Navajo trash destructive movie crews

June 21, 1995|By Bill Donovan | Bill Donovan,The Arizona Republic

Navajo communities in Arizona are upset at movie companies that come onto the reservation and don't understand what it means to "Walk in Beauty."

Instead, some Navajo residents say that filmmakers ravage tribal lands just to get a shot that may last only a few seconds in a movie.

Three acres of barren ground, stripped of all vegetation, now mark the main entrance to the red rocks of Monument Valley, a legacy of the filming of "Back to the Future Part III."

And, in the small Navajo community of Bodaway, where John Travolta and Christian Slater last month filmed a yet-to-be released movie about a stolen nuclear missile, deep ruts gouged by heavy-equipment vehicles are reminders of the film crew's stay.

"What we want is to see movie companies that come in here stop trying to film in our sacred places and to leave the area the same way it was when they came," said Harold Tunney, council delegate for Bodaway, on the western tip of the reservation.

In the past several months, Bodaway and several other Navajo communities have considered or passed resolutions banning or limiting movie filming.

Currently, the moves have little impact, because the Navajo tribal government has authority over land use and regards filming as an economic boon to the tribe and its members.

That may change.

In July, Navajo Nation President Albert Hale plans to ask the council to allow communities to control their own land.

The criticism of filmmakers comes at a time when movie production on the reservation is growing because of new interest in westerns.

In the past two years, more than 17 feature films and documentaries have been shot, in part, on the Navajo reservation.

Such movies as "Forrest Gump," "Natural Born Killers," "Tall Tales" and "Maverick" have been partly filmed there.

"Many of the movie people who come in here don't care about the Navajo people or the Navajo land," said Sharon Maize, who has worked on location for several film companies that worked on the reservation.

"They're obnoxious and rude to our elders, and the only thing they care about is getting the shot they want," she said.

Ms. Maize said that several years ago, when she was giving visitors a tour of the Monument Valley area, she noticed a bald spot near the entrance.

She said she learned that the 3-acre area was destroyed during the making of a "Back to the Future" sequel in the late '80s.

The area was bladed by filmmakers so they could film a scene of a DeLorean car careening through a drive-in theater screen.

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