Smithsonian Presents the Mother Tongue Film Festival, “Finding Balance”

Smithsonian Presents the Mother Tongue Film Festival, “Finding Balance”
January 31, 2024
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Profiles of two women with dark hair, smiling, as one carries a doll toy.

Still from Frybread Face and Me. Photo courtesy of AARAY Releasing.

The annual Mother Tongue Film Festival will take place at the National Mall from Wednesday, Feb. 21, to Saturday, Feb. 24. Featuring 23 films in 27 languages from communities around the globe, the festival will explore the theme “Finding Balance” through personal journeys and will examine the path to building harmony within our world, societies, families and selves. 

The ninth annual festival will open on the United Nations International Mother Language Day and take place in various locations in Washington, D.C. All screenings are free and open to the public.

“From children to adults, families to the individual, we are highlighting the unique journeys of people searching for enduring balance and harmony,” said Joshua Bell, festival co-director and chair of anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “We could not be more excited to bring these beautiful and important films to viewers.”

“Language is culture,” said Amalia Córdova, festival co-director and supervisory museum curator of world cultures at the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. “In our efforts to strengthen cultural knowledge, it’s crucial that people have access to diverse stories through the lens of language diversity. The festival will be another opportunity for filmmakers to connect audiences to these stories.”

The Mother Tongue Film Festival is hosted by Recovering Voices, an initiative of the Smithsonian founded in response to the global crisis of cultural knowledge and language loss. Viewers can visit the Mother Tongue Film Festival webpage for the schedule and registration. All screenings and events are free. Festival highlights include:

Opening Ceremony and Frybread Face and Me
Wednesday, Feb. 21; 7 p.m. 
Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian

Following opening remarks from Smithsonian organizers, the festival presents Frybread Face and Me. The film features two adolescent Navajo cousins from different worlds who bond during a summer herding sheep on their grandmother’s ranch in Arizona while learning more about their family’s past and themselves. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Charley Hogan, who plays one of the film’s protagonists, Frybread Face.

Thursday, Feb. 22; 7 p.m. 
Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Stories of loss, revelation and recovery can lead people on the path to restoring a sense of wholeness. In this program, which features films Mother’s Tongue and Mamá/Mom, youth confront generational trauma and seek to break through for a brighter future. Following the screening, the audience is invited to stay for a Q&A with Mamá/Mom director Xun Sero.  

Bridging Worlds
Friday, Feb. 23; 7 p.m. 
Planet Word

In this program, two films intersect at the crossroads of love and resistance. Aikane and Y SŴN illustrate the spiritual connections that can be formed and the cultural ties that can be broken in the fight against political repression. Though artistically varied, both display the transformative power of commitment, be it to a person or a cause, iterating the fight for identity as a universal narrative. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Y SŴN director Lee Haven Jones and Eoghan O’Regan, the deputy head of North America from the Welsh Government based in the British Embassy.

Hidden Letters
Saturday, Feb. 24; 1 p.m. 
Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art

Nüshu, a clandestine language created and used solely by Yao women in Hunan Province, offers a unique legacy that unites its practitioners. Delving into the lives of women in modern China bound by the once-secret script, Hidden Letters is a poignant exploration of female bonds and the generational echoes of gendered oppression in China. The documentary artfully portrays two women’s journeys as they grapple with the complexities of independence and traditional expectations that both define and confine them. The screening will be followed by a virtual Q&A with one of the film’s directors, Violet Du Feng, diving deeper into Nüshu’s enduring legacy.

All films are fully open captioned or subtitled in English. American Sign Language interpretation will be provided for all introductory remarks, Q&As and discussions. All venues are wheelchair accessible. For questions about access services, email

This film festival has received support from Arenet, the Embassy of Mexico in the United States, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, the Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington DC, Planet Word, The Elizabeth and Whitney MacMillan Endowment, and Wick and Bonnie Moorman.

About Recovering Voices

Recovering Voices is an initiative of the Smithsonian works with communities and other institutions to address issues of Indigenous language and knowledge diversity and sustainability. Recovering Voices is a collaboration between staff at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of the American Indian, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and Asian Pacific American Center.

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