An Indian of Cheyenne-Arapaho descent, Chris Eyre grew up as the adoptive son of white parents in Portland, OR. He re-established ties to his heritage at the age of 18 and later tracked down his birth mother in an effort to come to terms with his heritage. While attending NYU's graduate film school, Eyre wrote and directed "Tenacity" (1995), a short centered on a pair of Indian boys who encounter a group of rednecks. "Tenacity" received several prizes and grants allowing the screenwriter-director to approach Indian author Sherman Alexie and express interest in adapting several of his short stories as a film. The pair workshopped the material at the Sundance Filmmaker's and Writer's Lab, resulting in the short "Somebody Kept Saying Powwow" (1995), based on a section of a longer screenplay that was eventually filmed as "Smoke Signals" (1998), adapted from Alexie's short story collection "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven." Following the adventures of two Indians who venture from the reservation to Arizona to collect the remains of the father of one, "Smoke Signals" was the first major theatrical feature written, directed and starring Indians. Shown at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival (where it won two awards including the Fillmaker's Trophy), it went on to earn strong critical notices. Eyre had a handful of projects in development as of 1998, including "The Carlyle Indian School," a Showtime movie about the assimilation of Indian children in the 1870s, and a proposed biopic of activist Leonard Peltier. Also screened at the 1998 Sundance Festival was the director's documentary about Indian performance artist James Luna "Bringing It All Back Home" (1997).