The Sundance Film Festival & PBS documentary unlocks the mystery of a silent 1950s docudrama called Navajo Boy and exposes an environmental crisis in the Navajo Nation. When Chicagoan Bill Kennedy, the son of the late producer of “Navajo Boy,” shows the vintage 16mm color film to the original Navajo cast, indigenous voices give new meaning to old images.
Told entirely from the Navajo point of view, the voices reveal a hidden history of the American West involving Hollywood, tourism, uranium mining and a long-lost little boy. When original cast member Elsie Mae Begay, a grandmother, sees her youthful smile on screen, she chuckles. Moments later she recognizes her late mother holding her baby brother. He was two years old when he was adopted by white missionaries. She says his name was John Wayne Cly. Elsie and her family reclaim and repurpose an astonishing array of pictures including postcards, behind-the-scenes footage from John Ford’s The Searchers and a propaganda film by uranium mining company, Kerr-McGee. An abandoned uranium mine stains the red rock cliffs by her home. Deadly illnesses haunt the area. When a Navajo man reads a newspaper story about the return of Navajo Boy he contacts the reporter. John Wayne Cly's return to Monument Valley sheds light on the pain of family separation and the power of documentary to change lives.
Directed by Jeff Spitz, 2000, with Epilogue (2008), USA 72 mins.
Panelists: Elsie Mae Cly Begay - Navajo Matriarch John Wayne Cly - Navajo brother adopted by missionaries Jeff Spitz - Director, Producer, Groundswell Educational Films Gordon Quinn - Story Consultant, creative director Kartemquin Moderator: Patty Loew, Medill Journalism Professor, Northwestern University
Location: Chicago Filmmakers