Miss Navajo (Documentary)
By JOHN ANDERSON
(Originally posted on www.variety.com 2.1.07)
An ITVS presentation of a World of Wonder production. Produced by Billy Luther. Executive producers, Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato. Co-producer, Duana C. Butler. Directed by Billy Luther.
With: Crystal Frazier.
As in most beauty pageants, contestants in the Miss Navajo Nation competition have to exhibit poise, grooming and talent. They also have to butcher a sheep -- which is the kind of thing that makes Billy Luther's affectionate look at tribal tradition, pride and change in his docu "Miss Navajo" so eye-opening. Broadcast on PBS' "Independent Lens" is already assured, but given the film's tenderness and frankness -- and some spectacular cinematography -- educational and arthouse exposure may come its way as well.
Luther structures his movie as a kind of triptych: the 50-year history of the Miss Navajo competish; the kinds of cultural abuses suffered by native peoples that prompted the creation of such a contest; and the 2005 competition, which features 21-year-old Crystal Frazier. A self-admitted introvert, Frazier enters the fray knowing she's lacking in one of the contest's chief criteria -- a fluency in the Navajo language. She perseveres, though, and she and the other entrants treat viewers to what ends up being an inspiring short story about personal achievement and the inevitable fading of a once-great culture.
Camera (color, HD cam), Gavin Wynn; editor, Mike Rysavy; music David Steinberg. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Spectrum), Jan. 24, 2007. Running time: 60 MIN.