Full Frame Movie Review: The Blessing

After watching Hal and contemplating what has happened to character driven films, I was treated to The Blessing which featured a man that would have been fictionalized back in the ’70s. Lawrence is a Navajo living on his ancestors’ land. He’s a man caught in conflict between old and new, tradition and capitalism, the spiritual and the flesh. He hates his job, but not for the usual reasons of his boss being a jerk or the miserable pressure of hitting constant quotas. He hates driving a massive truck at the coal mine because every day he’s offending the ancient goddess inside the mountain being torn apart. Why doesn’t he just quit? The Navajo reservation sits on top of $100 billion worth of coal. There’s no other industry in the area. The Blessing explores the conflicts in Lawrence’s life and ponders if there’s a solution.

Lawrence is introduced performing a blessing in the Navajo tradition. He is deeply tied to his tribe and the land. He’s not depicted as holier than thou since he’s upfront about problems that made his wife leave him. He’s been left with having to raise his daughter Caitlin. He is a man who is forced to accept certain realities of life. Jobs are scarce and getting harder to find since Peabody Energy isn’t cutting back on the their strip mining operation in the Black Mesa area. As much as Lawrence dreads going to work, he realizes he needs to take care of Caitlin. So he drives trucks around the operation wishing things could be different. He’s not too broken up when rumors of Peabody shutting down spread. Caitlin has hid quite a bit of her life from her father. She’s not sure how he’ll respond with his traditional mindset. Not wanting to completely spoil the movie, there’s a most wonderful visual when she is named homecoming queen during a football game. She must be one of the few homecoming queens that don’t have to leave the field after the ceremony. During the course of the film, she opens up part of her private life to her father. How does he respond to her non-traditional outlooks on life?

The film is rather timely as we keep hearing the coal industry is coming back although that’s normally attention given to mines in West Virginia. We get inside the operation when Lawrence wears a camera attached to his helmet to give a perspective of life inside the huge earth movers and trucks. There’s not a sense that coal is coming back as Peabody has made some bad business decisions that trickle down to the tribe. There is a sense of frustration since the tribe is sitting on so much money and the machine is slowing down.

Directors Hunter Robert Baker and Jordan in Fein capture the beauty of the desert on the screen. This vistas are part of the reason you need to see The Blessing on a big screen and not merely wait for it to arrive on a streaming service. There’s a richness to the environment that also makes things painful when the machines strip more coal out of the sacred mountain.

And I learned something new during a scene when Lawrence and Caitlin bond while working with their sheep. Turns out lambs do not have naturally short tails. They have really long tails like your cat except they get cropped early on in life. So “Two Shakes of a Lamb’s tail” ought to be a longer span of time. Strange to think that father and daughter putting rubber bands on lamb tails could bring them closer.

I had a chance to sit down with directors Hunter Robert Baker and Jordan in Fein and Ricardo Acosta (Writer & Supervising Editor). Fein and Baker had met Lawrence while working on a short film at the Navaho reservation. He proved such an amazing guide to the land, people and the culture that they had to bring his story to the screen. The duo spent nearly five years filming Lawrence’s life periodically. It was a very intimate shoot with just the two of them and a large camera hanging on the Navajo land. The wanted to capture so much of his life.

Even though I watched the film, there was so much more to the man as I learned from the filmmakers. He helped build up the community by donating family land for others to build houses. He was also using his money from working at the mine to support nearly 20 people. He had a lot of weight on him every day he clocked in for Peabody. Since the screening at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham was the World Premiere, Lawrence flew in an airplane for the first time. The film tracked so many changes in his life and brought changes to him.

The Blessing proves that movies can be about interesting people. It’s just the characters don’t get created in a Hollywood studio, they walk amongst us like Lawrence and Caitlin.

You can find out about future screenings by visiting the website at http://blessingfilm.com/

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