Sa’ah is a Native American student documentary/essay by Sarah Del Seronde. Although about serious matter, it is light, unpretentious, loose-appearing although in reality unemphatically associative, focused and deftly coherent. Del Seronde’s mother is Navajo (Diné); her father, French.
Del Seronde’s voiceover speaks the internalized words of others: a Diné medicine man; her maternal grandmother. She plans to make a film about “the false self-images, the way society teaches us to view indigenous peoples”—self-images that are then internalized. Del Seronde interviews Benson Worker, a young musician on the Navajo reservation who laments the deaths of young friends due to alcoholism and related reckless living. He bows out of the student project. Now Del Seronde laments: “I have lost my story.” There is a double-meaning here, for the theme of the film we are watching becomes the need for the Diné to teach their children their culture, which unfortunately they do not know how to do.
The medicine man expresses a central Diné aim, to become “one who walks in beauty over yonder in old age” (Sa’ah Naghái Bik’eh Hózhóón). But the young Navajo men are not “walking into old age,” and one of those who die young might have become a leader of the Navajo people.
Del Seronde speaks of the five metaphysical senses with which the Diné are born in addition to their physical senses: talents, intuition, fairness, sense of danger, sense of humor—“common sense” the consensus of all these. Here, her voiceover accompanies the living face of her bespectacled, white-haired grandmother, one who has walked beautifully into old age, which is superimposed on a spiritually imposing vista of the red Arizona land.
Three months after filming was completed, there was a car crash. See Del Seronde’s film to learn Benson Worker’s fate.
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