Ethnographic Cinema

Maxine Tsosie & Mary J. Tsosie – Through Navajo Eyes: The Spirit of Navajos (1966)

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The Spirit of Navajos
Here the daughters of the chapter chairman of the community decided to make a film showing “the old ways.” They chose their grandfather as subject. He was one of the best known “singers” (medicine men) in the area. The film opens with the old medicine man walking and wandering across the Navajo landscape, again digging and searching for roots and herbs which he is to use as part of a ceremony. We see him at one of the “camps” before a ceremony, eating and drinking. The sequence of the grandfather eating is the only one in which a face close-up is shown. It is apparent, however, that the shot was considered a humorous one, almost like a home movie in which one of the children sticks his tongue out at the camera. Read More »

Makoto Satô – Agano ni ikiru AKA Living on the River Agano (1992)

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In 1964, a chemical factory in Niigata Prefecture dumped mercury into the Agano River, the beginning of a manmade tragedy that would affect locals for years to come. Mercury poisoning led to high occurrences of Minamata disease, a neurological syndrome that causes severe physical and psychological ailments and death. Sato Makoto and his crew of seven spent three years in Niigata documenting the life and thoughts of locals. Read More »

Alfred Clah – Through Navajo Eyes: The Intrepid Shadows (1966)

The Intrepid Shadows
This is one of the most complex films made by the Navajo. It is the one least understood by the Navajo and most appreciated by “avant-garde” filmmakers in our society. The film opens with a long series of shots showing the varieties of landscape around our schoolhouse. We see rocks, earth, trees, sky, in a variety of shapes but mostly in still or static shots. ’The shadows are very small or short. When we have familiarized ourselves with the things that comprise the “world” we see a young Navajo come walking into the landscape. He picks up a stick, kneels down, and begins to poke at a huge spider web. Read More »

John Nelson – Through Navajo Eyes: Navajo Silversmith (1966)

Navajo Silversmith
This film is structured in almost the same fashion as the weaving film. The film starts with a series of shots showing the Navajo silversmith completing the filing on some little Yeibechai figures which have already been cast and are on his work bench. We then cut away from this (as in A Navajo Weaver) to what is apparently the beginning of the story. We see the silversmith walking and wandering across the Navajo landscape and finally arriving at what appears to be a silver mine. Read More »

Susie Benally – Through Navajo Eyes: A Navajo Weaver (1966)

A Navajo Weaver
Susie chose to depict her mother as she wove a rug. The film starts with a series of short shots showing a Navajo woman weaving at her loom. It then turns to the job of raising the sheep, shearing the wool, digging yucca roots for soap with which to wash the wool, carding and spinning, walking, digging and searching for roots with which to make dye, dying the wool, and putting the warp on the loom. Interspersed with these activities are large sections showing the mother walking and searching for the various materials necessary to make and to complete all these stages in the process of weaving. When towards the end of the film, after 15 minutes have gone by, the mother actually begins to weave the rug, we see interspersed shots of Susie’s little brother mounting his horse and taking care of the sheep, the sheep grazing, and various other activities around the hogan. Read More »

John Nelson – Through Navajo Eyes: Shallow Well Project (1966)

Shallow Well Project
This is a film that Johnny undertook to make after he was reprimanded by the community for making the photographs of horses which are described in the text. It was at that time that he was asked to supervise the construction of a shallow well.

Johnny previously had experience as a foreman helping to construct these wells in the community. He told the relative who suggested that he undertake the supervision of this construction that he couldn’t do it because he was learning to make movies. But then he realized that perhaps he could make a film about it and thus regain some of his status. Read More »

Timothy Asch – The Ax Fight (1975)

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A fight broke out in Mishimishimabowei-teri on the second day of Chagnon and Asch’s stay in this village in 1971. The conflict developed between the villagers of Mishimishimabowei-teri and their visitors from another village. The visitors had formerly been part of Mishimishimabowei-teri, and many still had ties with members of that village. Their friends in Mishimishimabowei-teri had invited them to return, but other factions were not pleased with this, reflecting a persistent tension in this large village of over 250 people. The visitors refused to work in their hosts’ gardens, yet they demanded to be fed. One visiting man beat a woman who refused to give him plantains from her garden. She ran screaming and crying back to the village, where her sister comforted her while her brother, her husband, and his relatives attempted to settle the dispute, first with clubs and then with axes and machetes. Read More »