Students from the Documentary and Photography Departments from New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus recently gathered before the crack of dawn to catch a flight to Phoenix, AZ on a six- day film and photo expedition led by Documentary Chair Barbara Multer-Wellin, and Photo Instructor Amanda Rowan.
After landing in Phoenix and a scenic bus ride, the first filming location was the Orpheum Theater in Flagstaff, AZ where a line-up of Native American musicians and activists gathered to perform at RUMBLE ON THE MOUNTAIN II, an event held to protect tribal water rights. The concert included blessings by tribal elders, a traditional dance performance and a dynamic set by the Navajo brother/sister punk rock duo Sihasin. It was a long day filled with excitement, entertainment, and great opportunities for capturing on film a beautiful cultural experience.
On Day Two, the NYFA team was granted access to the kiva exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona. A Kiva is a traditional sacred space. There they filmed artist and musician Ed Kabotie whose father painted the historical mural on the walls of the Kiva. Ed spoke about the meaning of the mural’s images and the native people’s ongoing fight to protect their ancestral lands. Later, Jeneda and Clayson Benally, of Sihasin, arrived for a joint interview about their efforts to combine traditional music with hard edged rock and roll with their message of “Sihasin” (a Navajo word meaning “Hope”). Day Two ended with a sunset tour of the magnificent Grand Canyon.
NYFA LA’s Documentary and Photo expedition left the beautiful Flagstaff, AZ to head back to Phoenix. In Phoenix, NYFA students were welcomed at Canyon Records, the oldest and biggest record label devoted to Native American music in the United States. First, the NYFA students filmed and photographed Canyon Records artist, Tony Duncan. Duncan is both a renowned Native American flute player and a World Champion hoop dancer. Dressed in traditional regalia, Tony Duncan performed a ceremonial hoop dance at the label’s insert stage for NYFA’s cameras. Duncan then went into the studio to record a passage for his new album on three different traditional flutes. The day ended with sit down interviews with Duncan and Canyon Records owner Robert Doyle. After wrap, everyone hopped on the bus and headed to downtown Phoenix for a little exploration and recreation!
The NYFA bus left Phoenix for a scenic drive through cacti, pine and scrub brush to the historic old West town of Holbrook, AZ. Holbrook is the starting point for the Hashknife Pony Express, an annual recreation of the legendary delivery of the mail by horseback. For 58 years, men from the Hashknife Search and Rescue Team have ridden the 200 miles from Holbrook to Scottsdale, AZ. The NYFA team arrived to film and photograph the Hashknife riders, all on horseback, being sworn in as official carriers of the U.S. Postal Service at the old Navajo County Courthouse in Holbrook. That night, the NYFA team met the riders and people from the town of Holbrook at the send-off dinner held at the local Elks Lodge.
NYFA’s Documentary and Photography students met the Hashknife Pony Express riders at 7:00 AM at the stables in Holbrook to film them mounting up and to take a group portrait. The 200-mile ride is run like a relay race. Teams of two riders and two horses work together. The first man rides one mile, carrying a canvas bag of mail. The second rider waits at the mile marker, where they must exchange the heavy bag from horse to horse with the cry of “Hashknife!” (A hashknife is a curved blade used by chuck wagon cooks to tenderize meat.) The NYFA filmmakers and photographers were split up among the various teams to document the event from many different angles and points of view. The ride ended for the day when the riders arrived in formation at the Payson, AZ post office to deliver the mail. They were greeted by post office officials and an enthusiastic crowd.
On the last day of NYFA Los Angeles’ Arizona adventure, documentary and photography students spent the morning downloading footage and editing the photographs taken during the past five days. After lunch, they met up with the Hashknife riders as they made camp at the Verde River just outside Scottsdale, AZ. The students took portraits of and interviewed the riders. As the riders and horses settled in for the night and the cooks fired up the barbecue, the NYFA team said their good-byes, packed their gear for travel, and rode the bus to the Phoenix airport for the flight back to Los Angeles. Now the work of cutting short documentaries out of the great material gathered in Arizona begins.