DER Documentary

A Weave of Time: The Story of a Navajo Family

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by Susan Fanshel
produced with Deborah Gordon and John Adair
color, 60 min, 1986
in English and Navajo with English subtitles


New 2014 Digitally Restored and Remastered Edition



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A Weave of Time powerfully documents 50 years and four generations of change in one Navajo family. In 1938, noted anthropologist John Adair travelled to the Navajo reservation in Pine Springs, Arizona with a 16mm hand wind motion picture camera. There Adair met and filmed the Burnside family, creating a visual record of Navajo life in the 1930's. In an unprecedented composite, Adair's previously unseen historical footage is juxtaposed with contemporary scenes and in-depth interviews with family members 50 years later. As their story unfolds, the conflicts between past and present emerge.

The eldest family member, John Burnside, 84, fears that Navajo customs will disappear in a world of fast food and super highways. John is a traditional medicine man who spent most of his life learning the Blessingway — the foundation of the Navajo religion. He speaks only Navajo — his grandchildren speak only English. “I wonder if it will all be forgotten, those things I have learned. Today everyone speaks English. I do not speak English. I live in silence.”

In A Weave Of Time, the daily struggles for family stability, education and economic survival in contemporary America challenge the existence of traditional identity including the Navajo religion, language and arts. This rich and telling film of the Burnside history becomes a complex microcosm of Navajo culture in transition and raises questions about the survival of ethnicity in 20th century America.

“No film on Native Americans has undertaken such an ambitious approach to the subject of culture change. A Weave Of Time is one of the finest documentaries I've seen in this field.”
— Elizabeth Weatherford, Curator Film & Video, Museum of the American Indian
“Of particular interest to social scientists, students of Navajo life, and students of change — it will also serve as a remarkable aesthetic statement.”
— Edward T. Hall, Ph.D., Anthropologist, Author of The Dance of Life, The Hidden Dimension
“A unique portrayal of Navajo life and culture as it has evolved over four generations. The film is both an archival documentary and a heartfelt exploration of one Navajo family's struggles and joys.”
— Earthwatch Film Awards

awardsFilm Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Earthwatch Award, 1987
Blue Ribbon, American Film Festival, 1987
Cine Golden Eagle, 1987
Pacific Film Archives, UC Berkeley, 1988
Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Berlin, 1987
Anthropos Film Festival, Los Angeles, 1987
Festival de Popoli, Florence, Italy, 1987
Hawaii International Film Festival, Honolulu, 1987
Native American Film and Video Festival, New York City, 1987
American Anthropology Association Conference, Chicago, 1987
Margaret Mead Film Festival, New York City, 1986
Museum of Folk Art, Santa Fe, NM (Southwest Premiere), 1986
Flaherty Film Seminar, Aurora, New York, 1986

Related Resources
Background notes on the film (PDF)
Article: John Adair, 84, Anthropologist Who Studied Navajo Culture, New York Times, 12/1997

Related Films
6 Generations
Earl's Canoe: A Traditional Ojibwe Craft



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