Cattell, Owen (1897-1940)

Owen Cattell, right, and Charles Phillips, a fellow opponent of conscription, at the time of their arrest in 1917. Library of Congress, photograph in the public domain.

The contribution of Owen Cattell to the history of early ethnographic film consists of the series of films that he shot in Zuni pueblo in 1923. At the time, he was a member of staff of the Museum of the American Indian (MAI) in New York, and he made the films as part of the MAI’s Hawikuh project, which although primarily archeological, also fostered ethnographic research among the Zuni. This project ran from 1917-1923 and was directed by Frederick W. Hodge (1864-1956), also then of the MAI.

As director of the project, Hodge was also, in effect, the director of the Zuni films, but Cattell appears to have made the films largely in his absence, with the assistance of Donald A. Cadzow (1894-1960) an MAI archeologist and later Arctic expeditionary, and Lorenzo Chávez, a Zuni. This seems to have been particularly the case in the making of Shalako Ceremonial, Cattell’s best known and also most controversial film. 

Outside this period working for the MAI, it is difficult to discover a great deal about Owen Cattell’s career.

His father was Professor James McKeen Cattell (1860-1944), a leading psychologist in the US in the first half of the twentieth century. His mother, Josephine Owen Cattell (1865-1948), who was of British origin, also became a distinguished figure, but in science publishing rather than academic life.  

Cattell senior became a controversial figure when he was dismissed from his post at Columbia University in 1917 for speaking out against US conscription for the First World War. His son, who was then a general science student at Columbia, shared his views, and the same year was arrested and charged with obstructing conscription. The photograph at the head of this entry derives from that event. 

Shortly afterwards, Owen Cattell appears to have left university and followed his parents into science publishing. But by 1921, he is reported to have been taken on as photographer on an expedition to the headwaters of the Amazon led by Henry H. Rusby (1855-1940), a Professor of Botany at Columbia and a leading figure in this field. 

it is unclear how Cattell came to be employed at the MAI. Nor is it clear under what circumstances he left, though he appears to have returned to work in science publishing. He died, of pneumonia, in New York in 1940.


William Heick (1916-2012)

William Heick in 2007. Photograph by Christopher Flach. Wikimead Commons.

William Heick was a leading US documentary photographer, who worked in many different parts of the world, mostly in black-and-white. But he was also a cinematographer and in this capacity, he was involved in ethnographic film-making in two particular periods of his life.

In the early 1950s, while working with Orbit Films in Seattle in collaboration with Sidney Peterson and Robert Gardner, he shot and edited three films about the Kwakwaka’wakw: Blunden Harbour and two different films with the title Dances of the Kwakiutl. One of these is in colour and the other in black-and-white, but the content and also running times of the two films is quite different. All these films were produced in 1951.

Later, between 1961 and 1964, he shot and edited a number of films about Native American communities for the American Indian Films Project (AIFP), directed by the anthropologist Samuel A. Barrett (1879-1965) and sponsored by the University of California.

Text: Jacknis 2000.

Goddard, Pliny Earle (1869-1928)

Pliny Earle Goddard, August 1928. Photograph by H.S. Rice, AMNH.

As an anthropologist, Pliny Goddard was highly regarded in his life-time for his pioneering contribution to the study of Native American languages. On his premature death, this was acknowledged in the extended obituaries written by the leading figures of US anthropology of the day, including Franz Boas and Alfred Kroeber.

After he was appointed to a curatorship at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1909, Goddard also made a modest contribution to early ethnographic film-making.

This included his support of film-making by the artist and museum diorama-maker, Howard McCormick, among the Hopi in 1912, including a film of the Snake Dance at Supawlavi. Two years later, Goddard went with McCormick on a filming expedition to the Apache reservation in Arizona, during which Goddard shot at least some of the films himself.

In the summer of 1922, Goddard went to the Kwakwaka’wakw village at Fort Rupert (Tsaxis), on Vancouver Island, Canada, and made a series of films of George Hunt, the leading informant of Franz Boas, and Hunt’s wife Francine (Tsukwani) demonstrating the use of tools and craft techniques. Unfortunately, these films do not appear to have survived.

Goddard with George Hunt filming Francine (Tuskwani) Hunt cooking clams, Fort Rupert (Tsaxis), Vancouver Island, June 1922. Goddard appears to be operating the same 35mm Ensign camera that he took to Arizona to film the Apache. Photograph by ethnographer  and botanist Charles Newcombe (1851-1924). Royal British Columbia Museum, PN 869. As reproduced in Jacknis 2000, p. 102.

In 1924, Goddard returned again to the Southwest, making films among the Hopi and the Navajo, though whether he was accompanied by McCormick on this occasion is not clear. The only material that is known to have survived from this expedition is contained in Hopi Indians of the Southwest.

It was also in 1924 that Goddard acquired for the AMNH a copy of the negative and the master positive of In the Land of the Head Hunters from Edward S. Curtis, the director and producer. At the time, Curtis was in a state of financial embarrassment and was obliged to sell everything that he had of the film for a very reduced sum.

Unfortunately, the AMNH does not appear to have done anything with these materials and there is no record of what happened to them. 

Text: Jacknis 2000: 102, Griffiths 2002: 287-299, 404-406, Evans and Glass 2014:26.

Curtis, Edward S. (1868-1952)

Edward Sheriff Curtis, self-portrait, probably 1890s. [Public domain]

Edward S. Curtis is most remembered  today for his vast, twenty-volume series of photographs, The North American Indian, published between 1907 and 1930.

But relatively early in his career, he also made a number of films of ethnographic interest, among the Navajo (1904) and the Hopi (1904 and 1906) of Arizona, and the Kwakwaka‘wakw (1914) of the Canadian Northwest Pacific coast.

Texts: Gidley 1982, Evans and Glass 2014, Henley 2020: 90-99.

Kolb, Ellsworth (1876-1960) and Emery (1881-1976)

Ellsworth supports Emery (left), Emery supports Ellsworth (right). The Kolb brothers used publicity shots like these to promote their work.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Ellsworth Kolb arrived at the Grand Canyon in 1901 and his brother Emery came the following year.

Initially, they made  a living by taking photographs of the tourist visitors to the canyon who had begun to arrive on the newly established Santa Fe railroad. They then moved on to taking photographs of the Canyon itself, and selling these to the tourists too. In 1906, they set up the Kolb Studio in a wooden house at the head of the Bright Angel Trail.

Emery operating a film camera, 1921, photographed by Ellsworth. NAU Emery Kolb Collection.

The brothers also made films, which, like their photographs, were mainly concerned with the natural environment of the Grand Canyon. However, they made a contribution to the canon of early films of ethnographic interest when they filmed the Snake Dance ceremony at the nearby Hopi village of Wàlpi in August 1911, returning to do so again in August 1913.

A film that combines footage from both performances of the ceremony is held at Northern Arizona University, in the Emery Kolb archive. It is possible that at least some of the material from 1913 is included in an unattributed film held by the Library of Congress, Hopi Indians Dance for Theodore Roosevelt (1913).

In 1924, Ellsworth left and went to live in Los Angeles. But Emery remained with his family at Kolb Studio until his death in 1976.

The Kolb Studio, now operated by the US National Park Service, stands at the head of the Bright Angel Trail to this day.

Text: Lyon 1988: 242, 262.

Miller (Milner), Victor (1893-1972)

Victor Miller (Milner) in 1913, still only 20, photographed around the time that he covered the Colorado Coalfied miners’ strike for Pathe’s Weekly newsreel. This was shortly after he had shot the Snake Dance at the Hopi village of Wàlpi, Arizona, also for Pathe’s Weekly. Unsurprisingly, his camera is a 35mm Pathé Professionelle.

Under his original family name, Milner, during the interwar years, Victor Miller was a leading Hollywood cinematographer, best known for his work for the German-American director Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947).

However, at the beginning of his career, when still only 20 years of age and working as a newsreel cameraman for Pathe’s Weekly, Miller contributed to the canon of films of ethnographic interest in the form of footage shot at the 1913 Snake Dance ceremony at the Hopi village of Wàlpi, Arizona. This is archived in the Library of Congress under the misleading title Hopi Indians Dance for Theodore Roosevelt.

Despite his youth, Miller was already an experienced cinematographer: the previous winter, he had shot the fictional feature film Hiawatha, made in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History, which was based on the epic Longfellow poem and directed by Frank E. Moore. Although not strictly ethnographic, this film had involved 150 Native actors, mainly Sioux, Ojibwa and Menomonee.

Later in 1913, he would win plaudits in the cinema industry press for filming during the Colorado Coalfield miners’ strike, even when bullets were flying. This is when the portrait of him at the head of this entry was taken.

In 1916, he travelled to what was then the Belgian Congo (today the Democratic Republic of Congo and formerly Zaire). The overall reason for this trip is unclear, but a report in the cinema industry press suggests that during his travels through the country, he shot some sequences of local customary practices.

Holmes, E. Burton (1870-1958)*

Burton Holmes, on the right, with his cameraman, Oscar Depue (1869-1960) in 1911. Between them is an Urban Bioscope 35mm camera. Photographer unknown.

Although today a largely forgotten figure, in his lifetime, E. Burton Holmes was a major media celebrity in the US, sufficiently so to be awarded a star in the pavement of Hollywood Boulevard. Although probably not the originator of the term, it was Holmes who was the first leading exponent of the ‘travelogue’ film.

Every autumn and winter, from the 1890s until the 1950s, Holmes toured around the US giving travel lectures to audiences of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people. These were based on his own expeditions all across the world which he carried out in the summer months.

An integral part of the lectures were the photographs that he himself had taken on these expeditions, but from as early as 1897, he often employed moving image cameramen to come with him. The first of these was Oscar Depue, who appears in the photograph above.

Initially, the footage was screened as a novelty supplement at the end of the lectures, but as the technology developed, it became increasingly integral to Holmes’ performance. Eventually, from 1915, Holmes began directing free-standing films in which he himself would appear in exotic locations around the globe and the travelogue film genre was launched. 

Burton Holmes as an ethnographic film-maker

Holmes produced a large number of travelogue films, many of which contain passages of undoubted ethnographic interest. Although he travelled all over the world, he had a particular interest in Asia, especially Japan, which he visited many times. A short history of his film-making activities is available here

With Depue acting as the cameraman, Holmes also made what are probably the earliest ethnographic films about Native peoples of the US. These were shot during an expedition to Arizona in August 1898 and include footage of the Hopi Snake Dance as performed at Orayvi that year as well as three short films of a Navajo “tournament” which they shot at Tolani Lake on their return journey from Orayvi. The following year, Holmes and Depue returned to film the Snake Dance as performed at Wàlpi, again stopping at Tolani Lake to screen the material that they had shot of the Navajo tournament to the participants – in effect, a very early example of a “feedback screening”.

Unfortunately, this footage is currently lost and for a long time, it was misattributed to the Thomas Edison organisation. Now that it has been correctly identified as the work of Holmes and Depue, there is a greater possibility that it might emerge from the archives.

Texts : Holmes 1901, Depue 1947, Holmes 1953, Caldwell 1977, Henley and Whiteley ms.

Roquette-Pinto, Edgard (1884-1954)*

Edgard Roquette-Pinto with Kozárini Paresí (Ariti, Haliti) children, Aldeia Queimada, Mato Grosso,  September 1912. (Photograph taken by Lieut. Antonio Pyrineus de Souza. Roquette-Pinto collection, Academia Brasileira de Letras).

The principal contribution of Edgard Roquette-Pinto to ethnographic film history took the form of the footage that he shot of the Nambikwara and Paresí  in the Serra dos Parecis, Mato Grosso, in 1912, described here.

This footage is listed in the catalogue of the Cinemateca Brasileira, but it was not possible to view it for The Silent Time Machine. This appears to have been the only film that Roquette-Pinto shot in the course of his career.

The material shot by the German anthropologist, Theodor Koch-Grünberg among the Taulipang of Roraima, described here,  precedes it in time by a year, but Roquette-Pinto’s footage was the first to be shot by a Brazilian anthropologist among the indigenous peoples of Brazil. It would not be until 1950, when Darcy Ribeiro collaborated with Heinz Förthmann in the making of Os Índios “Urubus” that another Brazilian anthropologist would follow his example.

Originally trained in medicine, Roquette-Pinto was appointed as assistant professor of anthropology at the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro in 1906. His first publication in the field of anthropology broadly defined, also in 1906, concerned medical practices of the indigenous peoples of the Americas  He later carried out excavations of sambaqui shell middens in Rio Grande do Sul and  published on this work in 1912.

His expedition to the Serra dos Parecis in that same year was supported logistically by the ‘Rondon Commission’ and followed the routes of the telegraph lines that the Commission had cut through the plateau.  In 1917, Roquette-Pinto published an extended account of this journey, during which he assembled a large collection of artefacts, and took both sound recordings and photographs as well as shooting the film footage.

He also used the book to argue that the area through which he travelled should be named ‘Rondônia’ in recognition of the role of the commission headed by Colonel (later General) Cândido Rondon in connecting that part of country with the rest of Brazil. In the event, the suggestion was taken up by the Brazilian government, but the area so named was actually somewhat to the north of the area through which Roquette-Pinto himself had travelled.

In his later career, Roquette-Pinto became a distinguished figure in Brazilian national life. In 1926, he was named as the director of the Museu Nacional and around the same time played a leading role in the development of radio broadcasting in Brazil.

He is also remembered in Brasil as one of the founders of the Instituto Nacional do Cinema Educativo (INCE) and the Brazilian Socialist Party. Less in tune with modern attitudes was his participation in the Brazilian eugenics movement in the 1930s, though in contrast to many eugenicists, he argued against the view that miscegenation between races would lead to a deterioration in the Brazilian population as a whole.

Text: Roquette-Pinto 1917.

Litvinov, Alexander Abramovich (1898-1977)*

Alexander Litvinov as he appears in the final credit sequence of ‘Forest People’ (1928)

Alexander Litvinov started his film career in Baku, Azerbaijan, making a number of films about working people, both at work and at leisure, as well as detective and adventure films. He first became attracted to the Russian Far East in 1927, shortly after he joined the USSR state production company, Sovkino, when he read a short article about the Udege people in a Moscow journal.

The following year, he received the funding to go to region where the Udege live, in the forests north of Vladivostok, and here he made two films, Forest People and Through the Ussuri Area. Both these films were based on the writings and advice of Vladimir Arsenyev (1872-1930), a former military officer, topographer and self-trained  ethnographer who lived in Vladivostok.

These films brought Litvinov international success and he was favourably compared to Robert Flaherty, whose works were extremely popular in the USSR at that time. They also enabled him to get funding for three further expeditions to the Russian Far East, the first to the Kamchatka Peninsula in 1929-30, and the second to Chukotka in 1932-33.

During these later trips, he also made films of ethnographic interest among the local indigenous populations. However,  these did not have the authenticity of his Udege films since not only did he sometimes use professional actors who were not from the local region, but also, in conformity with a more general pattern in kulturfilms made in the USSR at the time, these films dwelt less on traditional forms of life and increasingly on the benefits that these indigenous groups were supposedly deriving from being integrated into the Soviet Union, even when this was in flagrant contradiction with reality.

In 1934, Litvinov returned again to Kamchatka where he made two entirely fictional films, with professional actors in the lead roles. In both films, the hero (male in one case, female in the other) represents the bringing to bear of the technologically and culturally innovative values of the Soviet Union on the taming of nature and the transformation of  social backwardness in the Far East.

It was possibly because these films were so clearly ‘on-message’, coupled with the fact that he spent so much of his time in the Far East in the 1930s, that Litvinov managed to escape the Stalinist purges that claimed several of his colleagues during that period. He later joined the West-Siberia studio and based first in Novosibirsk and later in Yekaterinburg, he contributed to the formation of strong regional documentary film-making centres.

Text : Sarkisova 2017: 84-95, 108-111, 208.

Lebedev, Nikolai Alekseevich (1897-1978)

Originally a journalist and film theorist, author of a book on the kulturfilm, Lebedev is best known as a film-maker for a series of travelogues that he made in the mid- to late 1920s, the most ethnographic of which was Land of the Nakhcho, shot in the course of an expedition to Chechnya in 1928 and released the following year.

In the 1930s, as kulturfilms lost both popularity and official approval, Lebedev retired from active film-making and became a film production administrator and documentary film historian.

Text : Sarkisova 2017


© 2018 Paul Henley