In the Land of the Head Hunters had limited screenings in 1914 and 1915 and was then lost until the 1970s, when it was re-edited and released as “In the Land of the War Canoes” (see “Film” pages on this website). Until now, “War Canoes” has been the only version available to viewers and scholars to use in their appraisals and analyses of Curtis’s film.
In 2006, the U’mista Cultural Centre was approached by two scholars with dramatic discoveries. Dr. Brad Evans (Rutgers University) had examined the original, silent cut of the film (via the black and white, 16mm copy at the Field Museum in Chicago from which “War Canoes” was made), which retains Curtis’s melodramatic narrative structure and intertitles. Meanwhile, Dr. Aaron Glass (then at the University of British Columbia) located John Braham’s musical score (at the Getty Research Library in Los Angeles), some original Curtis wax cylinder field recordings (at the Archive of Traditional Music in Indiana), and original film posters (in a private collection). In addition, the UCLA Film & Television Archive (Los Angeles) uncovered three fragmentary nitrate reels from the original film—complete with extensive tinting and toning as well as whole scenes absent from the Field Museum copy. None of this material had been presented publicly since 1915.
It is rare and highly significant to be able to reunite such an early silent film with the music commissioned for it, not to mention the First Nations music that was intended to inspire that. Though other films and musical pieces of the time included “Indian” imagery, Curtis’s was the first to include significant Native participation. Our project restores a number of important, historical elements to better contextualize Curtis’s original vision for his film: its title, intertitles, narrative structure, colors, music, and advertising materials. Doing so should make possible the restoration of Curtis’s and the Kwakwaka’wakw’s motion picture to its proper place in film history. At the same time, the participation of today’s Kwakwaka’wakw guarantees that their ancestors’ contribution to the original film—as actors, designers, consultants, and musical sources—will be appreciated by event audiences. Furthermore, it gives the Kwakwaka’wakw an opportunity to educate the public on their contemporary and colonial experience.