Grant awarded for film about Shiprock group

Noel Lyn Smith
"Mayors of Shiprock" producer Kelly Byars and director Ramona Emerson have been documenting the story of the Northern Diné Youth Committee.

FARMINGTON — Post-production work will start soon on a documentary film about a Shiprock youth group after its creator received a grant from the New Mexico Film Foundation.

For four years, filmmaker Ramona Emerson has been following members of the Northern Diné Youth Committee for her documentary "Mayors of Shiprock." The organization is comprised of young Shiprock residents who develop and complete projects designed to improve the quality of life in the community.

The documentary follows the origins, efforts and work of committee members, as well as offering a glimpse into the personal lives of the founding members, Emerson said in a Friday telephone interview.

"We touch on the lives of the core group members and how they are involved in maintaining the group," she said.

This image from "Mayors of Shiprock" shows members of the Northern Diné Youth Committee posing near the Shiprock pinnacle.

Emerson, who is originally from Tohatchi and now lives in Albuquerque, learned about the group after working with Graham Biyáál, who served as a camera assistant for another project she was completing in Shiprock.

On June 29, the New Mexico Film Foundation announced it will provide a $3,600 grant for the film. Emerson said the funding will be used for post-production costs.

Filming started in March 2012 after the project received funding from Vision Maker Media, an organization that helps the development and production of films that focus on Native Americans, and their distribution to public television and public radio stations.

Filmmaker Ramona Emerson says she would like to enter her documentary "Mayors of Shiprock" in various film festivals, including the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides major funding for Vision Maker Media, according to the organization's website. Because of that relationship between the two entities, Emerson said her finished film would be broadcast on PBS stations.

She would also like to enter the picture in various film festivals, including the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Emerson said the film is a collaborative effort between the youth committee, herself and her husband, Kelly Byars, who serves as the film's producer.

"We feel this is a story that needs to be told," Emerson said.

The grant provided by the New Mexico Film Foundation is a new one and is provided through a partnership between the foundation and the Albuquerque-based Isora Foundation.

Isora Foundation Director Wendy Wells said in a press release the foundation reached out to the New Mexico Film Foundation.

This image from "Mayors of Shiprock" shows Graham Biyáál, a founding member of the Northern Diné Youth Committee, near the Shiprock pinnacle.

"By providing a funding award, we were not only able to support a local New Mexico filmmaker but support her efforts to highlight the incredible work Navajo youth are doing to bring about change within their own community," Wells said in the release.

Emerson will receive the award during the film foundation’s Summer Soiree Fundraiser on July 24 in Santa Fe.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.