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Navajo Talking Picture, Navajo Talking Picture, 080323841X, 0-8032-3841-X, 978-0-8032-3841-1, 9780803238411, Randolph Lewis, Indigenous Films, Navajo Talking Picture, 0803240821, 0-8032-4082-1, 978-0-8032-4082-7, 9780803240827, Randolph Lewis, Indigenous Film

Navajo Talking Picture
Cinema on Native Ground
Randolph Lewis

2012. 248 pp.
14 illustrations
$30.00 s

Navajo Talking Picture, released in 1985, is one of the earliest and most controversial works of Native cinema. It is a documentary by Los Angeles filmmaker Arlene Bowman, who travels to the Navajo reservation to record the traditional ways of her grandmother in order to understand her own cultural heritage. For reasons that have often confused viewers, the filmmaker persists despite her traditional grandmother’s forceful objections to the apparent invasion of her privacy. What emerges is a strange and thought-provoking work that abruptly calls into question the issue of insider versus outsider and other assumptions that have obscured the complexities of Native art.

Randolph Lewis offers an insightful introduction and analysis of Navajo Talking Picture, in which he shows that it is not simply the first Navajo-produced film but also a path-breaking work in the history of indigenous media in the United States. Placing the film in a number of revealing contexts, including the long history of Navajo people working in Hollywood, the ethics of documentary filmmaking, and the often problematic reception of Native art, Lewis explores the tensions and mysteries hidden in this unsettling but fascinating film.

Randolph Lewis is an associate professor of American studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Alanis Obomsawin: The Vision of a Native Filmmaker (available in a Bison Books edition) and Emile de Antonio: Radical Filmmaker in Cold War America.

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