Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015)

It’s quite hard to believe that the writer/director of such a modest, coming-of-age tale like Songs My Brothers Taught Me is the same person who just delivered us Marvel’s latest installment, Eternals. Though undoubtedly Chloé Zhao’s style is ingrained in the blockbuster, it is just a difficult task to wrap one’s head around this fact (especially considering this film debut was only six years ago!). But I guess even the many celebrated filmmakers have (mostly) come from humble beginnings – Zhao, herself being no exception. So, before the all of the superheroes and the Academy Awards, Kino Lorber takes us back a few short years to Zhao’s no-budget, grassroots feature film debut with their newly restored Blu-Ray release.

"Zhao tells us the stories of real people with real problems that almost anyone can somehow identify with"

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, brother and sister John and Jashaun Winters (John Reddy and Jashaun St. John) live in a community that is seemingly hopeless and inescapable. There are alcoholics, friends and family who get cycled through prison, and scare opportunities for work that will lead to a better future. Everyone fends for themselves. Eager to get off of the reservation, John has his eyes set on moving to Los Angeles with girlfriend, Aurelia Clifford (Taysha Fuller), to leave his harsh world behind…even if it means abandoning eleven-year-old, innocent Jashaun behind with their negligent mother. And despite of everything around her, Jashaun does what she can do find moments of happiness in a world that forces many to grow up too soon.

With its simplistic, documentary style, the film beautifully captures a naturalistic and raw tone. It has its own unique, low-tempo flow that does not over-dramatize the vices and tragedies of the community, but rather communicates the sad reality that such things are a commonality. Zhao has created a whole, complex world inside of one tiny reservation. It is not only great at exploring the complicated nature of siblings, but how they each have their own way of coping with their shared world. Zhao is not afraid to show the dark side, but also have moments of subtle levity and beauty. Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015)

Songs My Brothers Taught Me is also a breath of fresh air in that we see such an underrepresented community/race of people being depicted in such an honest and different way. The film does not at all rely on the stereotypical portrayals of indigenous people most only seen in westerns, both old and new. It has characters that feel exceptionally real that are set in the modern day using many non-professional actors that actually give some surprisingly great performances. Zhao tells us the stories of real people with real problems that almost anyone can somehow identify with.

It is no masterpiece, but it is a sweet kind of love story between a brother and a sister with their conflicting perspectives of their home. The film is simple, honest, poignant, and exceptionally heartfelt. Though perhaps it does not have the happiest of endings, it leaves the viewer will a full heart and wet eyes of small joy. With this debut, Zhao confidently set and stood by her minimalist and improvisational methods, creating her own distinct style. It is such a pleasure to watch.

4/5 stars


Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015)

divider bluray details

Home Video Distributor: Kino Lorber
Available on Blu-ray
- October 5, 2021
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English SDH
English 5.1; 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set; DVD copy
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015) is the debut feature from Chloé Zhao, the Academy Award®-winning director of Nomadland (2020). It is a compelling and complex portrait of modern-day life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that explores the bond between a brother (John Reddy) and his younger sister (Jashaun St. John), who find themselves on separate paths to rediscovering the meaning of home.


With the new 2K transfer of the film, the fields of grass and colored skies are absolutely breathtaking, while the clutter and dinginess of the worn-down homes display wonderfully dark contrast. It looks amazing.


You will be fully immersed in the small and complicated world of the reservation with the 5.1 surround sound that accompanies the portrait-like images.



  • None

Special Features:

The extra features are limited, but a nice addition on the disc. Included on the disc are very wholesome bloopers and behind the scenes footage that will make you giggle. Plus, a nice interview with writer/director Chloé Zhao where she discusses the journey of making and changing the film along the way, plus insight on her filmmaking beginnings. 

  • Special Features:
  • Bloopers
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Interview with director Chloé Zhao
  • Trailer

divider bluray rating

  Movie 4/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 4/5 stars
  Extras 3/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

4/5 stars

Film Details

Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015)

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
98 mins
: Chloé Zhao
Chloé Zhao
John Reddy; Jashaun St. John; Irene Bedard
: Drama

Memorable Movie Quote: "He actually said that he'd prefer to be in prison than be in my house. Yeah. I don't blame him."
Theatrical Distributor:
Kino Lorber
Official Site:
Release Date:
January 27, 2015 (Sundance)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 5, 2021.
Synopsis: The setting is the often starkly beautiful Badlands of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; most of the key players are young Lakota Native Americans who attend Little Wound High School. Johnny and his preteen sister, Jashaun, spend time on horseback when they're not selling illegal liquor or tattoo-designed apparel. Director Chloe Zhao captures the subtleties of a marginalized existence in which the historic culture of a people can't compete on a level playing field with the modern problems of poverty, alcoholism, and violence. Amazingly, she embroiders her tale with moments of breathtaking natural beauty that offset the despair her characters struggle against.


Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015)