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In the Land of the Head Hunters

On Friday November 13, we hosted a screening of Edward Curtis’ In the Land of the Head Hunters, the first feature film made in B.C. and the oldest surviving feature made in Canada. The screening was followed by a panel discussion on the film moderated by Colin Browne, professor emeritus of the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU in film. Browne was also involved in the restoration of the film. In the Land of the Head Hunters was also the first feature made with an entirely indigenous North American cast, and is a portrait of the Kwakwaka’wakw (formerly Kwakiutl) people of northern Vancouver Island and the central coast. The director Edward S. Curtis is also well known for his photography of First Nations life. The film mixes dramatic elements, while also recording authentic traditions and rituals, including the potlatch ceremony, but also offering an epic tale of love, war, and adventure set in pre-European times. It was premiered in New York and Seattle on December 7, 1914. The One-Hundredth Anniversary restoration, which was completed in 2014, features John J. Branham’s original 1914 score performed by Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion on the film moderated by Colin Browne, professor emeritus of the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU in film. Browne was also involved in the restoration of the film. The evening’s panelists included Bill Cranmera Hereditary Chief of the N’amgis First Nation, Owen Underhill, composer, conductor, artistic director and faculty member in the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU and the artistic director of Turning Point Ensemble, and Andy Everson, a contemporary First Nations artist from the K’omoks First Nation on Vancouver Island. Andy is also the grandson of one of the film’s stars—Margaret Frank—who played the role of Princess Naida. Each brought an interesting perspective to the dialogue, including a number of personal anecdotes passed on to Cranmer and Everson by their grandparents who were involved in the creation of the film. The audience partook in an engaging question and answer session with the panelists, asking questions regarding the production and significance of the film to the Kwakwaka’wakw people.