By Hailey Suina
Emotional and intimate, the film “The Blessing” explores the life of Lawrence Gilmore, a Navajo coal miner struggling with the repercussions of desecrating a sacred mountain in order to provide for his family. Emmy® Award winning team Hunter Robert Baker and Jordan Fein capture the personal conflicts of a Navajo family from their spiritual life, to the harsh realities of working to survive. From the internally jarring spiritual sacrifice a single father must endure for the sake of his family, to a young Navajo woman’s transition through womanhood as she learns how to reach out to her father. This feature-length documentary film brings these conflicts to light.
The film’s journey began when Baker and Fein were out in the Navajo Nation working with Gilmore’s cousin, Ryan Begay, on another documentary. Gilmore showed them around the Navajo reservation and got to know the two producers. When Gilmore told them about his work in the Peabody Coal Mine, his story grabbed the two producer’s attention. “It didn’t make sense that a coal mine could be found in such a beautiful landscape,” said Fein. “It made us think, ‘what’s going on here?”
Throughout the five-year production journey, Fein and Baker realized that at the heart of Gilmore’s story, was the family that he was supporting by working at the coal mine. This brought a new outlook to the story, which the two producers agreed needed an Indigenous perspective. They switched their focus from the domineering presence of the coal mine to the lives of one family that were affected by it. Gilmore couldn’t have been more grateful for Fein and Baker, and how they were able to share his story.
“This film made me aware of who I really was. I was so caught up with work, trying to get ahead, that I had neglected my family,” Gilmore said. “But now, we are closer from it.”
When asked about the importance of this specific subject matter, writer Ricardo Acosta said, “This is a film about a Navajo coal miner from a middle-class Navajo family who is a single father raising his children, specifically focusing on a father and daughter relationship, you never see those stories.”
There have been many narratives that focus on the corporate greed and their hold on the land of Native peoples without giving voice to those who are affected. Fein and Baker’s approach challenges that narrative by putting the coal mine in the back of the story and brings Gilmore’s family and struggle to the front so that they are both seen and heard. Sections of the film were filmed by Gilmore who wore a helmet mounted camera.
“We gave the tools to a man who wanted to speak to the world,” said Baker. “Because his story was something that needed to be told.”
Viewers are allowed to see the traditional Navajo values that Gilmore incorporates into his life and shows how deeply he’s tied to the land as he prays and interacts with the medicinal plants around him, and greets the sun with his horses. Reflecting on both the film and his own personal journey, Gilmore wants everyone to come away with a message.
“Never, ever give up. There will be better days ahead. Don’t ever forget your prayers, they will guide you through the hard times of your life.”
The film shows how traditional values have been a part of his children’s upbringing. Gilmore’s youngest daughter, Caitlin is a high school senior and struggles with her relationship with her father as she grows into her identity, which conflicts with his teachings and traditional values.
As the film glimpses into the emotional conflicts of the family, the coal mine looms in the background, a consistent presence in the individual lives of the characters. Coal blackens the snow in Gilmore’s backyard. It burns in the wood-stove oven of Gilmore’s parents’ house, warming them from the cold, but the mine’s presence never drowns out the voice of a man who is willing to sacrifice everything he is for his family.
The Blessing’s premiere at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Oct. 19, 2018. Santa Fe filmgoers reacted to the film’s emotional message.
“It was moving and powerful,” said Janet Schramm. “Just to see another person’s world, to experience it, was very eye opening.”
Teresa Hampell said “I learned a lot from this film. We don’t realize how difficult others have it in their lives.”
Yolanda Trujillo was moved by the film’s story said, “It was very emotional. It took me out of myself to see what they’ve gone through. It was a blessing to see The Blessing.”