Miss Navajo Premieres in the Spectrum Program at 2007 Sundance Film Festival

Filmmaker Billy Luther explores what it means to be a woman in Navajo society

Randall Cole, ITVS: 415.356.8383 x254, randall_cole@itvs.org
Tim Etheridge, ITVS: 415.356.8383 x250, tim_etheridge@itvs.org 

Randall Cole: 415.425.3050 (cell)
Tim Etheridge: 415.786.1377 (cell) 

Press release >>

Film synopsis >>

Production bios >>

Key character bios >> 

(San Francisco, CA)- MISS NAVAJO, an enlightening documentary that explores what it means to be a woman in Native American society, will have its world premiere as part of the Spectrum program at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. The film follows 21-year old Crystal Frazier as she competes to become Miss Navajo Nation and features interviews with past winners.

MISS NAVAJO reveals how as winners of Miss Navajo Nation, women are challenged to take on the great responsibility of becoming community leaders who are fluent in the Navajo language and knowledgeable about their culture and history. Conceived as a "celebration of womanhood" by filmmaker Billy Luther- whose mother, Sarah Johnson Luther, was Miss Navajo Nation 1966- the documentary is a different take on what it means to be beautiful. 

For the past 50 years, Miss Navajo Nation has celebrated women and their traditional values, language and inner beauty. The pageant is held over a five day period at the annual Navajo Nation Fair and the contestants are required to showcase their traditional and cultural skills. Pageant events include demonstrating skills that are crucial to Navajo daily life, including sheep butchering, fry bread making, and rug weaving. 

MISS NAVAJO reveals the importance of cultural preservation and the meaning of womanhood through interviews with new and former contestants. Sunny Dooley, Miss Navajo Nation 1982-83 says, "Women are instrumental in teaching and actually putting into action what we call culture teaching. The Miss Navajo pageant showcases every aspect of the young lady; from the point of spirituality to her family and all the way to what she is willing to teach to the entire population of the Navajo people." Dooley, continues, "when you are selected Miss Navajo you really are an ambassador of the tribe." 

MISS NAVAJO will screen six times during the 10-day Festival. Sat. Jan 20, 9:15pm, Holiday III Sun. Jan 21, 8:30am, Prospector Sun. Jan 21, 4:30pm, Broadway 6 (Salt Lake City) Wed. Jan 24, 4:30pm, Yarrow 2 -- PRESS SCREENING Fri. Jan 26, 5:30pm, Prospector Sat. Jan 27, 3:00pm, Sundance (Sundance Village) 

MISS NAVAJO is a co-production of Billy Luther and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), in association with World of Wonder Productions, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) 

About the Filmmaker 
Filmmaker Billy Luther studied film at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts where he began writing and directing short films. Luther worked as an assistant for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian-Native American Film and Video Festivals in New York. MISS NAVAJO is his first feature documentary. 

About World of Wonder 
Based in both Los Angeles and London, World of Wonder is best known for award-winning films and documentaries The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Party Monster as well as the documentary series Andy Warhol: The Complete Picture (Channel 4 UK) Show Biz Moms & Dads (Bravo), One Punk Under God (Sundance Channel) and Children Of God: Lost and Found (HBO and Slamdance). This coming year will see the unscripted series Showchoirs premiere on MTV as well as the premiere of a feature length doc The Last Days of Kurt Cobain for the BBC. More information can be found at www.worldofwonder.net. 

About ITVS 
The Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web and the Emmy Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. More information about ITVS can be obtained by visiting itvs.org. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. 


MISS NAVAJO U.S.A., 2006, 60 Minutes, color Director: Billy Luther 

For most of us, pageants conjure up smiling beauty-queen hopefuls parading around in bathing suits or glittery gowns. But most of us have never witnessed the Miss Navajo Nation competition, an event, inaugurated in 1952, that redefines "pageant" as an opportunity for young women to honor and strengthen Navajo culture and reveal the beauty within. In this sensitive documentary, Billy Luther, whose mother was crowned Miss Navajo 1966, opens the door to a surprising world, where contestants with diverse styles, physiques, and political orientations are challenged to answer tough historical questions in the Navajo language and showcase their spiritual and practical knowledge of practices like governance, traditional singing, or butchering a whole sheep. 

As Luther follows one quietly powerful contender and interviews winners from the past five decades, we begin to glimpse the multivalent power of the pageant. Miss Navajo serves as a positive model for other young Navajos and an ambassador for her people (one recalls meeting Robert Kennedy when he testified before the subcommittee on Indian education). But the film subtly illustrates the sacred dimension of Miss Navajo as well--how participation places the young women on a timeless matriarchal continuum that goes back to creation and the first Diné life-giving ancestor: Changing Woman. — Caroline Libresco 

Producer: Billy Luther
Executive Producers: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
Coproducer: Duana C. Butler
Director of Photography: Gavin Wynn
Editor: Mike Rysavy
Music: David Steinberg 

Screening Times Sat. Jan 20, 9:15pm, Holiday III Sun. Jan 21, 8:30am, Prospector Sun. Jan 21, 4:30pm, Broadway 6 (Salt Lake City) Wed. Jan 24, 4:30pm, Yarrow 2 -- PRESS SCREENING Fri. Jan 26, 5:30pm, Prospector Sat. Jan 27, 3:00pm, Sundance (Sundance Village) 


BILLY LUTHER (Producer/Director) studied film at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he began writing and directing short films including FACE VALUE, a short documentary on racial profiling. Luther worked as an assistant for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian- Native American Film and Video Festivals in New York City. In 2002, he was selected as an honoree at Film Independent's Project: Involve. Most recently Luther was selected for the Tribeca Film Festival's All Access Connects Program with his first feature documentary MISS NAVAJO, which was also recently honored with a Roy W. Dean documentary award and the 2006 Sundance Ford Fellowship. Luther belongs to the Navajo, Hopi and Laguna Pueblo Tribes. 

FENTON BAILEY & RANDY BARBATO (Executive Producers) Award-winning film directors and producers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey founded World of Wonder Productions after meeting at NYU Graduate Film School. They have directed and produced a wide variety of films, specials and series featured on US and UK broadcasters, including HBO, BBC, Channel 4 UK, MTV, VH1, PBS, Showtime, and Bravo. They won an Emmy for their documentary Party Monster: The Michael Alig Story and, in 2003, took the unusual step of turning their documentary into a scripted feature. They wrote, directed and produced a dramatic version, also titled Party Monster, starring Macaulay Culkin and Seth Green, a co-production with Killer Films. The film screened at the Sundance, Berlin and Edinburgh festivals, and since its theatrical release worldwide has become a cult classic. Their cutting edge and entertaining documentaries Monica in Black and White (HBO) and The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Cinemax) gave audiences a fresh perspective on the much maligned and misunderstood characters Monica Lewinsky and Tammy Faye Bakker. 

They have also created defining work for several of America's most exciting cable channels; from the "Moms & Dads" franchise for Bravo that includes Showbiz Moms & Dads, Showdogs Moms & Dads and Sportskids Moms & Dads, to multiple seasons of House of Clues, a fun forensic amateur detective show for Court TV, to creating and producing all 100 episodes of The RuPaul Show for VH1, which greatly contributed to the defining of that channel's brand. Throughout the years, they provided the critically hailed Trio network with some of its most successful programming. From the channel's signature series, Brilliant But Cancelled, to the lauded documentaries, A Christmas Special Christmas Special, The Blockbuster Imperative, Flops 101 and Gay Republicans, which won the 2004 AFI Audience Award. The company is also a global creative force to be reckoned with, creating through their London office numerous specials and series: The Adam and Joe Show (C4),Takeover TV (C4), Rock Around The Block (ITV), Hot Property (C5), Housebusters (C5) are all signature productions. They have maintained a steady stream of quality Arts films for the BBC; Ranch versus Raunch, The Last Days of Curt Cobain, The Intellectuals and The Masses. 

They are also the makers of the world-class documentary series Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization (C4 and HBO) and Andy Warhol: The Complete Picture (C4 and Bravo, and which won a Rockie Award in 2004). Fenton and Randy have never shied away from controversial topics or been afraid to tackle sexual themes. In 2005 they hit the Sundance Festival's screens for the fourth time with Inside Deep Throat, which they wrote, produced and directed. Narrated by Dennis Hopper and co-produced with Brian Grazer, the film explores the cultural impact of the 1972 film Deep Throat seen through the lens of the sexual revolution. And they aren't afraid to explore gay issues either: 101 Rent Boys (Cinemax), The Hidden Fuhrer (Cinemax) a bold exploration of rumors that Hitler might have been gay, and Plushies and Furries (MTV) about cuddly toy fetishists. In 2005 they produced Transgeneration (Sundance) a series following transgendered students through a year of college and which won the GLAAD Award for Outstanding Documentary. 

That same year, the company revisited an old friend in Tammy Faye: Death Defying, which chronicles the televangelist's victorious battle against cancer. The film won Women In Cable Television's prestigious Tribute Accolade. In 2006 Bailey and Barbato have kept busy with Million Dollar Listing for Bravo and a six part documentary series for the Sundance Channel entitled One Punk Under God, chronicling the life of alternative minister Jay Bakker, son of former Praise the Lord leaders Jim and Tammy Faye. They are currently producing Debbie Does Dallas Again (Showtime) a no holds barred observational documentary series about the working of Vivid, the most successful adult production company in the States. Most recently they have started production with Tori Spelling and her husband Dean McDermott on a series for Oxygen, and a series about the Showchoir phenomenon for MTV. 

Their latest initiative is WOW TV, (http://www.wowtv.tv) an online application allowing people to create and brand their own broadband networks. Users are able to sell their programming as well as combine it with advertising to generate revenue. For more on their exciting slate, check out The Wow Report, their daily blog at http://www.worldofwonder.net. Edited by legendary scribe and founder of Details Magazine, Stephen Saban, The WOW Report receives more than 20 million hits a month. 

DUANA C. BUTLER (Co-Producer) is a Harlem-based producer /director who has worked on several independent productions including The Watermelon Woman, A Question of Color, Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. Butler served as production/curatorial advisor for the 2005 WNET's REEL NY series and was recently Director of Marketing for Film/Video Arts, a nonprofit media arts center in NYC. Currently she is directing/producing her first feature documentary Harlem Stories. 

TRACEE MORRISON (Co-Editor) holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business from Babson College and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Cinema-Television from the University of Southern California. While attending USC, Tracee worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for Academy Award winning editor Kate Amend, A.C.E. for a documentary filmmaking course. Morrison has edited several projects including a multi-camera television sitcom, a documentary about juvenile illiteracy, and a 35mm short drama, Memory, which screened at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. Her post-graduate work includes assistant editing on two feature documentaries, Trans-Atlantic Cable and Who Needs Sleep?. She also edited a HD short entitled Walking On Sunshine, which was nominated for a 2005 NAACP Image Award. 

MIKE RYSAVY (Editor) is a graduate of University of Kansas and holds a B.A. in Film and Video Studies. He has edited documentary series for Bravo (Million Dollar Listing), VH1 (Heroes of Bad Taste), WE (Tammy Faye: Death Defying), TV Land (The Boom Generation) and Discovery (Monster Nation). He has also edited documentary programs for FOX, Paramount, and WB. Most recently, he has edited the HBO documentary Children of God: Lost & Found. 

DAVID BENJAMIN STEINBERG (Composer) is an accomplished musician and composer. He graduated from USC with a degree in journalism, but fashioned his early career in music as a studio session drummer in Los Angeles. He started his composition career writing music for commercials. After he began branching out as a sound designer and mixer, Steinberg worked in a variety of roles on a myriad of projects for such networks as HBO, MTV and Bravo, working as either composer, music supervisor and/or sound designer-but usually in some combination of all capacities. Most recently, Steinberg composed the original music for the Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato acclaimed feature doc, Inside Deep Throat. Credits include scores for The Sundance Channel's award winning TransGeneration and its upcoming One Punk Under God. Additionally, Steinberg continues to work in advertising. 

GAVIN WYNN (Director of Photography) is an award-winning cinematographer. Wynn has served as a camera operator and D.I.T. on a wide range of TV shows, commercials, and independent features. In addition to being a camera operator, he has shot features, award-winning shorts and documentaries, like The Queen from Virginia: The Jackie Bong Wright Story. He has worked with ASC C Camermen, Michael Goi, Jeff Jur and Steve Mason, including well-known Steadicam Operator Chris Squires. 


CRYSTAL FRAZIER (Miss Navajo Nation contestant) is employed by National Association of State Department of Agriculture as a Field Enumerator. She is an undergraduate student of Brigham Young University majoring in Pre-Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Math. Crystal is a 2002 graduate of Shiprock High School. *If Crystal is to become the New Miss Navajo, she will be contributing to the restoration of the strength and importance of our Navajo Culture, Traditions, and Values by example. She would like to be a positive role model for our youth. She wants to serve her people. 

SUNNY DOOLEY (Miss Navajo 1982) is a Native Diné (Navajo) Storyteller from a community called Chi Chil’ Tah (Where the Oaks Grow). The stories she tells are stories that have been told for generations from her matrilineal clan of the Saltwater People Clan. Having Diné as her first language, Miss Dooley interprets her People’s stories in English with all of their rich cultural, traditional, and historical context. Sunny is also a poet, playwright, workshop facilitator, lecturer and Navajo folksinger who has traveled throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and West Africa sharing her culture's rich artistic heritage. Her poetry has been featured annually in the Navajo Nation Fair Magazine for the past five years. She has appeared in a variety of television programs focusing on Southwest Native American themes and was featured in an international German documentary, Niedergang der Najavos. She was crowned Miss Navajo in 1982. 

SARAH ANN JOHNSON LUTHER (Miss Navajo 1966), the oldest of 10 children, was born on the Navajo Indian Reservation to Lorraine and Peter C. Johnson of Forest Lake, AZ. Sarah is Ashiihi (Salt People) clan born for the Tl'izi lani (Many Goats) clan, her maternal grandfather is Hashk'aa hadzohi (Yucca Fruit-Stung-Out-In-a-Line) clan and her paternal grandfather is Honaghaahnii (One-walks-around) clan. Sarah and her husband George Luther have two sons. She currently resides in Fort Worth, TX, where Sarah is employed by the BNSF Railway.

Posted on January 17, 2007