Getting to Know Stew – Stewart Udall: The Politics of Beauty

Feb. 2, 2023
A crowd watches a dual projection of the new documentary on Stewart Udall in UA's ENR2 building.

On January 17, the Udall Center hosted a screening of filmmaker John de Graaf’s new documentary titled “Stewart Udall: The Politics of Beauty,” followed by a lively panel discussion featuring professors Karletta Chief, Kirsten Engel, and Katherine Morrissey, along with the filmmaker himself.

The 76-minute film, narrated by Stewart’s niece, Kate Udall, captures the inspiring story of former Interior Secretary Udall (1920-2010) and his legacy as an advocate of social and environmental justice, international cooperation, art, poetry and music, and most of all, the protection of our shared environment and magnificent natural beauty. The story highlights the bipartisan nature of Udall’s efforts and calls on us to move beyond the polarization of our time and work together to protect our shared natural heritage.

A Personal Touch

The film and the panel discussion that followed shed a unique light on Udall’s numerous accomplishments by providing a wealth of historical context as well as highlighting Stewart’s core values and defining struggles in his life.

Udall became well-known for overseeing the addition of several national parks, wildlife refuges, monuments, and historic and recreational sites during his time as Secretary of the Interior serving under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. However, De Graaf’s film illuminates aspects of Udall’s accomplishments not typically included in the history, such as his personal struggles with partisanship in trying to solve some of the world’s wicked problems, as well as the tremendous support of Stewart’s stalwart wife of 55 years, Ermalee “Lee” Webb Udall.

As the film explains, Stewart Udall valued frugality and quality-of-life over consumerism and limitless wealth acquisition. He was more concerned with people being able to live simply and resourcefully, in harmony with nature, conserving the nation’s lands for the enjoyment of generations-to-come. Udall’s humility and humanity were the cornerstones of his decisionmaking process. After realizing the effects of the interstate highway system decades into the project, of which he was originally an advocate and supporter, he pivoted and stressed the importance of walkability in neighborhoods to maintain healthy communities.

Expert Take

Filmmaker John de Graaf speaks into a microphone as panelists Karletta Chief, Kirsten Engel, and Katherine Morrissey look on during an expert panel discussion after the screening.

Filmmaker John de Graaf and professors Karletta Chief, Kirsten Engel, and Katherine Morrissey engaged in a panel discussion after the film screening at ENR2.

Panelists Karletta Chief (Prof. and Extension Specialist, Department of Environmental Science, and Director of the Indigenous Resilience Center), Kirsten Engel (Prof. of Law), and Katherine Morrissey (Assoc. Prof. and Head of the Department of History) shared their perspectives of how Udall’s work has impacted each of their fields, and special guest Burr Udall (Stewart’s younger brother) provided a more personal and humanistic glimpse into Stewart’s life, while De Graaf, who has been making documentaries since the 1970’s and has produced roughly 45 films over the course of his 45-year career as a filmmaker, shared interesting details about the making of the film.

The Udall Center would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Indigenous Resilience Center for their support of this event, as well as to The Loft Cinema in Tucson for their promotional support.


View the 2-minute trailer of the film below:
Molli Bryson