In 2007 we met the Nez family at a summer camp in upstate New York for children with the rare genetic disorder XP. Dorey and Yolanda had traveled over 2,000 miles with their daughter, Leanndra, from their home on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico in order to learn about different treatment options for XP, which can lead to cancer and death from any exposure to sunlight. From our very first conversation, Dorey and Yolanda opened their hearts and lives to us, revealing the unique challenges of dealing with the disease as a Navajo family. They told us about the tug-of-war struggle between Navajo healing ways and Western medicine and their isolation within their community as they questioned all that was sacred to them.
We were fascinated by their personal story, but when they mentioned that they were also exploring a possible link between XP and a hidden event in Navajo history, we understood that their story was part of a larger historical narrative with the potential to expose the long-lasting effects of American colonialism. That’s why we decided to join Dorey and Yolanda’s journey to uncover the connection between XP and their past, which ultimately redefined their identities as modern-day Navajos.
Over the next four years of filming, Dorey and Yolanda opened a door for us into the Navajo community, which is otherwise suspicious of outsiders. They welcomed us into their home in New Mexico and let us observe as they lovingly cared for their dying daughter. We accompanied them as they challenged their community to break down long-held taboos and searched for answers about why this rare disease had come into their lives. As the story unfolded and led us to unexpected places, they revealed their most intimate secrets and exposed their unguarded emotions. We were constantly inspired by their honesty and strength — as well as their ability to remain positive in the face of adversity.
We were incredibly mindful of the need to present the film’s information in a way that is respectful of the Navajo people and their history and traditions. As we developed our cinematic language, we worked hard to create a visual style and pacing for the film that would reflect the Navajo way of life, particularly the role of nature as a constant character in dialogue with Native people’s lives. Sun Kissed was shot on HD and combines vérité scenes with more lyrical sequences that enhance the natural beauty of the Navajo land and the world surrounding it.
Dorey and Yolanda’s struggle illuminates the consequences of forgotten historical events and introduces us to the complex reality of the Navajo Nation. As we are nearing the end of our journey with Sun Kissed, we hope that their compelling and important story will be as impactful to audiences as it was to us.
— Maya Stark and Adi Lavy, Co-directors/Producers