Navajo filmmaker emerges in '5th World'

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Larry Blackhorse Lowe, 26, is not just a prodigy as a Navajo filmmaker. With his first feature film accepted for premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival 2005, Lowe is creating his own niche in the avant-garde film industry, writing his own scripts and casting his own family in starring roles.

''My whole family is in the film, my mom and dad, my brothers and sisters, a young niece and a couple of aunts and uncles and my grandpa. And a couple of cousins as well,'' Lowe said of his family in Nenahnezad, N.M., in the northeast corner of the Navajo Nation.

"Every time they hear I'm making a film, they come running. They want to be immortalized.''

A love story
With nine short films and two health promotions on methamphetamine abuse already to his credit, Lowe describes his Sundance 2005 pick, ''5th World'', as a love story, exploring the relationship between two Navajos on a road trip.

As they hitchhike and fall in love, they hear the stories of the lead character's aunt and uncle. Andrei Bedonie, played by Sheldon Silentwalker, is the lead, as the young couple hears of the love and ceremonies that have woven the lives of the relatives together.

Filmed on road warrior-perfect highways on the Navajo Nation, the scenes span the red rock stretch between Tuba City and Kayenta, Ariz., and the magic highway near Shiprock, N.M., in the Four Corners region.

When Bird Runningwater, from Sundance's Native Forum, called to tell Lowe that the film was accepted for the festival, Lowe could not believe the news.

''I completely freaked out. I felt there wasn't a chance in hell of it ever making it into the festival,'' Lowe told Indian Country Today.

During five months of editing in 2004, Lowe said neither he nor the crew felt the film was pulling together. Producer Ernest Quiroz and cinematographer Miguel Cordova, both Hispanics from Phoenix, and Navajo songwriter and music man Corey Allison from Farmington, N.M. comprised his crew.

''To us, it just wasn't coming together.''

However, in January, ''5th World'' joined the elite list of independent films being shown in Park City and Salt Lake City at the Sundance Film Festival 2005.

Already Lowe's nine shorts, including ''Cold Feet'' and ''Happy Boy'', have been popular films at college film festivals, including those at the University of New Mexico. His short, ''Shush'', was shown at the Native Forum at Sundance Film Festival 2004, depicting a Native man whose sister was in an abusive relationship.

'''Shush' was dark and moody. I wanted to try tackling something different. I remember thinking: 'I'll try a love story and see what kind of mushy stuff I can come up with,''' Lowe said of ''5th World'', whose name refers to the current world of Navajos'.

"There's not a white face in the film"
There's also another twist. ''There's not a white face in the film,'' he said. The 75-minute feature film, written and directed by Lowe, includes Navajo comedians and actors Ernest Tsosie III and James June.

For Lowe, it all began in the family's doublewide trailer on the farm on the Navajo Nation, when he first picked up his mother's video camera at the age of 14 and began shooting his younger brother and sister in the living room.

''We did skits, re-enacting 'Road Warriors', 'Indiana Jones' and 'Conan and the Barbarian.''' His brother John Lowe, 23, and sister Vona Lowe, 21, are seasoned actors now in Lowe's videos.

''They've been in my movies since the beginning.''

Lowe's mother, Carm Lowe, was a teacher and his father, Larry A. Lowe, worked in a coal mine. As time passed, when it came time for Lowe to cast for his films, his family came running. Mom and dad, and brother John, went with him to Sundance 2005 for the ''5th World'' premiere.

As a child on Navajoland near Farmington, N.M, Lowe watched every type of film shown on television, in videos and at theaters, from cutting-edge independents to ''Blue Velvet'' and his father's diehard cowboy movies.

''I have a full range of film genres.'' Along with the established and independent genres, Lowe blends Navajo tradition and culture to create his own genre.

Now living in Mesa in the Phoenix Valley, Lowe said he dropped out of Scottsdale Community College after learning the basics of using a camera and capturing sound for filmmaking.

But in 2004, Lowe accomplished what few young filmmakers ever do: Lowe survived by doing his art.

He supported himself as a full-time moviemaker by creating video health promotions on methamphetamine abuse for Tuba City Regional Health Care on the Navajo Nation and teaching with the American Indian Film Institute, headed by Mike Smith in San Francisco. For the institute, he taught scriptwriting and filmmaking in the Morongo and Quechan communities, with students showing their new films locally. In San Francisco, he also filmed a professional dance troupe.

Now, he is researching his next feature film with an all-Navajo language script. The subject: His grandmother at age 16.

When asked for his advice to other up-and-coming Native filmmakers, he said, ''Basically it is all up to you, like coming up with the money, try to get friends and family to help. No one ever gave me any advice on how to go about doing it.''

Lowe's travels have already taken him to New York, Mexico and Vancouver, B.C. His sights, however, are set on the world.