Director: Jeff Spitz
The Return of Navajo Boy, an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival and PBS, is an internationally acclaimed documentary that reunited a Navajo family and triggered a federal investigation into uranium contamination. It tells the story of Elsie Mae Begay, whose history in pictures reveals an incredible and ongoing struggle for environmental justice. When an old 1950s film called Navaho Boy is brought back to the same native people who participated in it as children their family memories unfold in surprising directions. The documentary emboldens a Navajo family to share remarkable memories involving Hollywood picture making, uranium mining and the mystery of a long lost boy who was taken away by white missionaries. His name was John Wayne Cly.
The Return of Navajo Boy, USA, 2000, Epilogue 2008, 57 min. Director Jeff Spitz, co-produced by Jeff Spitz and Bennie Klain. Contact: www.navajoboy.com
I entered the world of indigenous film Suddenly without any previous contact with Native Americans. I just tried to find the people in an old film from the 1950s called Navajo Boy. My search for them took me into Monument Valley and into an astonishing Navajo family history involving Hollywood, uranium mining, and a missing baby. The Cly family accepted me. We had no idea where the documentary process was going to lead us. I learned how to see things from the inside out and not like a reporter looking in from outside. Together we made the film from the Navajo point of view. I feel blessed in many ways, particularly because I got to join in this family's struggle and help them reunite with a long lost brother. But even now it is hard for us to figure out what to do about the revelations of uranium contamination and the appalling health hazards that we put on screen. The Return of Navajo Boy has stunned people all over the world. It triggered a federal investigation of Navajo uranium houses. We found sponsors to help the Navajo family in the film travel with it to Washington DC and colleges nationwide. Their story continues at www.navajoboy.com where viewers can watch webisodes and see how this groundswell leads toward environmental justice.