Erica Scharf & Christina King
Erica Scharf & Christina King
In the new film Up Heartbreak Hill, Thomas Martinez, resident of Crystal New Mexico, a community on the Navajo Reservation, tells viewers about the realities of life on the Reservation. “Around here everyone thinks they live in a third world country,” explains Thomas, “what I hear from people is that living in Navajo is just straight up bad.” Thomas attends high school in Navajo, a nearby town of about 2000 people with a per capita income of $4,600 and a high school graduation rate of 56%. Despite the negative sentiments and statistics, Thomas and his close friends Tamara Hardy and Gabby Nakai, all high school seniors, have strong ties to their communities, and find themselves torn about what to do after graduation. Up Heartbreak Hill, directed/produced by Erica Scharf and produced by Christina King (Seminole, Creek, Sac & Fox) follows Thomas, Tamara and Gabby through their senior year of high school, and explores their intimate relationships with family, friends and the town of Navajo itself.
Both Scharf and King attended film school and have extensive production experience from having worked at various levels of production on a variety of film and television projects. King has worked on Steven Soderbergh’s Ché, Michael Moore’s film Capitalism: A Love Story, and Tecumseh’s Vision from PBS’ We Shall Remain Series. Scharf has worked on cable television shows The First 48, The Shift, Celebrity Ghost Stories and Miami Ink. She was assistant editor on the Sundance award-winning film God Grew Tired of Us. Up Heartbreak Hill is Scharf’s feature directorial debut.
Scharf grew up in Oceanside New York, but has lived in New York City for the past ten years. Growing up “there were no Native kids in my community” explains Scharf, “Reservation life wasn’t something I knew much about.” Based on her curiosity about modern life on the Reservation, Scharf originally intended to do a film about Native American high school runners from the Southwestern United States. In the spring of 2008 during a film scouting trip, Scharf met Thomas, and Tamara, both runners for Navajo Pine High School. Thomas is an outstanding runner, one of the best in the state. Tamara is class president, and the only senior girl in Calculus. Scharf met Gabby, an aspiring photographer and close friend of Thomas and Tamara, when filming began. The project quickly expanded and, “became a film about these three kids and their community,” explains Scharf.
In October 2008, King joined Scharf on the film project. A Seminole from Oklahoma, King now lives in New York City. “Being out of Indian Country, I notice that there is a huge gap in media representation of modern Native life,” says King. “I had really been looking for a project that would move away from Native history, because people focus on Native history… and think we are history, and we’re not,” King explains. Upon finding out about Scharf’s film project, King says that she “was really excited to join Erica’s team because it’s a very current story and that’s something that gets really lost and underplayed.”
Interview conducted and edited by Ben Kreimer