Navajo Film Unit Plans, 1970

Adair’s Involvement Post-Project

Sol Worth and John Adair maintained a regular correspondence both leading up to and following the Navajo project. While some of the subject matter was personal, much of it had to do with plans for the book and films.

In 1970, Adair returned to Pines Springs to pursue the possibility of the Navajo Film Unit. He appears to have been extremely committed to the project, and at one point considered “getting the Navajo to ask me to become a member of the tribe!” in order to facilitate the process (1). The following are relevant excerpts from Adair’s letters.

May 19, 1970

 Johnny Nelson…is my first recruit as a filmmaker to learn the full technology, that is if I get funds to support a tribal level film training and production unit (2).

Juan Tsosie was most cordial. I explained the whole Window Rock pitch to him. He, as a big-shot executive in the Native American Church (on the lay side) wants to “put up a peyote meeting for you” (as interpreted by Johnny). “It will bring good luck to your film plans” (3).  

The tribal officers, BIA officials and director of both the Rough Rock Demonstration School and the Director of the Community College (Allan Platero and Ned Hatathlea, respectively) were all most supportive in regard to the film unit, as was Sam Day III the head of Navajo parks and tourism (4).

John Dixon is assisting me in Washington – that is trying to locate a planning grant. If I get it, and training funds by the fall, then I will take a year’s leave from Hayakawa land (5).

June 16, 1970

I have about decided to take the summer of the first semester and ask for that now. Getting the Navajo Film Production Unit even into a training phase is going to take longer than I had anticipated! it is election year and the Navajo (as I may have mentioned in my last letter), and, as you at Penn know better than we at SFSC Federal Funding is impossible to depend on. I will try the gamut of the foundations (6).

 August 14, 1970

As a result of recent re-contacts of top staff from the Rough Rock School, and their showing more interest in my film ideas than anyone else at Window Rock, I am revising my plans (which may have been too ambitious in any case) and once more work on a level several steps down from Window Rock. This will not be training Navajos to make film they want to make for their own national and developmental ends in the full technology, which was basically the W.R. plan, but films for the revitalization of Navajo tradition; a kind of cultural retrieval, so to speak, in which film, and possibly video becomes a central mode of communication.

Culture will be retrieved for not only self-identity clear through to cultural identity, but for community stability and direction. It is not to deny the Navajo the right to their decision to live in our “main stream” (whatever that is) in urban areas (now that we have moved to the suburbs), but serves to give him, from infancy, through viewing the past on film, at least an idea of his own collective origin — a kind of neo-Jungian concept. The R.R. School is already doing this, but is tied to the printed media: writing coyote tales, other myths, traditions and kinship usage (in this case retrieved from the anthropologists, who have been a kind of data storage system all these years), and writing albeit in both English and Navajo Biographies of Our Great Leaders. However, and much more important, they have going a training program for apprentices to the medicine men, financed by NIMH. I would like to take again the step we have taken together at Pine Springs and use film for more effective means of self-expression, especially among the illiterate adults who wish to communicate with the children in the school. In this case, however, the emphasis will not be on “young adults and adolescents frequently….etc.” but on older adults and grandparents who in rapidly changing cultures are blocked from communicating about what their world and their past has to offer — in this case to a generation brain washed by the majority culture, and often unable to understand well their language (7).

What happened?

Any further plans or mentions of the Navajo Film Unit have not been found, and therefore it remains unknown why the project never materialized. We do know that Adair stayed on and continued to make films with the Navajo. On December 31, 1970 he wrote to Worth,

“Pekka and I will start on the Alcoholic film in early January: Three or possibly four components to that one: the drunks’ view of their world; children’s film depicting their life with drunken parents…(8). 

This project, however, seems to have been unrelated to the Film Unit.