Bennie Klain is a filmmaker creating documentary films that bridge Native concerns and social commentary, highlight universal themes and cultural inequities, and bring voice to Native communities on their own terms.
Bennie Klain has worked in radio, developing keen insight into narrative storytelling. The North American Native documentarian has evolved a creative voice with its own distinctive language, known for objectivity and sensitivity to subject matter.
In 2000, Klain produced “The Return of Navajo Boy,” an internationally acclaimed documentary film about a Hollywood filmmaker’s son meeting the Clay family, who had starred as extras in the Westerns his Dad had shot on their homeland, to learn that since the 1950s, Monument Valley and the Navajo people had been devastated by uranium mining.
Klain directed “Weaving Worlds” (2008), which explores the relationship Navajo weavers create with trading-posts and buyers. The interplay of this relationship is witnessed through several generations of Navajo weavers, who relate their histories in Diné and through the wool sheared from their own sheep herds. This debut feature-length documentary by Klain broadcast nationally on PBS and won several awards, including Best Documentary Feature at the Black Hills Film Festival (2010), an Award of Commendation from the American Anthropological Association (2008) and the Deuxieme Prix de Rigoberta Menchu for social justice films at the Montreal First People’s Festival (2007).
Visionmaker Media and National Geographic’s All Roads Film Program funded Klain to create his next work, “Columbus Day Legacy” (2011). The documentary short shares a balanced view of conflicting perspectives Native protestors and Italian-Americans hold about an annual Denver celebration Italian-Americans established in 1992 to commemorate the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas.
In 2011, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation awarded Klain a NACF Artist Fellowship for Film. The fellowship supported Klain in conducting pre-production research, interviews and beginning production on his next film, a history of the Native American Church. The award allowed Klain to collaborate with artists he had never worked with before and to produce a short preview of the film “Roadman” to share with funders.
“I am especially proud of Roadman since this is the first time I’ve had an all-Native crew. I am pleased to be working with co-director Sarah del Seronde (Navajo), award-winning cinematographer Dustinn Craig (Mescalaro Apache/Navajo) and Micmac filmmaker Jeff Barnaby,” said Klain. “In past projects I have often been the only Native person on set and I feel like there was a kinship element during the initial shoot for Roadman that offered a different kind of creative result that will make this project all that more unique.”
NACF support allowed Klain to create a fundraising teaser video for the project, which attracted support from the Austin Film Society, ITVS (Independent Television Service) and Visionmaker Media. The documentary explores the origins and complexities of the widely misunderstood plant peyote through the lens of practicing Navajo Roadmen, the religious leaders of Native American Church services.