehow represent the personal and the collective whole. It is a tension that exists more than it is examined, subsumed by a more urgent attempt to accommodate both humour and sentimentality within a film that appears disinterested in how the two can exist at once. The opposing forces collide with one another like two action figures at the mercy of a small boy, and the disjuncture—whether it is between two distinctive ways of contemporary Navajo life, the binary genders, fact and fiction, two sides of an ending marriage, or a child at the beginning of their life and their grandmother at the end of hers—sits on the surface of the film like an immovable truth. Benny’s coming of age is learning where he can exist between oppositions; both “Rez Indian” and “City Indian,” boy and girl, no longer a child and not yet an adult.