This collaborative project sought to organize and execute a series of public film screenings of a restored version of Edward Curtis’s film, accompanied by a live arrangement of the long-lost original score and a song and dance performance by Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) descendants of the original film actors. Through on-stage and well as supplementary programming (exhibits, symposia, panel discussions), the project approached the film from two distinct but overlapping perspectives:
- As a scholarly recovery and restoration of the original melodramatic contexts and content of the film and musical score.
- As an indigenous re-framing of this material given unique Kwakwaka’wakw perspectives on the original film, its specific cultural content, and its historical context of production.
Curtis’s photos and film are typically evaluated and critiqued as inauthentic and romanticized portraits of what Curtis assumed were “vanishing races.” While not dismissing this view outright, we complicate it by suggesting that when resituated within their original genre and informed by current indigenous perspectives, Curtis’s images can be seen as documents of a unique intercultural encounter between the photographer and the First Nations who worked with him to realize the pictures. The resulting images are thus both colonial (mis)representations and portraits of ancestors, documents of cultural survival as well as historical loss. We were correct in expecting that audiences would be large and highly receptive to the events, especially as the archival film footage, the historic musical component, and the First Nation's cultural protocols supplemented and informed one another to a significant and unprecedented degree.