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 writer/director based in New York City.

Born and raised in Germany, Esson brings a quirky European sensibility to the distinctively American subjects she chooses. Her documentary short, FERRY TALES, which turns the unlikely setting of the Staten Island Ferry Powder Room into a celebration of sisterhood received an Academy Award®-nomination in 2004 and premiered on HBO.

In 2006, Esson completed HOLE IN THE SKY - THE SCARS OF 9/11 (New York im Schatten der Türme), which premiered on ARD and received the Gold Award at the World Media Festival. A Season of Madness (2006) is a narrative short film based on a short story by best-selling Author Hanan al-Shaykh.

Her documentary, SKYDANCER, is about the Mohawk ironworkers who are responsible for constructing America's cityscape; the film is a provocative examination of Native American life in the 21st century. Other credits include VERTICAL TRAVELER which explores the pioneering spirit of New York City through the metaphoric story of the city's unique relationship with elevators; LATCHING ON about the politics of breastfeeding in America; and "HOOKER, HARLOT, WHORE, about the history of prostitution in Europe. POETRY OF RESILIENCE is about six international poets who have survived - and written about - some of the world's most unspeakable crimes against humanity. The film received a Cinema for Peace Award-nomination during the Berlin Film Festival in 2012. Esson's films have screened at film festivals around the world and been broadcast on HBO, PBS and ARTE among others.

Esson has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council of the Arts and the Jerome Foundation. She has been nominated for the Rockefeller Media Arts and the USA Artist Fellowships and is a recipient of the the Simons Public Humanities Fellowship.

Esson is currently in production with Cantineros De Cuba, a film that reflects on the story of Cuba, a country undergoing its greatest transformation since 1959. She also has created, written and directed two 5-part series for ARTE: Backroads USA (2013) and American Rivers (2016). (03/19)


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