One gene exposes a nation's dark past. A Navajo couple with two children born with an extremely rare genetic disorder investigate the cause of the outbreak.
Directed by Maya Stark and Adi Lavy
Produced by Jocelyn Glatzer, Maya Stark and Adi Lavy
Cinematographers: Avi Kastoriano, Vincent Venturella & Maya Stark
Editor: Ron Goldman
Composers: Karni Postel & Tom Darom
Executive Producer for ITVS: Sally Jo Fifer
A co-production of Sun Kissed Productions LLC and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Additional funding provided by Sundance Documentary Film Program, NYSCA, and the The Lucius and Eva Eastman Foundation.
Note: There are two versions of this program on the same DVD: 85-minutes and 54-minutes.
"A rare filmmaking accomplishment...an amazing work that will touch your soul." Bruce Johansen, Professor, Native American Studies, University of Nebraska
For fifteen years Dorey and Yolanda Nez thought they were the only family on the Navajo Reservation who had children with an extremely rare genetic disorder that only shows up at a rate of one in a million in the general population. Behind the closed curtains of their trailer, parked in the stark desert of New Mexico, they care for their 16-year-old daughter Leanndra. Just like her brother who passed away at age 11, Leanndra was born with Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP), a rare genetic disorder that makes any exposure to sunlight fatal.
Filmed over three years, with unprecedented access to the Navajo community, Sun Kissed follows Dorey and Yolanda as they bravely confront long-held tribal taboos and question the rebellious choices of their youth. Ultimately their journey leads them to the shocking truth: Their children and other Navajo children are still paying the price for the American conquest of the tribe in the 1860s, a brutal campaign culminating in an almost-forgotten chapter in American history -- the Navajo "Long Walk" of 1864. Despite its importance as the defining moment in modern Navajo history and the beginning of their assimilation into American society, discussing the tragedy of the Long Walk remains a taboo topic within the Navajo community.
What Dorey and Yolanda find challenges the core of their identity and everything they believe in, and exposes a fresh perspective on the complex, cross-cultural identity of modern day Navajos. Focusing on the continuing implications of American colonialism and the genetic imprints it has left on this community, Sun Kissed presents a rare and realistic window into the issues confronting Native Americans today.
Grade Level: 10-12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2012
Copyright Date: 2012
DVD ISBN: 1-93777-243-8
"A powerful and emotional story...This documentary will pull at the heart strings of all who watch it and is a great resource for courses in history, culture, and health for it links together Navajo traditional ways and understanding of illness with their history of removal, assimilation and acculturation. For those working in the field of Native health this is a must see documentary for it shows how beliefs affect how and from whom a person will seek care, how self-care is managed, and how health choices are made. As well, Sun Kissed demonstrates the importance of understanding the way social, structural, psychological, historical, and cultural factors affect physical health and how being sensitive to these factors can make an important difference in health outcomes."
Dr. Irene S. Vernon, Professor and Chair of Ethnic Studies, Colorado State
University, Author, Killing Us Quietly: Native Americans and HIV/AIDS
"Sun Kissed is a rare filmmaking accomplishment, a sensitive personal story about the bonds of parents and children, as well as an enormously important historical and scientific detective account...This heart-rending story involves one family with two 'XP' children, and discovers this genocidal curse through their eyes. Sun Kissed is an amazing work that will touch your soul."
Bruce Johansen, Professor of Communications and Native American Studies, University of Nebraska, Author, Enduring Legacies: Native American Treaties and Contemporary Controversies
"The amount of traditional cultural knowledge portrayed is done in a respectful fashion and will educate the audience about Navajo world views and beliefs. Sun Kissed shares what a Navajo family might experience in trying to understand disease from both a Western biomedical science view and also from a Navajo traditional knowledge perspective. It sheds light on some of the challenges around this for both the families and for their supportive community, i.e. clinicians, relatives, and traditional healers."
Clarence Hogue, Jr., Research/Project Coordinator, Community Engagement Core Team, NM CARES Health Disparities Center, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center
"Sun Kissed is a quiet, insistent look at some of the lasting effects of the Long Walk. It examines both the unknown and the unknowable along with the well known and the ignored. This is a film that should be examined along the wide arc of Native issues in contemporary America."
Theodore Van Alst, Assistant Dean of Yale College, Director of the Native American Cultural Center, Yale University
"Sun Kissed is commendable for the hard poetry of Navajo life and land it conveys. The film portrays the Navajo people with the dignity, compassion, and complexity they deserve. The connection it makes between the contemporary disease of XP and the genocidal Long Walk of 1864 needs to be understood by every American, if we hope to come to terms with the violent history of the U.S., past and present."
Eric Cheyfitz, Professor of American Indian and Indigenous Studies, Cornell University
"This is not 'just' a Native story. This is a human story. One's heart cannot help but be wrenched by it. This is a powerful film."
Jace Weaver, Director, Institute of Native American Studies, The University of Georgia, Author, That the People Might Live: Native American Literature and Native American Community
"The pain of conquest, extermination, cultural loss, and forced settlement on the reservation is enough for any society to endure. The genetic consequences, unintended as they are, are an additional cruelty that has and will continue to cost many parents their children and the entire tribe a valuable part of its future...Level/Use: Suitable for high school classes and college courses in cultural anthropology, medical anthropology, anthropology of colonialism, anthropology of threatened peoples, and Native American studies, as well as for general audiences."
Jack David Eller, Community College of Denver, Anthropology Review Database
"The inclusion of historical, cultural, and scientific information provides the viewer with the context necessary to frame the issue in a broader perspective. Further, the candid and provocative exploration into the Navajo's people struggle to both maintain their cultural traditions and values and identify with the 21st century culture in which they find themselves provides the viewer with a greater sense of the struggles undertaken by all cultures that are either forced or voluntarily assimilate into a secondary culture. The film is a useful resource for courses in genetics, Native American studies, social justice, anthropology, and sociology."
Rodney Birch, George Fox University, Educational Media Reviews Online
"Heart-rendering...Poignant and profound, Sun Kissed is a vivid portrayal of not only a family's trials and tribulations, but also the cultural cross-currents that engulf modern-day Navajos. Highly Recommended."
The Midwest Book Review
"This sensitive, heartbreaking portrayal of one family's struggle with a devastating medical mystery is recommended."
M. Puffer-Rothenburg, Video Librarian
"Sun Kissed is a film that gets to the very heart of indigenous concerns and is one of the finest I have seen about native peoples...Besides dealing with the problems of looking after children with XP, the film is a sensitive and very aware treatment of the general problems facing indigenous peoples...Sun Kissed is difficult material but essential...Bullfrog films are ideal for classroom use...They do outstanding work and would help progressive-minded teachers in college or high school get the message across about global warming, food safety, and indigenous peoples to their students."
Louis Proyect, Counterpunch
2 versions on the same DVD: the original 85-minute version and a 54-minute version for classroom and other uses. In English and Navajo with English subtitles, with SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing and scene selection.
The film's website
POV's website for the film
POV's lesson plan
POV's discussion guide
POV's multi-media resource list
Awards and Festivals
National PBS Broadcast on "POV"
Silver Chris, Columbus International Film + Video Festival
Los Angeles Film Festival
AFI/SilverDocs Documentary Festival
Margaret Mead Film Festival
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