Navajo youth learn how to use film, photography and music to tell stories

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

SHIPROCK — Navajo young people are learning skills to produce short films, photography and music through a weeklong workshop by Paper Rocket Productions.

The workshop, which started Monday at the Shiprock Youth Complex, is teaching students the techniques to develop, produce and edit short films. Paper Rocket Productions is an independent film company based in Flagstaff, Ariz.

The company is presenting four multimedia workshops across the reservation. The first class was on June 15 in Kayenta, Ariz. The next class is July 6-9 in Shonto, Ariz., and the final session is July 13-16 at the Huerfano Youth Center in Huerfano.

Deidra Peaches, who co-founded the company with Jake Hoyungowa, was working with a group on its animation project. Some of the students huddled around a computer and watched their illustrations appear on the screen after being scanned. They will use their pictures to animate the story they developed, Peaches said while watching them work.

That hands-on approach and providing participants the opportunity to experiment with equipment are what make the workshop unique, said Cassandra Johnson, a company intern.

"Paper Rocket Production encourages hands-on learning. I think it's a positive way of learning," Johnson said, adding that students can develop three-minute short films and leave the program with a sense of accomplishment.

"Media is everywhere. I think when they walk away, they know they can do this," she said.

Breanna Litson, 19, and Alyssa Nakai, 18, were among the eight students participating in the photography class lead by mentor Sam Minkler.

On Monday, students visited the Shiprock pinnacle and took photographs. They were learning the editing process on Tuesday.

"I want to enhance my skills where I feel like I understand how to use a camera — what is the right exposure, what is the right adjustments — so I can take good pictures," Litson said while holding a Cannon ELS 60-D in her hands.

For Nakai, the class is providing her the opportunity to learn how to manually operate a camera because she relies on the automatic settings when taking photographs.

Nakai said she started making videos when she was 10 years old, first with a camera purchased at Wal-Mart, then upgrading to a Samsung camcorder.

"I think it's cool how you have so many possibilities on the story and how you decide to show it. There's no limit to filmmaking. The only limit is you," she said.

In the music class, mentor Ben Velazco was asking his students for ideas to develop the musical score for the short films being produced by the film students. Surrounding the students were various musical instruments and recording equipment.

Velazco wrote a brief description of each scene on a dry-erase board, then asked for suggestions on what type of music should accompany the scene. For a drama entitled, "Shoe Game," students Ryan McKinley, 11, and Octaviano Mares IV, 16, suggested traditional Navajo music be used because the characters learn about the shoe game from their grandfather.

Mares said the class was producing "so much cool stuff" and he appreciated learning how to use the recording equipment.

"I wanted to learn more because me and a friend want to start a band," he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.