Yolanda and Dorey Nez, Navajo who lived on the Nation’s reservation in New Mexico, lost their son to a rare genetic disorder known as Xeroderma pigmentosum, or XP. The disease, which occurs only once in a million births, makes exposure to sunlight potentially fatal to children. But their second child had it, as well. And so did other children on the reservation. Coincidence?
The Nezes met photojournalist Adi Lavy, 34, when they shared a three-hour ride from New York City to an XP Society meeting in upstate New York. Their story sounded like it had the makings of a documentary. Ultimately, Lavy convinced her friend, Maya Stark, 37, a film editor and would-be director, to join her in the project. The resulting film, “Sunkissed” aired on PBS last month and has its New York premiere November 30 at the Museum of Natural History’s Margaret Meade Film and Video Festival.
Making the documentary, Stark and Lavy discovered that the incidence of XP among the Navajo is 1 in 30,000, far greater than in the general population. Scientists attribute this to the Long Walk of 1864, the forced march imposed on the tribe by Kit Carson and others, in which almost the entire tribe was wiped out. Approximately 250,000 Navajo today are descendent from just 2,000 people who survived the March; the smaller genetic pool, scientists suggest, accounts for the prevalence of XP.
In separate phone conversations, the two co-directors, both Israeli expats, spoke to The Arty Semite about their lives, their film and the similarities and differences between the Navajo and Jewish communities.
Curt Schleier: How did this film come about?