Films & Negatives

This timeline demonstrates how copies of the Navajo films and negatives have been exchanged, lost, and rediscovered over the past 46 years.

September 1, 1966

Sol Worth wrote to Maxine and Mary Jane Tsosie, Susie Benally, Johnny Nelson, and Mike Anderson, as well as to Clarence Birch, the school teacher, and to the Griswalds, the family that owned the trading post. It is unclear whether or not he wrote to Al Clah. Although the content of these letters varied slightly, they all included variations on the following:

So far I haven’t done anything with the films. I am waiting for Dick to get back (as you know he was sick after I left) before we tackle the job of preparing the final prints. When the films are finished, I will write you and send a copy to you (1).

 December 19, 1966

Worth wrote to John Adair about the progress of the films,

So far we have four films that are matched in the laboratory, and where I have the first answer print. The answer prints are pretty good, but all need some slight corrections before I order prints for the Navajos, and for us. I asked Dick to please try to give me the negatives and the work print of the two remaining films before he goes home for vacation so that I can send to the laboratory and get them done as soon as possible. It is very important that I have the print of Johnny’s Intrepid Shadows film back as soon as possible (2).

March 10, 1967

It appears that during Adair’s trip to Europe, where he showed the films at the Festival Dei Popoli, some copies of the films were lost. Worth wrote,

From the letters that I get from you I think we may as well kiss all those films goodbye. I had the feeling that things were so screwed up that nothing would get anywhere much less back to me on time. I am ordering new films from the laboratory. It is just awful that the whole Cologne trip was botched up because the films didn’t arrive (3).

May 24, 1967

Al Clah wrote to Worth requesting a copy of his film, Intrepid Shadows. At the time, Clah was working at the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the “the curator or assistant to the museum.”

Evidently, quite a few people have seen my film, “Intrepid Shadows” in San Francisco. Of course, I was not there last year. Talking about my film, I was wondering if there is a way I can get hold of it? You see I want to show to different clubs in Santa Fe. They have been asking me about the film for a long time. I had few telephone calls last week, inquiring about the film. I told them I will try to get it. The museum of Navajo Ceremonial Arts wants to see if they can get the public to come sometime to the museum to see the film.

I would really appreciate, Sol, if you can help me on this. I have no intention to charge any fee to these clubs and friends – mostly because I want for them to see my film (4). 

June 8, 1967

Worth replied to Clah, saying, “About your film: now that I have your address I am mailing a copy of your film to you at the address in Santa Fe. Please let me know when it arrives” (5).

June 11, 1969

Clifford P. Wolfsehr, a librarian from the Curry Public Library, Inc., in Gold Beach, Oregon, wrote to the “Gentlemen” of the Annenberg School of Communication, regarding Clah’s film:

Mr. Alfred Clah, Navajo artist, has asked me to write you and request the loan of a copy of a film, called “The Intrepid Shadow,” which he filmed under the direction of Professor of Anthropology John Adair, of San Francisco State College…

Mr. Clah is residing in our community presently and he has agreed to present a special program for the town. In order to represent pictorially various aspects of his subject he has high hopes that you will be willing to negotiate a loan, through this library, which is sponsoring the program, for a short time.

The program is scheduled for the near future. Therefore, we can use the film as soon as it may be sent (6)

June 16, 1969

 Worth wrote to Wolfsehr,

My records show that I mailed a print of the film to Mr. Clah in October of 1966. It seems that he doesn’t have it anymore, , and I would be most happy to send him another one for his own use. Unfortunately this would take between two and three weeks. My suggestion therefore is that you write to the Center for Mass Communication at Columbia University, who are distributing this film for the National Science Foundation. I know that they have a print of the film. I would write to them saying that this film is for the use of Mr. Al Clah and that therefore there should be no charge for the film. I believe that they will agree to this. I will send them a copy of this letter to you and a separate note regarding that (7).

June 23, 1969

Wolfsehr wrote to Worth:

Mr. Clah had told me earlier that he had understood that he was to receive a print of the film, but somehow it had never reached him. When I discussed the contents of your letter with him this afternoon he therefore asked me to accept your original offer (8).

JUNE 21, 1967

Worth wrote to Adair about prints of the film,

I have ordered prints from the films that you made for the Colorado Museum, and have also ordered an extra copy of all the negative that the Navajo shot. Hopefully it will be back here before I leave so that I can send that to you, and not have to carry any of that (9).

July 7, 1969

Worth wrote to Wolfsehr:

We have ordered a print of “Intrepid Shadow” for Mr. Clah. It is now being processed at the lab and is expected within the week. We will mail it directly to you when we receive it. If for some reason we do not receive the print by next Monday, July 14, we will contact you. That will give you enough time to obtain the film from Mr. Glimcher of the Center for Mass Communication. He is awaiting word from you and is most willing to lend you a print of “Intrepid Shadows”, if necessary (10). 

Monday AM, Date Unknown

Adair wrote to Worth, I am going to see Ned, “Silent Language”, Hall tomorrow. I am taking the privilege of passing on some of your reprints…(11). 


Annenberg 16mm film archives closed, and the Navajo films including all of the original  film elements were moved to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum).


Kate Pourshariati, Penn Museum film archivist and cataloger, learned that the collection resided at the Penn Museum and that the Navajo films were listed on the Library of Congress (LoC) National Film Registry.


Penn Museum senior archivist Alex Pezzati contacted Mrs. Tobia Worth, Sol Worth’s widow. He requested a deed of gift, formalizing the transfer of rights to the Penn Museum. Pourshariati began the process of restoring and conserving the films. She also began to reconnect with the original filmmakers.

Pourshariati learned that the Library of Congress did not have copies of the films. She began collaborating with Stephen Leggett, Mike Mashon, Ken Weissman and others at the LoC to restore the entire collection and organized an agreement to store the films in the superior storage facilities of the National Audio-Visual Concervation Center (NAVCC), in Culpeper, Virginia. Part of this arrangement allowed for digitization of all of the original camera reels from the project. Penn Museum has plans to share back these digital elements with younger Navajo filmmakers, depending upon the permission of the original filmmakers and their families.


Spirit of the NavajoS

Pourshariati met Eunice Kahn, Archivist of the Navajo National Museum. Eunice is a granddaughter of Alta Kahn and a niece of Susie Benally. Later, in preparation for a community screening of the films,  Pourshariati sent Kahn copies of the DVDs. Kahn informed her that Robert Johnson, the Navajo Nation Museum’s Cultural consultant, had indicated that parts of the sand painting ceremony might be harmful for Navajo people, especially children, and not appropriate for people outside of the culture to see.

Johnson provided a detailed edit list to the Library of Congress, requesting that very small portions be removed from the sand painting sequences. After restoration of the film and without altering the original film materials, the videotape was then edited for this DVD edition for distribution. The sequences still appear in this Digibeta and DVD edition, with small redactions.

This was the first known instance in which the LoC has acted to remove sensitive cultural material at the request of indigenous people. It was also the first time that such a redaction was made to follow the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials at the LoC NAVCC.

Intrepid Shadows

Pourshariati discovered a recording of Al Clah’s poem, “Intrepid Shadows.” The poem, originally intended as a soundtrack to Clah’s film, will be available with the DVD, again without altering the original materials.

Behind the scenes

Pourshariati discovered an unedited and unpublished film shot by Sol Worth, Adair, and Richard Chalfen during the project. The footage briefly depicts Worth and Adair, and Susie Benally  teaching her mother Alta Kahn the mechanics of filmmaking. This footage will be available with the DVD.