Women in the Sand

Women in the Sand

Review by Anne Stoll

We watched The Women in the Sand as promised this Thanksgiving after dinner, sipping champagne in our jammies. One of our number fell asleep but I watched the full 73 minutes and although saddened by the subject, I enjoyed it. Yeah, it’s a little long perhaps, some rough editing here and there and could use a stronger focus, but I came away thinking that this is a very important film. It documents a sad state of affairs and the truly bitter passing of an entire branch of California desert natives. Today only a very few still hang on by their toenails, and not for long. As the women themselves say, the others of their tribe who remain, who live in Bishop, are URBAN Indians. Through narration and historic photos, this film documents the modern history of the Timbisha Shoshone people of Death Valley. The sad tale is marked by years of perhaps innocent misunderstandings, classic bureaucratic bungling, and most appallingly, clear episodes of malicious persecution of the Timbisha by the agencies whose job was to help them. I’ll admit I suffer from empathy fatigue a lot these days, but in this case, the hard facts don’t overwhelm the story these brave women seem happy to tell and the narrative is not always depressing. Several scenes depict happiness and satisfaction, such as the pinyon harvest. Local scholars Ken Lengner and Emmet Harder add plenty of color and generally the cinematography is splendid, showing Death Valley at its beautiful best. We even make a short visit to “Poo-A-Bah” (Tecopa) and there’s a nod to Shoshone’s famous native author, the late George Ross. But we always return to the two central figures, Maddy and Pauline Esteves, the epitome of strong women in every sense and yet both are very fragile too. The final scenes end the film in a cloud of ambiguity – will they ever reconcile their differences? It would seem the desert “sands” we all stand in may be running out. 


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