Dine’ Women Directors Bring Films to Indian Country with Navajo Documentary Film

Courtesy nsas State Historical Society Navajo Documentary Film Tour Directors Ramona Emerson and Sarah Del Seronde take Mayors of Shiprock and Metal Road to Indian country. Photo: "Steel Workers." Navajo railroad track gang in the 1950s.

Alex Jacobs

Dine’ Women Directors Bring Films to Indian Country with Navajo Documentary Film Tour

Navajo Documentary Film Tour Directors Ramona Emerson and Sarah Del Seronde bring 'The Mayors of Shiprock' and 'Metal Road' to Indian country

Navajo documentary filmmaker and owner of Reel Indian Pictures, Ramona Emerson and fellow filmmaker Sarah Del Seronde have announced The Navajo Documentary Film Tour starting in Navajo country on June 21st. Ramona Emerson’s film, The Mayors of Shiprock, about an empowered group of young Navajo leaders and Sarah Del Seronde’s Metal Road, about the thousands of Navajos railroad workers will show at Native high schools and colleges and other film venues open to the public.

The Navajo Documentary Film Tour will premiere in Crownpoint, New Mexico on June 21 with dates all over Navajo country heading into October at the Heard Museum. Emerson expects to add more dates on the tour. The tour will be open for bookings at other venues and the screenings will be free to the public before PBS airs both films in October 2017.

“The films The Mayors of Shiprock and Metal Road were filmed almost exclusively on the Navajo reservation and tell stories about the people who call it home,” said Navajo documentary filmmaker Ramona Emerson. “Often because of the remoteness and lack of access and support, these films don’t make it out into these communities. We would like to change that.”

As filmmakers and creators of the Navajo Documentary Film Tour, as Dine’ women and as Mothers, Sarah and I thank you in advance for your support and for taking the time to see what we have in the works,” said Emerson.

The Mayors of Shiprock is about a group of young Navajo leaders who meet every Monday night to decide how they will help their community of Shiprock, New Mexico. For more than seven years, the Northern Diné Youth Committee has worked to give youth opportunities to make changes within their community. But while they work to make changes, many members also consider their own futures, commitments to family and their options both on and off the reservation.

Emerson has long worked for native communities and youth projects, such as the Native Youth Film Camp sponsored by the Museum of Indian Art and Culture in Santa Fe. Emerson with her husband Kelly Byars, co-owner of Reel Indian Pictures.

Emerson worked on The Mayors of Shiprock for five years and had some difficulties in finishing the project as funders kept asking where the drama was. She replied, “I just wanted to make a film about these great youth in Shiprock and I didn’t feel it was necessary to dwell on alcohol abuse or lack of opportunity in order to tell this story. I refuse to make poverty porn. I make films that empower people. As a Dine woman filmmaker, I’m driving the narrative. And why do we need to change our stories, our narratives, in order to get the funding.”

Visionmaker assisted her film early on and she finished it up herself with help from the local broadcast community and you can hear the rest of her story here.

Filmmaker Sarah Del Seronde is also Dine’ from the Bennett Freeze area of the Navajo Reservation, which is an undeveloped area of land still in ownership dispute with the Hopi Tribe. She obtained a BA in Political Science and MA degree in American Indian Studies from University of Arizona and founded Aboriginal Lens LTD, an independent video production company dedicated to telling aboriginal peoples’ stories.

Her films include Sa’ah, which follows the journey to see a medicine man on Navajo Nation. The film can be found on National Geographic’s All Roads Film Project box set, Making the River, a biographical tale of an American Indian man charged with the murder of a prison guard, took her inside the Washington State Penitentiary in 2008, and the short film U, about uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation..

Del Seronde’s film Metal Road features the thousands of Navajos worked the railroads maintaining the transcontinental network for decades. The film explores the dynamics of livelihood, family, and the railroads through the lens of a Navajo trackman. Replacing rails on over 64,000 miles of track, the unknown journey of Navajo trackmen in the United States reveals an invisible group of workers striving to earn retirement benefits which inspires the viewer to rethink the American work ethic.

“I wanted to make Metal Road to shed light on two related, yet often hidden issues: Manual labor in the US and Native American Histories. Laborers are often the most economically oppressed people doing infrastructure jobs, but the workers are strong and resilient as seen with the generations of Navajo railroaders. My hope is their labors will not go unnoticed any longer. As a Navajo filmmaker, I want to impress upon the viewer that the next Indian you see at a gas station in oil stained clothes might be returning from a 17-hour shift that keeps our world’s largest transportation system operating.”

To assist Emerson and Del Seronde in these outreach efforts and the Navajo Documentary Film Tour, please go to their website.