August 27, 2006

Indians opposed to cinema?

This Time, the Indians Tell Their Own Story[D]ebates surround the very creation of so-called Indian cinema. Indian culture is based on an oral tradition, which is contrary to the kind of definitive imagery rendered on film. The issue, then, becomes whether cinema is contrary to Indian culture.

“The Conchetti Pueblo, just for instance, were resistant to preserving their culture on tape,” said Beverly Morris, a program director for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. “But with the advent of new technology and their familiarity with it, they’ve started to do that, with their own people.”

Some contemporary Indians, Ms. Morris noted, have voiced suspicion of even the most well-meaning chroniclers of their culture. “Let’s face it, there’s been a lot of resentment about past exploitation,” she said, citing not just Hollywood but also anthropologists, National Geographic-style preservationists and even the Indian photographer Edward Curtis.

“I don’t want to say the visual medium is replacing the oral tradition,” said Mr. Burris, who specialized in Indian law before becoming a producer, “but I think it’s encompassing it. And I think that’s out of necessity in terms of the world we live in now. Stories can still be told and passed on and lessons be taught. But we’re such a visual society. The media are such an influence and can be such a great way of conveying a message. I think, just out of necessity, the traditional stories are going to fall into the visual medium.”
Correction:  It's Cochiti, not "Conchetti."


Anonymous said...


I'd be curious to know what you think? Have you personally detected skepticism among natives regarding being depicted on film?

Rob said...

No, I haven't. But I occasionally have heard doubts about doing Native stories in comic-book form.

Of course, the Indians I know are generally urban and progressive. If we hung out on remote reservations with traditional tribal elders, we'd probably hear more of this attitude.

Anonymous said...

The Indian Picture Opera - Edward S. Curtis

No matter what you think of the Edward Curtis story,
for some perspective, you might also like to view The Indian Picture Opera, a remake of Curtis's 1911 slide show in motion picture, on DVD.