1961-1970DocumentaryEthnographic CinemaJohn NelsonUSA

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. The silversmith spends a great deal of time finding nuggets of silver embedded in the rock. He then spends another period of walking and wandering to look for the particular kind of sandstone from which he will make his mold. We see him working at sawing and grinding his mold, finally drawing his design in the sand, and then transferring it to the mold. At this point we have again the only face close-up (thinking of the design) in the film.

After the mold is made we see him melting the nuggets of silver and pouring the silver into the mold. He goes through the process of filing and polishing and the last shot in the film is the shot with which we began. At one point in the film, during the silversmith’s wanderings to find silver, the film is interrupted to show us what appears to be an abandoned log cabin. In this sequence, the circular camera movements, moving clockwise like the sun, are most clearly apparent. This sequence was inserted to show that the mine was indeed very old, because the dwelling places around it are also old. Of note in this film, and mentioned in our analysis, is the fact that the Navajo have never mined silver on the reservation. Johnny was aware of that, but seemed unable to tell his story without starting at the beginning, and didn’t worry about the “real truth.”
-Sol Worth & John Adair

223MB | 20:41.355 | 592×448 | avi



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