In the Land of the Head Hunters

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In the Land of the Head Hunters (also called In the Land of the War Canoes) is a 1914 silent film fictionalizing the world of the Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwakiutl) peoples of the Queen Charlotte Strait region of the Central Coast of British Columbia, Canada, written and directed by Edward S. Curtis and acted entirely by Kwakwaka'wakw natives.[1] It was selected in 1999 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[2] It was the first feature-length film whose cast was composed entirely of Native North Americans; the second, eight years later, was Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North.[1]


Original release

Earlier, Curtis had experimented with multimedia. In 1911 he created a stage show, with slides, a lecture and live musical accompaniment, called The Indian Picture Opera. He used stereopticon projectors, where two projectors dissolved back and forth between images. This was his prelude to entering the motion picture era.[citation needed]

The film opened in New York City and Seattle, Washington in December 1914, with live performances of a score by John J. Braham. Braham had access to wax cylinder recordings of Kwakwaka'wakw music, and the promotional campaign at the time suggested that his score was based on these; in fact, there were few snatches of Kwakwaka'wakw music in the score. Although critically praised, the film was a commercial failure.[3]

Salvaging the film and score

A single damaged, incomplete print of the film was salvaged from a dumpster and donated to Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History in 1947. Bill Holm and George Quimby re-edited this print in 1974, added a soundtrack by Kwakwaka'wakw musicians, and released the result as In the Land of the War Canoes. Independently, some other damaged clips from the film made their way to the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The score had been filed at the library of the Getty Research Institute, but without a title that tied it to the film.[4] The 2008 restoration brought together these materials.[3]

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