Up Heartbreak Hill

Three Navajo high school seniors must decide whether to stay in their community or leave in pursuit of educational and economic opportunities.

Film Signature Image
Premiere Date
July 26, 2012
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call

Erica Scharf

Erica Scharf has spent much of her career in documentary film and television. She is currently editing the documentary television show, The Shift, airing on Investigation Discovery. In 2008, Scharf spent six months on location in Dallas, TX, shooting and producing A&E’s documentary television show, The First 48. She has also edited eight episodes Show more of The First 48. She began her career as an associate producer for Worlds Apart (NGC), a verite travel program. She directed and edited Marnee: A Garage Sale Retrospective, which won first place at Movie Making Madness 2005, and edited City (Best Short Film at the 2007 Aspen Shortsfest). Other credits include SWAT (A&E), Miami Ink (TLC), and Last Seen Alive (Discovery). In 2005, Scharf was the assistant editor on God Grew Tired of Us, directed by Christopher Quinn (21 Up America) and winner of the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Scharf is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and has a B.F.A. in Film and Television. Show less


Christina D King

Christina D. King is a Creek/Seminole filmmaker whose work focuses largely on civic engagement through storytelling and democratizing filmmaker opportunities for minority voices. King produced Up Heartbreak Hill (POV), a year in the life of three Navajo teens. King began her career in production on the feature films Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus Show more and Che, among others, before moving on to work for Michael Moore on Capitalism: A Love Story and line produce for Ric Burns and Chris Eyre on Tecumseh’s Vision, as part of the American Experience: We Shall Remain series on Native American history. Her extensive work also includes associate producer for Election Day (POV), short films, productions for FOX, ABC, Showtime, HBO Films, and numerous commercials for clients such as Under Armour, Atlantic Records, and Toyota. Show less

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The Film

Up Heartbreak Hill chronicles the lives of Thomas, Tamara and Gabby — three Native American teenagers in Navajo, New Mexico — as they navigate their senior year at a reservation high school. As graduation nears, they must decide whether to stay in their community — a place inextricably woven into the fiber of their being — or leave in pursuit of opportunities elsewhere. Largely isolated from mainstream America, they hesitate to separate from their families and traditions, rooted to home in equal parts by love, obligation, and fear. Tribal elders urge members of the younger generation to leave — to acquire and education or learn a trade — and return home with the skills to help their people. But, with an unemployment rate near 58 percent and a per capita income under $4,600, Navajo offers few prospects.

As the three consider their options it becomes apparent how severely poverty has handicapped them. Drugs, alcohol abuse, and teen pregnancy have affected Thomas, Tamara, and Gabby in profound and personal ways. Each bears amazing strength and promise — but all are products of their environment, and it is the same community that has set before them so many challenges that now asks them to become the leaders who will reshape the Navajo Nation.