Summer of '66

A glimpse back in time through Diné eyes

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

PINE SPRINGS, Ariz., January 24, 2013

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I t's not every day you get the opportunity to see what the first Navajo filmmakers created, but now everyone will get the chance because a collection of short films from several Pine Springs natives has been digitally restored in the DVD called, "Navajo Film Themselves."

In honor of the DVD being released in December of 2012, The Pine Springs Association hosted "Remembering Pine Springs: Summer of '66" as a premiere event at the Pine Springs School on Jan. 18 with over a hundred people in attendance.

In the summer of 1966, three anthropologists traveled to Pine Springs, Ariz., with silent film equipment in order to teach local community members how to shoot and edit their own films.

The research team included John Adair, Sol Worth, and Richard Chalfen. They were interested in studying how individuals from the Navajo culture would learn and create film.

In 2002 the films were added to the National Film Registry being recognized as works of importance to American culture, and given to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

The rights to the film belong to the University Of Pennsylvania Museum Of Archaeology and Anthropology, which was responsible for digitally restoring the films working alongside the Navajo Nation Museum. This resulted in the DVD being released last month through Vision Maker Media.

Mark Deschinny, secretary and treasurer of the Pine Springs Association, said this is the first time since the films were shot that they were shown in the Pine Springs community.

"For the people of Pine Springs it's a chance for us to see our relatives on the big screen," said Deschinny.

Doctorate student and filmmaker of the New York University Department of Anthropology Teresa Montoya, Navajo, was in attendance at the screening to film her documentary about the Navajo Film Themselves films.

"These are important films because they are the ones that filmed their own experience," Montoya said. "The first Navajo filmmakers. Their films have a larger value outside of just research data."

During the screening Montoya asked community members if they would be interested in sharing their memories about the film.

"I would just like to get people's feelings and memories of the film," she said.

"I am here to help honor the legacy of your community," Montoya said. "All this footage I am shooting will be brought back to the community."

The DVD contains a collection of nine short films, all produced and edited by Natives of Pine Springs.

The short films are "Old Antelope Lake" by Mike Anderson, "Intrepid Shadows" by Al Clah, "The Spirit of the Navajos" by Maxine and Mary Tsosie, "The Navajo Silversmith" and "Shallow Well Project" by Johnny Nelson, "A Navajo Weaver" by Susie Kahn-Benally, and "Second Weaver" by Alta Kahn.

Maxine Tsosie is now Maxine Barbone. Both she and her sister Mary Jane Tsosie were in attendance and given a chance to talk about their film.

"Pine Springs is a very special place," Barbone said. "I was all fired up carrying a camera around."

Maxine and Mary Jane's film was titled "The Spirit of the Navajos." It was the filming of the process of a Navajo ceremony, but the version shown in the DVD was edited by the Navajo Nation Museum for cultural sensitivity.

Barbone said she spent that summer learning a lot about healing herbs thanks to her grandfather Sam Yazzie, who was a part of her film.

"My grandpa showed me the healing herbs, and I learned a lot," she said. "You'll always find these herbs here."

Barbone was happy to talk about her filming experience saying it was one of the best times of her life. "It was a wonderful experience."

Several family members of Sam Yazzie were present at the screening including Ella Dixson of Winslow, Ariz. and Eileen Sanders of Phoenix.

Dixson said her cousin's film was "very touching," because it allowed her to see her grandfather.

"To see him make those funny faces brought tears to my eyes," she said.

Sanders said she never really saw the film before and "it was awesome" to see it now because it "brought relatives and family together."

Dixson said that this film allows younger generations to see "how life was back then."

She recalls that it was about "making do with what you have and surviving with nature."

Sanders said it was really good to bring the films back to the Pine Springs community because "it kind of brings the community together." She said she hopes they do it more often.

Johnny Nelson's wife Ruby B. Nelson, 71, and her sons Darryl S. Nelson, 47, and Anthony Nelson, 43, all of Pine Springs were in attendance in honor of their father.

Ruby B. Nelson said that she liked the way they made the movie and she really didn't remember it being filmed, but she enjoyed seeing her husband in the movie.

"I think he did a pretty good job," said Darryl S. Nelson on how he saw his father as a very handsome, motivated man within the film."

Anthony Nelson said he wished the event would have been held six months ago so his father would have been there to answer all the questions about the film. His father passed before the event took place.

"I'm pretty sure he's looking at us now, and probably appreciative of it. He's thankful that it's being shown here, where it was originally made," he said.

"He never really talked about it," said Leander Anderson, 41, of Wide Ruins, Ariz. about his father Mike Anderson's film "Old Antelope Lake."

The film was a black-and-white silent film depicting several landscapes shots as well as a young man washing his laundry using water from Antelope Lake.

"At first I didn't really care what he was talking about because I didn't know what was going on," Anderson said about the first time he heard his father talking about his films. "I am learning more, and it's pretty interesting."

Anderson said the first time he really took an interest in his father's filmmaking was when he was in high school. He recalled coming across a book about photography and finding his father's name within the book.

"All the areas he shot I know where it is," Anderson said, because he still visits many of the areas to gather wood.

For more information or to purchase the film, visit and search for "Navajo Film Themselves."

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