Navajo Film Themselves (1966) – Film #0341

Directed by Al Clah, Susie Benally, Alta Kahn, Maxine Tsosie, Mary J. Tsosie, John Nelson, and Mike Anderson
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 2002

Background

Navajo Film Themselves is a collection of seven short silent films. They were produced as part of a university research project. Two professors (one of communications, Sol Worth, and one of anthropology, John Adair), along with one of Worth’s former students (Richard Chalfen), wanted to learn how films made by individuals from the Navajo culture might differ from films of other cultures. Specifically, they were interested in what individuals within the Navajo culture would choose to document about themselves given the choice to document anything they wanted. In the past, when one culture would study another, it was typically the culture doing the studying that chose what to document. The researchers wanted agency to play a key role by allowing Navajo individuals to choose what they felt to be worth recording. They also emphasized that one purpose of this research was to preserve aspects of the culture, so that future generations of Navajo could know what Navajo culture was like at the time.

To do this, they taught a group of young adult Navajo students how to use filming equipment, and allowed them to make films about whatever they wanted. These seven films are what the students produced, and the researchers wrote a book entitled “Through Navajo Eyes” that discussed the experience. 

This project wasn’t without its problems. Sol Worth became frustrated that many of the students weren’t filming “correctly.” He seemed to be more concerned about learning how to teach technology use to aid communication between cultures rather than focusing on what could be learned about the Navajo culture based on their choice of filmmaking style. Indeed, there was tension between Worth and one of the Navajo students, Al Chah, because Chah was more interested in making an artistic-style film than a traditional documentary.

The films

The seven films that make up Navajo Film Themselves are:

The Intrepid Shadows (directed by Al Clah) is an art piece that depicts the movement of shadows, wheels, and a ceremonial mask. Like the other films in this series, it was recorded as a silent film, though Clah wrote a poem that was meant to accompany the film as a narration. 

A Navajo Weaver (directed by Susie Benally) captures the process of weaving a blanket—from tending the sheep, shearing the wool, cleaning and prepping the wool, making it into yarn and dyeing it, and finally the actual weaving process.

Second Weaver (directed by Alta Kahn) is similar to the previous film, and it depicts the process of weaving a woman’s belt.

The Spirit of Navajos (directed by Mary Jane and Maxine Tsosie) shows a medicine man preparing for a conducting a ceremony which includes a sand painting. 

Shallow Well Project (directed by Johnny Nelson) depicts the building of a well.

Navajo Silversmith (directed by Johnny Nelson) shows a silversmith collecting silver from a mine, creating a mold, and then using the mold to create small silver figurines. 

Old Antelope Lake (directed by Mike Anderson) first depicts the scenery surrounding a lake, and then it shows a boy collecting water from the lake and using it to wash some clothes.

Availability

Navajo Film Themselves is only available on DVD. I was able to find it in my university library. If you wish to watch it, you can check to see if your local library has it, of if they can get it through interlibrary loan. Otherwise, it’s available to purchase on this website: https://www.shopvisionmaker.org//product.asp?s=visionmaker&pf_id=NFTS%2D66%2DH&dept_id=23427 

Information sources and additional resources

To Fly! (1976) – Film #0173

Directed by Greg MacGillivray & Jim Freeman
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1995

What It’s About:

This documentary short covers the history of human flight—from hot air balloons to the first airplanes to war planes to modern jets to spaceflight. 

Context and Significance:

To Fly! was filmed and released in IMAX, back when that format was relatively new. It had a significant impact in increasing the awareness of the IMAX format for American audiences, and it was the highest grossing documentary of all time up until 2004. 

It still has daily showings at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. (The museum is the entity that initially commissioned the creation of this film.) Back in 1996, it held the record as the “longest running ticketed film in one location in history.” I have been unable to find out whether or not this is still true, but seeing as it is still showing in that location to this day, it seems likely that it still holds that record. 

My Thoughts:

This film probably looks spectacular in IMAX. Unfortunately, its only official home media release has been on VHS, which I had to hunt down on eBay. (Luckily, it was only $7.) It doesn’t look particularly great on VHS. Still, even with the low image quality, I could tell that the camerawork was stunning. This film has minimal narration, and is mostly just aerial footage. It starts with a (somewhat cheesy) re-enactment of one of the first hot air balloon flights, but it quickly moves on to showing many other aircraft in flight (as mentioned above.) It’s not difficult to imagine why this film may have helped to increase the popularity of the IMAX format.  

To see one-minute videos about each film on the National Film Registry, and to get previews of upcoming posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Availability:

As mentioned above, this film’s only official home release has been on VHS, which can occasionally be found on Amazon or eBay. However, as I was writing this entry, I discovered that it had also been recently uploaded to YouTube. It appears that that video is just a digital transfer of the VHS, as its image quality is still not the best, though it also appears to be better than the rather blurry VHS that I got ahold of (which I’m guessing may have been slightly damaged, as my audio was wonky too.) Here it is on YouTube:

You can view a spreadsheet that details how you can find every film in the Registry (and also notes how you can help me, if you feel so inclined) here: https://tinyurl.com/NFRDirectory

These blog posts are being compiled into a (very much work-in-progress) book, which you can view here: https://tinyurl.com/NFRCompletistBook

Information sources and additional resources: