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SFIFF 2018 - "The Blessing" 

The Blessing takes a while to warm up, but once it captures your attention, you can't help but watch. This documentary not only has a powerful story to tell, but it's all done in surprising ways that are much more intimate, organic, and dramatic than expected.

One reason for the depth: The two co-directors and co-producers, Jordan Fein and Hunter Robert Baker, spent five full years on the reservation, following the lives of a coal miner named Lawrence and his daughter Caitlin. She is not only homecoming queen at her high school, but also an independent woman challenging traditional sex roles; she plays on the school's football team. Baker triples as the cinematographer and Fein as a co-editor, while in another welcome break from tradition, much of the footage was actually shot by Lawrence himself using a camera strapped to his mining helmet.

He's a man who is often at war with himself. His wife has left him due to his excessive drinking, and now he's caring for their five children alone. He works at Kayenta Mine, in which the Peabody Energy Corp. strip-mines a rich bituminous black coal, serving the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona, where coal is shipped via electric train. The tough, dangerous job violates Lawrence's beliefs about these mountains as sacred places. But working opportunities are so scarce on the reservation, he has little choice but to grin and bear it. As he says, "I walk in two worlds."

Caitlin has her own secrets to endure. She has not told her father about her decision to join the football team. But other issues, centering upon her sexuality, are even more pressing for her. She's starting to feel her first pangs of love, and it's another young woman who is making her heart go pitter-patter.

The Blessing builds strength as it moves forward and we learn more about the struggles and fears of these individuals. It's beautifully photographed, the craggy mountaintops so inspiring but also so isolated and austere.

The executive producer of the film is Santa Fe actor Raoul Max Trujillo, currently starring in the Sons of Anarchy spinoff Mayans M.C., recently extended for a second season by FX. The Blessing debuted at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in the spring and has since won the grand jury prize at the Dallas International Film Festival and best documentary at the Arizona International Film Festival.

By Jon Bowman

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