Through Navajo Eyes | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Through Navajo Eyes 

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In 1966 filmmaker Sol Worth and anthropologist John Adair traveled to Pine Springs, Arizona, a Navaho reservation town, to teach the Navaho how to make films. They tried to provide only technical, not aesthetic, instruction, and the resulting seven films are unlike anything I have ever seen. At that time many Navaho had never seen a film. Worth and Adair hoped that the way they organized their films might reveal a worldview very different from our own, and in that sense the project succeeded. There are few close-ups of faces, and no depiction of character emotions; the close-ups we do see are of physical processes: washing clothes, constructing a well, weaving. Susie K. Benally's A Navajo Weaver, for example, begins with brief shots of fingers on a loom; we then see the many steps needed to make wool: tending sheep, shearing, washing, carding. Such juxtapositions, here and in the other films, show a worldview that links physical things with their causes: the finished blankets shown at the end are now products of the earth and of human labor, rather than isolated aesthetic objects. Jump cuts, in which a subject changes position abruptly in space, may seem strange or jarring at first, but their abruptness tends to make the images more physical, almost palpable. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, August 1, 4:45, and Tuesday, August 3, 6:00, 443-3737.

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