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Nanobah Becker, Conversion


This article is part of Filmmaker‘s Sundance 2007 Special Coverage.

Conversion, the ambitious second short film by Nanobah Becker, clocks in at only nine minutes, and is described simply tantalizingly as: “Christian missionaries make a catastrophic visit to a Navajo family.” Becker’s first short, Flat, has screened in festivals internationally, and she is a recipient of a 2005 Sundance Institute Ford Fellowship and a 2006 Media Arts Fellowship for her feature screenplay, Full.

Conversion will play in Shorts Program V at Sundance.

Can you say a little bit about your background? Where you’re from? Age? Education? Film experience prior to this film?
Nanobah Becker, 32, member of the Navajo Nation (mom’s Navajo, dad’s German-American); from Albuquerque, NM; BA in Anthropology from Brown in 1997, MFA in directing from Columbia Univesity in 2006; had done one other short (Flat) before this and worked on several student productions…I also did research on the feature doc Miss Navajo which is screening this year at Sundance.

Can you briefly describe what inspired your film?
The proliferation of Mormons, Christian Reform, and other fundamentalist Christian missionaries on the rez. The events in the story are based on an incident my mom told me once between a Navajo medicine man and missionaries on the rez in the ’50s.

Can you talk about some of the people you collaborated with?
Producer Courtney Schmidt — I think this was her first job as producer. She came from NYC to shoot. It was a very difficult production that involved a great deal of sensitivity to cultural and linguistic differences, and she did an amazing job. Smokey Nelson, D.P., CU classmate, all around great human. We also worked together on my first short. He works professionally in NYC, mostly as a gaffer at this point. I found Courtney through him. Neel Scott, another CU classmate, edited. He also worked production.

My cast was entirely Navajo and the film is entirely in the Navajo language (no easy feat to cast!). Charmaine Jackson-John is a friend and did a great job. Little girl, Simone Frazier, had never acted before. Deidra Castillo, teenager, is from the area we shot in. All were fantastic.

Were there any compromises you had to make on this film? Anything you’d do differently?
I had to make some changes in my script in regards to cultural sensitivity surrounding death and Navajo beliefs.

Any influences?
The Piano. Lumumba. Miklós Jancsó (The Red and the White). Some other ones I can’t remember.

What are your expectations for Sundance?
I just want to go and enjoy it. It makes me so happy that cast and crew are able to join in the celebration.

Any films you’re excited to see at Sundance?
Miss Navajo. Four Sheets to the Wind. Eagle v. Shark. La Misma Luna.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve read or received about filmmaking?
It’s a life-long learning process.

What’s your favorite/least favorite question to read in interviews with directors?
Least favorite: What was the budget?

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