“Blackfire: a Modern Warcry” for justice comes to DOCUTAH@TheELECTRIC
By Della Lowe
DOCUTAH@TheELECTRIC kicks off its third season of monthly documentary films Jan. 26 with a free screening of “Blackfire: A Modern Warcry,” a film documentary which provides a fascinating look at a Navajo punk rock band whose music speaks to issues ripped right from the headlines — the fight to preserve sacred lands and the heritage and culture of native peoples in the Americas. The film was co-directed by Judea Runs Through when she was a student in Dixie State University’s film program. Runs Through herself is from the Assiniboine/Nakota tribe. Klee Benally performs at 6 p.m. with the film screening starting at 7 p.m.
The kickoff of the season also includes a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Dixie State University film program, which takes place Jan. 25 at the DSU Film Studios. Both events are free, but reservations are required for the film screening because of capacity limitations. Reservations and information about both events can be found online.
“I became interested in native music, because Blackfire was my brother’s favorite band and creating a documentary about it seemed a way to expose this talent to a larger audience,” said Runs Through. “But the scope of the film changed for me and my co-director, Zak Ciotti, when I saw how the messages in Blackfire’s music were affecting young native people. We wanted to focus on what they were doing as activists for their community, not only on the Navajo/Dine reservation but also for the issues which affect all native peoples.”
Fighting for truth, justice, and the Native American way, Blackfire rocked the world for 20 years. Their mix of traditional vocalization and electric guitars is internationally embraced. Nationally, they have been recognized for the quality of their music, receiving NAMMY’s for Record of the Year, Group of the Year, and Best Pop/Rock Album.
“The DSU Film Program allows students to produce professional high quality documentary films,” said Phil Tuckett, professor of digital film and executive director for DOCUTAH. “We are proud to kick off our 2018 season of DOCUTAH@TheELECTRIC with Blackfire and to have Benally come to the theater to allow our audience to hear him perform some of the music, which made the band famous and feel the energy and passion it evokes.”
“What do you get when you mix Navajo culture, social activism and punk rock grooves?” NPR asked in a 2010 interview with the band. “The answer: Blackfire. Founded nearly 20 years ago, Blackfire is made up of three siblings who describe their music as ‘indigenous high-energy political rock slash punk.’”
“When we first started playing music, we really didn’t intend on, you know, a specific genre” said Benally in that interview. “But when we first heard punk music like the Subhumans, the Dead Kennedys, The Ramones, Crass, [and] we could connect not only to the energy and the rawness, but [also] the fact that there was political content. There was a message there that was being driven by emotional content we could connect to. And growing up, [we were] faced with addressing forced relocation, faced with environmental degradation and hardly anybody outside of our own community was talking about these issues. So, in order to challenge, to confront, and expose these issues, we chose to put it out there.”
At home, where they use the income from their music to fund youth programs and a community center, they are at best taken for granted. At worst, they are viewed as rebels in their fight against what they see as corporate greed and the desecration of sacred grounds.
Runs Through commented that she hopes the film will help others understand that “our temples are not in buildings” and that places like Bears Ears and the Snow Bowl are being desecrated.
“I always wonder why taking care of the earth makes you radical,” she said. “We all need air to breath and places to get food. We need that. It all comes from the environment.”