Contemporary Storytelling Challenges on the Navajo Nation: A Native Director's Perspective with Shonie De la Rosa

By Baca, Angelo | Post Script, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Contemporary Storytelling Challenges on the Navajo Nation: A Native Director's Perspective with Shonie De la Rosa


Baca, Angelo, Post Script


Shonie De La Rosa is a Navajo filmmaker from Kayenta, Arizona who works with the Navajo Nation and his surrounding community on a multitude of impressive levels. While he is recognized for his film work nationally, winning awards at the prestigious American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, California, he is more acknowledged in Navajo country for his work as teacher, township administrator, and family man. He is seen as a local hero made famous through his work on music videos for the Navajo blues band, The Plateros. A Renaissance man of sorts, Shonie is honest, direct, and real about his films, life, and his personal connections to the tribe and place he calls home. This is evident throughout this interview and in the diversity of his work, which ranges from a public service announcement about meth on the reservation called "G" to stirring up commentary about tribal politics in the satirical comedy D.C. Navajo to his experience at the Institute of American Indian Arts/ ABC /Disney Summer Film Workshop. His independent project Mile Post 398, the only feature film to date with all-Navajo cast and crew, also highlights his honesty and ability to tackle difficult social issues in film. The film tells the story of a man struggling with alcohol and violence, something that Shonie has had to encounter and overcome on a personal basis and which many Native Americans can identify with in other communities. It was created, written, directed, produced, and acted by the De La Rosas and Navajo folks from the community, and was funded and distributed by Sheephead Films, a company founded by Shonie and his wife Andee De La Rosa.

Currently, Shonie is taking take a break from his provocative films to make and sell custom "Navatone" guitars that he crafts by hand. The following interview was conducted during the summer of 2013 in his studio where he makes his films and guitars. The following interview took place in May 2013 in Kayenta, Arizona.

Angelo Baca (AB): What do you do for

your profession?

Shonie De La Rosa (SDLR): My name is Shonie De La Rosa and I'm an independent filmmaker. I do that in my spare time. I've got a real job as an IT administrator for the Kayenta Township. Filmmaking is just something I do.

AB: How long have you been filmmaking?

SDLR: I made my first film when I was about ten or eleven years old. I shot that on super-8. It's a science fiction film I shot with my best friend at the time. I just got the bug after that.

AB: I know that one of your films you are best known for is Mile Post 398. Could you tell me more about that?

SDLR: Yeah, it's a film that my wife and I came up with from our own experiences. We wanted to do something different. Something that our people could identify with about Natives that could really hit the spot. It was about something we knew of and about what we experienced in life. We spent a good two years just talking about it, thinking about it, basically just writing the script in our heads. One night, we just sat down and started writing it out. We acted out each and every single part in the script ourselves, talking and listening to each other. Then one night, we got the script down and it never really changed after that.

AB: It's the only Navajo cast and crew film, right?

SDLR: Oh yeah, we wanted to be ... we figured that in order to tell our story we had to use our own people. Not just people who looked like us or fit the part. We wanted our own people to play it and not some nonNative person playing or a different person from a different tribe, maybe trying to speak Navajo. It doesn't really work. I don't care how much they practice, it just doesn't work. If you don't live the culture and you're not part of the culture, it's hard to portray that part.

AB: You said that you make films that make a difference?

SDLR: Yeah, but not intentionally. It just sort of happens. …

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