Return to the Land of the Head Hunters
Edward S. Curtis, the Kwakwaka'wakw, and the Making of Modern Cinema
- PUBLISHED: February 2020
- SUBJECT LISTING: Native American and Indigenous Studies, Film and Media Studies
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 392 Pages, 7 x 10 in, 113 illus., 16 in color
- SERIES: Native Art of the Pacific Northwest: A Bill Holm Center Series
- ISBN: 9780295746951
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
Photographer Edward Curtis’s 1914 orchestrally scored melodrama In the Land of the Head Hunters was one of the first US films to feature an Indigenous cast. This landmark of early silent cinema was an intercultural product of Curtis’s collaboration with the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw of British Columbia—meant, like Curtis’s photographs, to document a supposedly vanishing race. But as this collection shows, the epic film is not simply an artifact of colonialist nostalgia.
In recognition of the film’s centennial, and the release of a restored version, Return to the Land of the Head Hunters brings together leading anthropologists, Native American authorities, artists, musicians, literary scholars, and film historians to reassess the film and its legacy. The volume offers unique Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw perspectives on the film, accounts of its production and subsequent circulation, and evaluations of its depictions of cultural practice. Resituated within film history and informed by a legacy of Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw participation and response, the movie offers dynamic evidence of ongoing cultural survival and transformation under shared conditions of modernity.
Authors & Contributors
Brad Evans is associate professor of English at Rutgers University. Aaron Glass is associate professor of anthropology at the Bard Graduate Center.
Richly illustrated, multivocal, and altogether remarkable. . . . This book does us all a service by ushering Curtis’s In the Land of the Head Hunters into the 21st century.- American Ethnologist
Offers a stunning range of perspectives and visual materials drawing from the original production to the present. . . . Ambitious not only in its scope but in its commitment to understanding and presenting the film in its multiple indigenous contexts.- American Literary History
A detailed and thoughtful book that brings together scholars, artists, and Kwakwaka’wakw community members in a wide-ranging discourse on the film.- American Indian Culture and Research Journal
The essays provide a rare look at both the tremendous amount of planning, negotiation, and artistic work that goes into this kind of production, but also the diversity of reactions it necessarily inspires—from sturdy appreciation to charges of romanticism and exploitation.- Pacific Historical Review
[An] accomplished critical engagement with the complicated and tumultuous nature of the place of the film in academia and in First Nations communities. . . . The volume is also testimony to the fact that 100 years after the original production, the film can still capture the imaginations and minds of scholars and the broad public.- BC Studies: The British Columbian Quarterly
[This] generously illustrated anthology of essays—some decidedly academic, others more personal and anecdotal—address the film from every angle while also placing Curtis (1868–1952) and his First Nations collaborators on the film in their historical context.- Seattle Times