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'Mile Post 398' breaks new ground in Native filmmaking

Review

KAYENTA, Ariz. - To create a film depicting reality is truly a feat, and according to viewers and critics across North America, ''Mile Post 398'' is nothing less than perfect. With recent awards including Best Narrative Feature from the Fargo Film Festival 2007, Best Drama and Best Screenplay from the Tulalip Film Festival 2007 and Best Supporting Actor (Ernest David Tsosie III) from the American Indian Film Festival 2007, there is no denying that ''Mile Post 398'' has broken new ground and satisfied audiences in every way.

Shonie and Andee De La Rosa, Dine' of Kayenta, wrote, directed and produced the film based upon their life experiences and the desire to create a film comprised entirely of Navajo cast and crew. Furthermore, the couple wanted to shoot the film entirely on location - the Navajo Nation.

The drama is based around the lives of Cloyd and Lorraine Begay, their family, friends and community on the Navajo Nation. Cloyd, played by Beau Benally, has led a troubled life, beginning as a witness to alcoholism and domestic violence as a boy and maintaining the alcoholic traits in his own adult life. His two closest friends, Jimmy, played by Gerald Vandever, and Marty, played by James Junes of the comedy duo James and Ernie, are also alcoholics and compel Cloyd to maintain his alcoholic life.

When Lorraine, played by Kim White, pleads with Cloyd to change his ways, he is torn between his family and his friends.

Luckily, with the new friendship of Ray Yazzie (Tsosie) and his family, Cloyd is able to recognize the value and beauty of his family and make the decision to turn away from alcoholism. Despite this choice, Cloyd's future is uncertain, as the film's ending leaves the viewer with no certain conclusion.

The De La Rosas explained the inspiration for the film.

''The inspiration to the film was the music - the soundtrack for the movie of 'Coalition'. We would listen to it on road trips and it brought back life experiences that we went through - hardships, livin' on the rez, makin' ends meet ... You know, when we first started out, things were pretty hard and the music was, like I said, inspiration,'' Shonie said.

''It was just a lot of things we encountered together since the beginning of our relationship - taking whatever job we could here in town. This film has a lot of the things on it - the landscape and the long drives that we would take and the music just really helped the film flow together,'' Andee said.

''I wasn't exactly the greatest husband and father in the world back then. I mean, I drank, did a lot of horrible things ... we just wanted to share with everybody a story that everybody could identify with because just about everybody on the rez deals with it no matter what,'' Shonie added.

The pair explained the multitude of issues in the film depicting reality on the Navajo Nation where the landscape is inspiring, but modern conveniences are few and far between.

''Even though it's beautiful, we don't have the amenities that the city does ... it just kind of shows what life is like on the rez for a lot of people - for some people,'' Shonie said. ''It's something that just about everybody here can identify with.''

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One of the filmmakers' major points was to make a film that truly depicted Dine' life and language.

''The importance of this is that when someone comes in and shoots a Navajo story about Navajo people and then they don't get the language right or they film it somewhere else ... we, as Navajo people, don't believe in the film,'' Tsosie said. ''My disbelief was no longer suspended.'' Tsosie described seeing a quality film as an experience in which his disbelief is suspended and his imagination is taken to another level. However, when unrealistic elements are added to a purportedly Navajo film, the thrill is lost.

Junes agreed.

''I think we made a major stride in having an all-Navajo cast. It was kind of like being part of history,'' he said. ''In other films that have been made about the Navajo people, there was the element of language that was always missing and that was really a turnoff. So when the Navajo language came into play, it was a major stride to me to get it right. To me, this was the most important part of the movie.''

The De La Rosas said making a movie portraying reality for the Navajo people was at the heart of their mission.

''Our company is here on the Navajo lands and a lot of our filmmaking is done here; and a lot of our stories that we do, our documentaries, all have to do with our people and we always say 'our people first' to educate them and to let them see the positive sides of being out here regardless of how difficult it can be - you know, the hardships of living out here, you know, scarce jobs, having to hitchhike to work, you know, all that is real,'' Andee said. ''People [are] thanking us for sharing something real.''

In the making of ''Mile Post 398,'' Shonie said maintaining cultural accuracy was a way of showing respect to his community and heritage.

''It's respect. It's respect towards our elders, respect towards our people. It reminds us where we come from.''

Throughout the film, Shonie explained, no Indian cliches are used. ''There are no eagle screams, no pow wows - none of that,''.

''I hope it opens more eyes to the fact that we're not about leathers and feathers and living in teepees,'' Junes said.

''Mile Post 398'' was created on a volunteer basis. None of the actors or contributors were paid. The reward was in the production and now, the recognition.

''Mile Post 398'' DVDs can be purchased online at www.sheepheadfilms.com. Production clips, photos, trailers and information about the De La Rosas' other films can also be found on this site.