Navajo filmmaker has high hopes for new projects
Shiprock director/actor Kody Dayish has completed two films since his well-received debut 'The Beginning'
FARMINGTON — Less than a year ago, Shiprock High School product Kody Dayish was still a relatively inexperienced filmmaker looking forward to the completion of his first feature film.
Now, he's got three finished projects on his resume and another one slated for completion by the end of the month.
Dayish made waves last year with his debut project, a 12-minute short called "The Beginning" that was screened at the Red Nation Film Festival in Los Angeles in November and brought him the award for best Emerging First Time Director.
Since then, he hardly has paused to catch his breath. His film production company, which he started in 2010 with his sister Kolette and brother Kolin, finished shooting its first feature-length film, "The Red Hogaan," in June and wrapped up post-production last month. The group also managed to crank out another short film, "Spared," this summer, and within a matter of days will tackle another short, "Silent Medicine," that it plans to complete by the end of September.
If it sounds as if Dayish is approaching his craft at a needlessly hurried pace, he insists that is hardly the case. He said he's learned so much more about filmmaking and storytelling over the past year that he's found himself in a groove, both creatively and logistically.
"That's the word — efficient," Dayish said, describing the streamlined approach he has taken to his work.
Dayish said he now feels extremely comfortable with the process of converting a script into a completed film. Instead of spending hours setting up a shot and hours more getting the right take, Dayish begins that process with a firm idea of what he wants and how to make it happen.
"I film what I need to and don't film what I don't need to," he said.
Much of that education came from his work as the director of "The Red Hogaan," a horror film based on the tales the Dayish kids heard from their grandparents while growing up on the Navajo reservation. The film centers on a Navajo family that is menaced by a skinwalker while driving its sheep herd up a mountain.
Dayish is so proud of the film, which clocks in at 62 minutes, that he has few doubts it will be accepted for inclusion in the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, which will take place in late January in Utah. He was completing the film's entry application on Friday, even as he continued making plans for the shooting of "Silent Medicine" later this month.
"I'm very confident it will get chosen. … I think it's rightful place is Sundance," he said.
Dayish also plans to submit "Spared" and "Silent Medicine" for inclusion in the short film category at Sundance, each of which was made with a budget of approximately $2,200. He described the former as an emotional roller-coaster type of film that tackles many of the darker and weightier issues common on the reservation where he grew up, including suicide and domestic violence.
Dayish said he made the film without any expectations about how it would be received or who it might resonate with. But he realized he was on to something when he shared the initial scenes from "Spared" with his social media audience.
"We put it on Facebook, and it totally blew up," he said.
The film premiered on Aug. 15 at the Red Nation Film Festival's "On the Road" celebration at the Santa Fe Indian Market. After that screening, Dayish quickly received invitations to show "Spared" at a pair of events in Washington state, as well.
"That's exactly what I want it to do," he said of such opportunities. "I want to reach locations beyond the Navajo Nation."
Dayish acknowledged he was almost taken aback by the positive reception for "Spared," given the relative ease with which it all came together.
"I was trying so hard with 'The Red Hogaan,'" he said. "With this one, it felt like I didn't even have to try hard."
The next project on his plate, "Silent Medicine," will be a short film that relates the story of a Navajo family coming to terms with their father's terminal illness. Dayish and his siblings will star in it, and he envisions a 15- to 18-minute film that is much like "Spared" in tone, albeit with some important differences.
"('Spared') is more life and death in terms of the choices that are made, but with 'Silent Medicine,' we don't have a choice — the father is ill," said. "It's a one-way road, and the film is about how we're going to deal with it. It's going to really involve Navajo culture and Navajo prayers, and I want to educate the audience about how Native people would deal with such a thing."
Dayish said he shot a couple of scenes for the film over the past few days in Farmington, but the bulk of photography will take place Sept. 22-24, with post-production scheduled to begin Sept. 25.
He plans on having something to show the audience from that project when he and his siblings present the Kody Dayish Productions Festival at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Phil Thomas Performing Arts Center, 420 Washington St. in Shiprock, an event that will feature screenings of his other work, as well.
Dayish said the festival will feature not just him and his siblings, but other film producers and actors, along with representatives of the New Mexico Film Office in Santa Fe.
Dayish's schedule doesn't get any less busy from there. His band, Our Last Chants, which also includes his brother Kolin and Miss Northern Navajo Alexandria Holiday, is preparing to release a slate of new songs.
And in the middle of October, Dayish will head to Flagstaff, Ariz., for two weeks of filming after having landed a speaking role in a new film starring actor Adam Beach, best known for his role as Marine Cpl. Ira Hayes in director Clint Eastwood's World War II drama "Flags of Our Fathers." Beach also has had major roles in such films as "Joe Dirt," "Windtalkers" and "Suicide Squad."
Dayish is hardly overwhelmed by all that activity, though he does marvel at the twists his life has taken since he talked his siblings into joining him in the production of "The Beginning" approximately two years ago while he was recuperating from a broken neck.
"I keep thinking we're going to be done," he said, laughing, before spinning into another story of how his brother excitedly pitched him an idea for yet another project as the three siblings drove home from the "Spared" screening in Santa Fe in August with sister Kolette asleep in the back seat.
"I'm holding a cup of Starbucks in my hand as he starts talking, and I'm thinking, 'Holy crap, we can do this!" he said, laughing again.
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.