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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 29, 2001 - Issue 52


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Young Actor Portrays Great-grandfathers' Heroics

credits:Windtalkers director John Woo makes sure the washing of the dog tags with corn pollen is technically correct during filming in Monument Valley. Cast and crew observe. (Photo special to the Navajo Times)
Windtalkers director John WooPHOENIX - The opportunity to portray the heroics of your great-grandfathers is not an every day development.

For Marquel "TJ" Arviso, homage has been visualized on the silver screen in his forthcoming acting debut in "Windtalkers," scheduled for a June 12, 2002 release.

He is the son of Shawn Arviso and Maria Joe of Phoenix.

The parents have pride in Arviso's Hollywood experience in renown Hong Kong director John Woo's latest big budget action movie

"Windtalkers" will feature Adam Beach, Nicholas Cage and Christian Slater in the story of American victory in the south Pacific through the indecipherable encryption of the Navajo language.

Four-year-old Arviso can trace his family lineage to three Navajo Code Talker great-granfathers - Benajmin Cleveland, Billy Cleveland and Ralph Johnson - who all received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Benjamin Cleveland served with the original 29 code talkers, and was awarded a gold medal. Billy Cleveland and Johnson were awarded silver medals.

"Grandma would tell us the war stories. It was always something that my family was really proud of - especially after they started recognizing the code talkers. Now, my son is going to be a part of the movie, something great," Joe said.

She said that her son's chance at acting came from pure coincidence.

"At first, we took my sister out to the casting call for female movie extras last year," Joe recalled. "Marquel was with her when they started taking pictures of men and young boys. When they photographed my sister, they also asked to take photos of Marquel."

An unexpected call over the summer informed her that Arviso made the cut for a role in the film - all of this at a time when Navajo Code Talker mania was sweeping the nation.

The reservation-wide casting call brought in five boys. Marquel Arviso and Brandon Roberts were eventually selected and filmed the role of young John Yazzie, the protagonist of the film.

"We left at 5:30 in the morning and made it to Kayenta before 1 p.m.," Joe said about the journey north from Phoenix. "(The crew) flew in. They did a lot of filming in Hawaii, California and Monument Valley."

Arviso's scenes were filmed amidst the picturesque beauty of Monument Valley in August 2001.

Disbelief blanketed Joe when personal interaction between leading man Beach and Marquel occurred after a catered breakfast during rainy conditions.

"Adam tapped us on the shoulder while we were eating inside the tents. We kept saying, 'Hey, Victor!' He loved our reservation and said our people are so nice," Joe said.

The family also had close contact with director Woo.

"The filming crew had a medicine man on the side as a technical advisor to make sure they weren't disrespecting anything," Joe said about scenes involving the washing of dog tags in a Navajo basket. "Adam kept coming to my mother-in-law, asking, 'How do you say this in Navajo?'"

Marquel's scenes walking alongside a horse will be featured in the monologue of the film. Roberts took the scenes shot by helicopter at a cliff's edge.

"Marquel was scared. He didn't want to do any other scenes," Joe said of her son's fear of heights.

Arviso was paid $225 for his two days of work from the shoot, which the couple have deposited into his college fund.

Although the focus is on education, Marquel Arviso's parents support the sudden development of an acting career for their son

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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