FARMINGTON — It's been nearly five years since Navajo filmmaker Kody Dayish of Shiprock and his siblings Kolette and Kolin completed their first feature film, "The Red Hogaan."
Exposure for the horror movie — a tale about a Navajo family that is menaced by a skinwalker while driving its sheep herd up a mountain — has been hard to come by. Dayish has been working since the film's release to get it screened in theaters, but it wasn't until last weekend that he finally achieved his goal.
"The Red Hogaan" made its commercial theatrical debut at a cinema in Kayenta, Arizona, on Jan. 15. The event nearly sold out the auditorium, which was limited to 50% capacity because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Dayish said it was a happy but nerve-racking experience for him as he watched the audience take in the film. He even went so far as to keep track of the number of "jump scares" the film elicited.
"They were extremely quiet and very, very scared," he said, describing the way viewers appeared to be engrossed in the film.
Dayish was especially pleased by the reaction of the Navajo elders in the audience.
"Right off the bat, they knew what the movie was about," he said.
The screening was the first of several showings Dayish and his siblings have planned throughout the region.
"The Red Hogaan" will be shown at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22 at the Guild Cinema in Albuquerque; at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29 at the Goen Cinemas in Tuba City, Arizona; at 5 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5 at the Harkins Park West 14 in Phoenix; at 3 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12 at the Animas 10 theater at the Animas Valley Mall in Farmington; and at 6 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19 at the El Morro Theatre in Gallup.
Dayish said additional screenings are being scheduled in Holbrook, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; Salt Lake City; California, Wyoming, New York City and even Canada.
"And hopefully everywhere in between," he said.
Screenings of 'The Red Hogaan' result of years of effort by Navajo siblings
The screenings are the culmination of years of effort for the Dayish and his sister and brother, who release their films under the moniker Kody Dayish Productions. They have done everything they can to bring wider exposure to "The Red Hogaan," including staging guerrilla marking events during which they sold DVDs of the film from the back of a vehicle at markets and shopping centers around the region.
Still, it was Kody Dayish's dream to see the film presented on the big screen, being watched in a traditional format instead of on a small screen. He said he worked from sunup to sundown recutting the film in the days leading up to the Kayenta screening because he wanted it to be perfect.
He said he was gratified when he got to the theater last weekend and began a conversation with a boy who was first in line to see the film. The youngster told Dayish he had first seen the trailer for "The Red Hogaan" four years ago when he was 8, and, now, at age 12, he had traveled a long way with his mother to be first in line to see the finished product.
"He said he had been waiting, waiting and waiting for it to come out," Dayish said.
Getting his low-budget independent films into regional cinemas that usually only screen Hollywood fare has been an uphill battle, Dayish said. But he said he made enough money off the first screening to pay the guarantee on the theater for the next one. If that happens regularly, he said, he'll be happy to continue operating at a break-even box office pace just to have his work seen by a wider audience.
"It was really emotional for me," Dayish said of the Kayenta screening. "This is something I've worked on really, really hard. And my brother and sister have been with me every step of the way."
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or email@example.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.
This article originally appeared on Farmington Daily Times: "The Red Hogaan" set for two showings in Farmington on Feb. 12