A film by Katja Esson

US | 2011 | 75 minutes | Color | DVD | English | Subtitled | Order No. 121062


Renowned for their balance and skill, six generations of Mohawk men have been leaving their families behind on the reservation to travel to New York City, to work on some of the biggest construction jobs in the world. Jerry McDonald Thundercloud and his colleague Sky shuttle between the hard drinking Brooklyn lodging houses they call home during the week and their rural reservation, a gruelling drive six hours north, where a family weekend awaits. Their wives are only too familiar with the sacrifices that their jobs have upon family life. While the men are away working, the women often struggle to keep their children away from the illegal temptations of this economically deprived area. Through archival documents and interviews, Academy Award®-nominated director Katja Esson (FERRY TALES, LATCHING ON) explores the colorful and at times tragic history of the Mohawk skywalkers, bringing us a nuanced portrait of modern Native American life and a visually stunning story of double lives.


“Paints a fine portrait of the courage and conflicts of both the men who travel far from home to build skyscrapers in the bustling city, and of their families back on the Reservation who deal with their absences. This is a poignant and subtle film that shines a tender light upon contemporary Akwesasne Mohawk life…”

Peter M. Whiteley, Ph.D. Curator of North American Ethnology, American Museum of Natural History

"Insightful, retrospective, and balanced. A strong account of the Mohawk who SKYWALK and the personal toll on their family and community. Highly recommended."

-Michael Smith (Sioux) Founder/Director American Indian Film Festival

"Skydancer is a poignant film that captures the grit, pride, and sacrifice associated with a profession that has become a time-honored tradition for many Iroquois. … By revealing, in full context, the lives of those who have pursued this work, and in the process built America, the filmmakers have revealed the full skill and courage of Mohawk ironworkers."

Tim Johnson (Mohwak), Assoc. Director National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

Highly Recommended... a harrowing documentary about Native American Iron Workers who tempt fate every time a high rise is being built in New York City... The film does a superb job of telling the history of Mohawk stereotypes when America was being founded…”

Educational Media Reviews Online

"3 stars! Esson captures the interesting lives of these Mohawk skywalkers."

Video Librarian


  • One World Film Festival, Prague
  • Margaret Mead Film Festival, New York
  • Big Sky Documentary Festival, Missoula
  • Hot Springs Film Festival
  • Salem Film Festival * Nomination EDA Award
  • Environmental Film Festival, Smithsonian Washington DC
  • Shanghai Television and Film Festival * Magnolia Award Nomination for ‘Best Documentary, Best Director, Best Camera’
  • Brooklyn Film Festival
  • ReFrame Peterborough International Film Festival
  • Salem Film Festival
  • Arlington International Film Festival


Katja Esson

Katja Esson is an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, born in Germany and based in Miami. Known for her intimate character-driven documentaries tackling race, class, and gender, her credits include WMM release FERRY TALES, which turns the unlikely setting of the Staten Island Ferry Powder Room into a celebration of sisterhood (HBO 2004). In 2007, HOLE IN THE SKY - THE SCARS OF 9/11 received the Gold-Award at the World-Media-Festival. Her 2011 film SKYDANCER, a WMM release, about two Mohawk ironworkers torn between the Akwesasne reservation and New York City, received nominations for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Cinematography at the Shanghai Film Festival and premiered on PBS and ARTE in 2011. Katja’s POETRY OF RESILIENCE, a WMM release, was nominated for the Cinema for Peace Award in 2012. Her five-part documentary series BACKROADS USA (2014) and AMERICAN RIVERS (2016) premiered on ARTE and PBS in 2018. A Simons-Public Humanities Fellow at Kansas University, her films have screened at the Museum of Modern Art, American Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian. Katja’s work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Knight Foundation, ITVS, IDA Enterprise, NYSCA, the Redford Center, Sundance and the Ford Foundation. (10/23)


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