By Alex Costello
There were no Native American students at Oceanside High School with her, and no native communities nearby. That sparked her curiosity, and made her wonder what Native American communities were like today.
So, in 2008, Scharf, 29, a graduate of the New York University Tisch School of the Arts, created a documentary called “Up Heartbreak Hill,” about a modern Native American population in the Four Corners area of the West, which will premiere on PBS on July 29 as part of the network’s “POV” documentary series.
“The film is about three high school seniors on the Navajo Nation,” Scharf said. “I followed their senior year, as they decided if they were going to stay on the reservation or leave, and what the implications of that decision would be for their families, for their community, and the pros and cons of staying versus leaving.”
By Robert Nott
His story is one of three teen tales spotlighted in Erica Scharf’s documentary Up Heartbreak Hill, which airs on New Mexico PBS Channel 5.1 at 9 p.m. Thursday, July 26, and again at 10 p.m. Saturday, July 28, and at 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 2, on Channel 9.1. In addition, Albuquerque’s KiMo Theater presents a free screening of the full 82-minute version of the film at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Filmmaker Scharf and all three of the film’s youth protagonists plan to attend that screening and take part in a question-and-answer session with audience members.
Though the story often focuses on running—both Thomas and his girlfriend, Tamara Hardy (one of the three teen subjects), view the sport as a way to express themselves and break free of reservation limitations—it emphasizes the challenges in taking advantage of educational opportunities for contemporary Indian youth. Thomas, Tamara and the third subject, Gabby (a photographer), all want to pursue collegiate careers and prove their worth to the world. (Gabby’s story is pretty much eliminated from the roughly 56-minute PBS cut of the film.) “I want to go to college, come back here and make a difference for my nation,” Thomas notes early in the documentary.
Below: "Tamara and Thomas, two of the students profiled in the documentary, run up Heartbreak Hill, an arduous stretch on the cross-country course in Navajo, N.M." (Anthony Thosh Collins/PBS)