In 1911, as part of his massive undertaking, famed Northwest photographer Edward S. Curtis travelled to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to visit the Kwakwaka'wakw. By the next year, ...
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In 1911, as part of his massive undertaking, famed Northwest photographer Edward S. Curtis travelled to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to visit the Kwakwaka'wakw. By the next year, needing money for his project and to add to his research and still photography work, Curtis decided that the best way to record the traditional way of life and ceremonies of the Kwakwaka'wakw was to make one of the first feature motion pictures. Curtis had already shot footage in 1906 of the Hopi Snake dance, which he had previously showed during his talks, but this was to be on a grander scale. It took three years of preparation for this one film including the weaving of the costumes; building of the war canoes, housefronts, poles; and the carving of masks. Assisting on the film was George Hunt, a Kwakwaka'wakw who had served as an interpreter for the famous anthropologist Franz Boas nearly twenty years before. Hunt helped contribute substantial portions of the film's story as well. Selected for the ...
Edwin S. Curtis's primary medium was still photography; he took pictures of aborigines. This documentary about the Kwakiutls of British Columbia contains some nice images--especially those from a buoyant camera within a canoe. The animal costumes and collecting of heads is worth looking at. The story that Curtis attached to his ethnographic record is uninteresting and untrustworthy, though. The films of Robert Flaherty to the films of Michael Moore have been accused of fictionalization, but at least those narratives, true to documentary film-making or not, are entertaining. As far as making the subject interesting to me, Curtis failed. The documentary itself, however, is very old--the earliest feature-length documentary I've seen. The film itself more so than the subject has become the artifact of interest.
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