The ongoing you-know-what may have brought filmmaking, like many other industries, to a standstill, but that hasn’t stopped local filmmakers from being honored for their work.
Kody Dayish, originally from Shiprock and the Sanostee Chapter area, is one such artist. He started the year off well, screening two of his projects — the film “Parole” and a music video for a song by his band Our Last Chants, both of which he directed – at the Santa Fe Film Festival in February. At the festival, he was inducted as a rising Star into the New Mexico Film and Television Hall of Fame.
More recently, he screened “Parole” at LA Skins Fest, a native American film festival that takes place every November in Los Angeles. That festival honored him with the Emerging Filmmaking Award.
“It was super humbling. It was really, really cool because we started from scratch, like, my siblings and myself,” he said. “I did volunteer work for the Santa Fe Film Festival myself, and it’s always been a dream to actually be selected to be in the festival. So to actually win, it really makes me proud. I really am proud of the cast and crew that worked hard behind the movie because I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them — especially my family.”
“Parole” is the second feature-length film that Kody and his siblings Kolette and Kolin Dayish have made.
The film came to exist after Kody met Efrem Yazzie, a Navajo comedian from Flagstaff, Arizona. Kody wanted to feature him and fellow Navajo comedian James Junes alongside an all-Navajo cast and crew, so he crafted a script about a man coming out of prison. The man has to stay spiritually clean and behave himself, so his support structure rallies around him, trying to keep him in line using Navajo traditional prayers and traditional forms of healing.
“It kind of just revolves around healing through Navajo tradition,” Kody said. “The story just wrote itself once we really had the idea. ... It just turned out really, really good.”
The director is adamant, though, about emphasizing how much the success of the film is the result of everyone who worked on it.
“It’s kind of funny when I’m in the spotlight, and I didn’t really do much. It’s mainly the actors and my family who really pushed for the film and they did an amazing job,” he said.
The film, which is about an hour long, was entirely self-funded. The Dayish siblings plan to enter more film festivals, but you can watch the film right now if you can track it down on DVD. (Hint: Kody Dayish Productions is selling them through its Facebook page if you can’t find the siblings in a New Mexico or Arizona parking lot.)
Kody, Kolette, and Kolin have paid the profits on the DVDs forward, giving out trailer beds full of pumpkins to children in Kayenta, Arizona, in October and coal to Navajo Nation elders near Newcomb, New Mexico in November. The idea behind both giveaways was to promote the idea of staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, so families wouldn’t need to leave their hometowns.
The Dayish siblings’ first feature-length film, “Red Hogaan,” was made in 2016 but has yet to be released. A thriller about skinwalkers, the film discusses the sensitive subject of Navajo witchcraft. Kody said they are still in the process of finding a way to distribute the film thoughtfully.
The siblings have also made about five other short films. Kody is typically the director and screenwriter, with his brother as the assistant director and assistant screenwriter. Kolette functions as the production manager, pretty much coordinating everything else.
Kody is currently working on scripts for future projects. He said his next project will likely be a romantic comedy that follows the ongoing Navajo theme of his films. He said the best way to keep track of what Kody Dayish productions is working on is to subscribe to its YouTube channel.