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The opening credits of this film contain the following statement: "This motion picture was filmed entirely on the Navajo Indian Reservation." The working title of the film was The Voice of the Wind. Navajo marked Hall Bartlett's first film as a producer. According to news stories, Bartlett began his career in Hollywood as an actor and wrote four treatments that did not sell before Stanley Kramer, who had become a close friend, advised him to give up acting and become a producer. Bartlett raised $25,000 for the film in Los Angeles and from family and friends in his hometown of Kansas City. Friend Norman Foster agreed to direct the film without pay and share the revenues with Bartlett. At the Navajo Indian Reservation in northeastern Arizona, Bartlett received the approval of the tribal council allowing members of the tribe to act in the film. Most of the film was shot at the reservation, Canyon de Chelly, Death Canyon and the trading post of Chinlee. The company selected as their star seven-year-old Francis Kee Teller, who did not speak English and had never seen a film. John Mitchell, who played the role of "Grey Singer," was an elderly medicine man. News stories state that he was paid a bale of hay and a sheep before shooting every day.
According to Variety, the score by Leith Stevens was an adaptation of original Native American music. Veteran cinematographer Virgil E. Miller came out of semi-retirement to work on the film. He shot the film with only a camera, tripod and four reflectors, using a crew of three. Miller, who played a small role in the film, stated in a Los Angeles Times article following production, "I have made up my mind that in my future pictures I again will try to achieve simple, natural setups, as far as possible, and to avoid any of the customary so-called box-office clichs and standards." Miller's black-and-white cinematography in this film was nominated for an Academy Award. While some contemporary sources state that production of the film cost $24,220 and a total of $51,000 was spent by the end of post-production, other sources quote the total cost at $100,000. Lippert Pictures acquired the distribution rights, planning to release the film on the art house circuit. Variety noted that Lippert's usual releases were "straight commercial, exploitation pictures." A November 20, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that the film would be screened in Chinlee as part of a fund-raising drive for the American Red Cross.
In Screen, Dr. Harry Tschopik, Jr., who had lived among the Navajo, stated, "The film makes no pretense at documenting Navajo culture in its entirety, although details of Navajo belief, custom, and history are introduced in a casual, realistic manner whenever they are pertinent to the plot." Reviews were favorable concerning the film. Variety called it "an offbeat film that ranks right along with, if not topping, most of the foreign art imports that have previously impressed cosmopolitan critics." The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, although Newsweek commented, "Documentary is a dull word for this moving and unusual film." It won the top award at the Edinburgh Film Festival and won twenty-six national awards. According to Hollywood Citizen-News, in January 1953, Robert Bice, an actor and writer, filed a $100,000 plagiarism suit charging that Navajo "embodied the 'dramatic core'" of a story he wrote in 1948, entitled "Little Moji." Bice contended that he showed the story in 1949 to Miller and that he told Miller of "distinctive production features which would save $50,000." Bice charged that his production idea was used "in shaping Navajo." No information concerning the disposition of the suit has been located.