2010 Symposium

Filmic Representations of Indigenous Peoples
Eleventh Annual Northeast Historic Film Summer Symposium

Thursday, July 22 – Saturday, July 24, 2010

Western History/Genealogy Dept., Denver Public LibraryScholars, particularly during the last two decades, have sought to understand cultural representations of Indigenous peoples. In Dressing in Feathers: The Construction of the Indian in American Culture, anthropologist Elizabeth Bird explains that when we seek to understand popular constructions of the Native more clearly, we are then better able to counter the mythmaking process and transform those representations. The 2010 Northeast Historic Film Summer Symposium will explore how amateur and noncommercial filmmakers around the world have created a wide range of representations regarding Indigenous peoples and cultures.


J. Fred MacDonald
CEO, MacDonald & Associates
Professor Emeritus of History Northeastern Illinois University
American Indian Film Gallery

The AIFG [American Indian Film Gallery is an online collection of films related to Native Americans]. The films come from a variety of sources that include commercial travel films (e.g. Santa Fe Railway), serious cultural studies (by various universities), corporate advertising (e.g. the Primitive Peoples series from Old Gold cigarettes), educational documentaries made by long-forgotten adventurers with movie cameras, and personal testimonies produced by young Native American film makers, themselves. The presentation will explain the AIFG and, hopefully, expand its influence. This motion picture material is so impressive, so important, so necessary. But if no one sees it, it remains useless–and scholarship is stunted.

The First Images of Native Americans on Film and the Early Participation of the American Government
Paul Spehr
Independent Scholar and retired archivist at Library of Congress

In 1903 the U. S. Department of Interior commissioned a series of films for showing at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. The American Mutoscope & Biograph Company sent Francis S. Armitage to the west where he made films at the national parks that were administered by the Department and at tribal reservations in New Mexico, Arizona and Montana which were also administered by the Department. This early involvement of the U. S. Government in film has been overlooked and their importance has yet to be studied. The intent of this presentation is to call attention to these and other films of Native Americans that were made in the years immediately following the end of the Indian wars.

Tad Nichols’ 1939 Navajo Rug Weaving: Production, Distribution, and Exhibition
Janna Jones
Northern Arizona University and Northeast Historic Film

In the summer of 1939, professional photographer, trained archeologist and amateur filmmaker Tad Nichols spent two weeks with a Navajo family and documented the intricate process of Navajo rug weaving with his movie camera. From the shearing of the sheep to cutting the rug off of the loom, the 11-minute film shot in Kodachrome portrays Navajo domesticity, the grand starkness of the desert landscape, the intricate process of weaving.

Nichols left a rich contextual record, enabling us to map the history of the film’s making and its subsequent distribution and exhibition to libraries, schools and museums in the years surrounding World War II. Taken together, Nichols’ film and the information that we know about it, highlights the ways in which the mid-twentieth century amateur film was capable of having an impact that extended beyond the pleasures of the filmmaker and the film’s subjects.

Frank G. Speck and his fieldwork “home movies”
Kate Pourshariati
Penn Museum

Frank G. Speck (1881-1950) made perhaps only four amateur films in his life’s work with people of Native Nations, up and down the east coast of the United States, and Canada.  Although the subject of the films is folklife, the films end up being akin to home movies due to the vivacious relationship between Speck and people that he filmed.  At the same time the films provide a valuable glimpse of life in 1927 as it was in these communities, rather than as contemporaneous salvagists might have wished it to be.

A Pictorial History of Hiawatha
Andy Uhrich
Chicago Film Archives

Andy Uhrich from Chicago Film Archives and Judith Miller, Special Collections Librarian at Valparaiso University, present newly restored films and lantern slides of a 1903 re-enactment of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, The Song of Hiawatha. Filmed by Valparaiso University graduates Katharine Ertz-Bowden and her husband, Charles L. Bowden, these materials were used to illustrate their Chautauqua lecture, A Pictorial Story of Hiawatha. The film segments are thought to be the earliest extant film representations of a series of summer pageants that were produced by the Canadian Pacific Railway at the turn of the century (1900-1906). The story of Hiawatha is performed by the Garden River First Nation, an Ojibwe community outside Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, in Canada. Andy Uhrich and Judith Miller will focus on the various relationships that bound the Garden River First Nation with the representatives of the Canadian Pacific Railway and circuit lecturers Katharine and Charles Bowden.

Charles Herbert and Apache Scouts at Ft. Huachuca: Framing Race in the Borderlands
Jennifer Jenkins
University of Arizona

This 1939 film, part of the Western Ways archive at the Arizona Historical Society, captures images of Apache Scouts being honored for their service by the African American 25th Infantry at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona.   Shot nearly a decade before the desegregation of the U.S. military and only 15 years after Native American citizenship, the film offers a glimpse into the multicultural and militarized US-Mexico borderlands of the early 20th century. The visual language of the film works in counterpoint to the scripted voiceover, offering an heroic representation of the eight surviving Apache scouts from Pershing’s 1916-17 Mexican Expedition.

The Book of Paradise Has No Author
Ross Lipman
Independent filmmaker and archivist at UCLA Film and TV Archives

In the summer of 1971 Ferdinand Marcos announced the discovery of a tribe of primitive cave dwellers who had lived in complete isolation for thousands of years in the rainforest of Mindanao, the easternmost island in the Philippines. Modernity was turned on its head. The Tasaday represented a chance to witness firsthand the origins of civilization, and investigate the very essence of humanity.  They also —seemingly — offered Marcos a number of rather unique political opportunities.  This live essay performance integrates rare ethnographic footage, vintage television broadcasts, recordings, and still photographs to look at the unexpectedly tragic, haunting, and provocative tale of our bizarre encounter with the Tasaday—-and their equally elliptical encounter with us.  The result is a meditative sensory experience that questions the nature of reality itself.

Panchromatic Stock, Stereoscopic Skin: Robert and Frances Flaherty’s Moana Reconsidered
Brian Hochman
Harvard University

This presentation examines Robert and Frances Flaherty’s oft-overlooked ethnographic film Moana (1926), a dramatic reconstruction of daily life in western Samoa that was the first motion picture to be labeled “documentary” in the modern sense of the term.  By  excavating the film’s troubled production history, I show how the Flahertys’ influential cinematic style emerged out of a unique set of imperial contexts and racial encounters.

“Strength of The Hills” – Alan Shilin’s Episcopal Church Films
Albert Steg
Center for Home Movies

In the early/mid 1950’s, The national Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church enlisted the services of documentarian Alan Shilin to produce a number of short films promoting and celebrating the role of the Church in enlightening the local population in settings ranging from Central America, Japan, and the Pacific Islands, to particular American communities in Kansas, St. Louis, and Ohio.  This session will comprise a brief introduction to Shilin’s Episcopal output and a full screening of his “Strength of the Hills,” a richly textured narrative in which the Bishop of South Dakota is shown to weigh the moral burden on the Church in leading the indigenous Sioux people out of their primitive “Fear of Darkness” and into the Church’s “Religion of Love.”

Remembering Inninimowin: The Cree Language – The Language of Human Beings
Jules Arita Koostachin
Ryerson University

Over the last two years of my studies at Ryerson University, I have recorded my process of remembering Inninimowin, the Cree language. The journey led me to sit with my mother, a survivor of the Canadian Residential School System and converse with her for the first time in our original language.

My research has also uncovered the sacredness of the Wigwam Approach, and how our Walk Out Ceremony impacts how we are first introduced to Inninimowin.

Language Keepers
Ben Levine and Julia Schulz
Watching Place Productions

It’s not exactly documentary, ethnography, educational or entertainment…it’s Passamaquoddy-Maliseet culture in a digital age.

How can you document a language that barely exists because it has become invisible? Combining elements from documentary filmmaking, street video feedback loops and community mental health outreach, Language Keepers has grown to become a sophisticated multi-modal approach that generates, archives, plays back and uses innovative web applications to both document and revive Native language. We’ll show selections from the Language Keepers videos, including music never heard outside the reservation, demonstrate state of the art web applications, and have Native participants on hand to share their experiences with the project.

Special support for the 2010 Summer Symposium provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.