Nanobah Becker’s “Conversion” takes place on the Navajo Indian Reservation. The abrupt ill health of an elderly man is blamed on Christian missionaries, who urged the Navajo to throw away his traditional medicine bag in favor of genuflecting to the Man from Galilee. The old man’s adult daughter is livid at this, and she takes out her anger on her young niece, who received a card from the missionaries that bears Jesus’ picture and a Biblical text. The woman tears up the card, but the child recovers it and pieces it back together as word comes of the old man’s death.
“Conversion” was made as a student thesis, and it is somewhat more polished than the usual student film. A lot of its success is based on location: the use of the Navajo Nation’s natural grandeur as a backdrop for this intimate story is remarkable (kudos to cinematographer Smokey Nelson, working in 35mm and not DV).
If the story itself feels slight and incomplete as a standalone film (one wishes the missionaries and their conversion could’ve been on camera), then perhaps Becker will revisit the subject as part of a larger film on the Navajo experience.