Land of the Zuni and Community Work series (1924) – Frederick W. Hodge and Owen Cattell

A series of 11 films, of variable lengths, but totalling approx. 2 hours.  Originally shot in 35mm b&w stock. Silent, English intertitles. [Not viewed]

Production: These films were made as part of the Museum of the American Indian (MAI)/ Heye Foundation expedition to Hawikku, New Mexico, a prehistoric Zuni settlement. This project ran from 1917 to 1923, and although its principal objectives were archeological, it also involved ethnographic research, and in the last year of the project, ethnographic film-making. 

Sources:  National Museum of the American Indian/Smithsonian; the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center (AAMHC), in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico.

Background: These films were made by what was then the Museum of the American Indian (MAI), funded by the Gustav Heye Foundation. As director of the Hawikku project, Frederick W. Hodge (1864-1956) is often credited with the direction of these films also. But the practical film-making was actually carried out by Owen Cattell, assisted by Donald A. Cadzow (1894-1960), an MAI archeologist, and a Zuni man, Lorenzo Chávez.

In addition to the 11 films listed below, Cattell also shot another film, also in 1923, Shalako Ceremonial, which at 29 minutes is much longer than any of the films in this Land and Community Work series, and appears to have been an autonomous venture.

The Museum was very pleased with the work of Cattell and his colleagues and in an announcement in 1924 in its new journal Indian Notes, it foresaw the widespread use of the films for educational purposes. 

While Shalako Ceremonial has caused great controversy among the Zuni, both at the time of its making and now, most the Land and Community Work series is freely exhibited at the AAMHC, the museum set up in Zuni pueblo by members of the A:shiwi (Zuni) community in 1992.

Content: These films were not viewed for the Silent Time Machine project but their titles and running times are listed by the Smithsonian Museum as follows:

  • Land of the Zuni and Community Work – 16:52 mins. (at 16fps). This film is evidently intended as an overview of the other films in the series.
  • Deerskin Tanning and Wrapping the Leggings – 9:39 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Hairwashing  – 3:48 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Making Adobe Bricks and House Building – 8:43 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Oven Building and Bread Baking -14:58 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Paper Bread (Hewe) Making and Corn Grinding – 11:53 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Pottery Making  – Parts I & II, total duration 26:23 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Rain Ceremony, The – Parts I & II, total duration 19:20 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Salt Lake Ceremony, The – 14:13 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Santo Ceremony, The – 5:37 mins. (at 18fps).
  • Weaving a Blanket – 7:30 mins. (at 18fps).

The AAMHC gives a similar listing, though it gives a different title to the film covering the Salt Lake, i.e. Gathering Salt from Zuni Salt Lake and expands on the title of the Santo Ceremony film, adding: (Dancing for the Santo Niño). It also offers an additional film, Hawikku/Kechiba:wa Excavation (Stick Races), though this may not be part of the MAI series. 

In the Smithsonian catalogue, the three ceremonial films are identified as ‘restricted’, but in the AAMHC, the only film from this list that is restricted isThe Rain Ceremony. Lyon reports that this film shows the pilgrimage and summer ceremonies of the rain priests, including the dancing of the ‘longhair’ katsinas. The AAMHC restricts the viewing of this film to A:shwi (Zuni) people only.

Texts: Anon 1924, Lyon 1988: 264-265.

Fort Rupert (1951) – [?] Robert Gardner and Sidney Peterson

A fishing skiff disguised as a traditional canoe arrives at the shore. ‘Fort Rupert’ (1951) frame grab.

16 mins. Colour, probably 16mm. Extra-diegetic unsubtitled Native chants on the soundtrack. Voice-over in English.

Production: Orbit Films, Seattle, for distribution by Dimensions, Inc. 

Source: This film is available via the American Indian Film Gallery here. A copy is also viewable on YouTube here. Other copies are reported to be available from the J. Fred MacDonald collection in the Library of Congress, Seattle Library, the Victoria Library and the National Film Board of Canada. 

Background: This film appears to have been cut from research footage shot in Fort Rupert (Tsaxis), on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, in May-June 1950, in association with the major fiction film that Robert Gardner (1925-2014) and the avant-garde film-maker Sidney Peterson (1905-2000) planned to make there through their production company, Orbit Films. (See the entry for Blunden Harbour for further details)

When the fiction film project was abandoned, this 16mm companion footage was edited into a free-standing film. It appears to be the same film referred to by Peterson under the title Potlatch.

The footage was shot by Hy Hirsh (1911-1961), an experimental film-maker and associate of Peterson’s from San Francisco. The sound, mostly consisting of Native chanting was recorded by Morris Dowd. The voice in the voice-over appears to be that of Gardner, though this is not indicated in the credits. 

Content: The film opens with a pan down the totem pole at Fort Rupert before joining a canoe approaching the shore. A man chants in the bow, others play clapsticks. The boat is a fishing skiff that has been decorated to look like a traditional canoe (see image above). 

The voice-over laments that the traditions practised by “one of the most vigorous aboriginal societies on the entire continent” are being progressively lost. The ‘Kwakiutl’ find themselves caught in a situation where totem poles are disappearing, but telephone poles have not yet arrived.

The men come ashore and dance briefly. This is followed by a lengthy series of establishing shots of the shore around the village, with children playing, and extensive racks of fish drying in the sun. An old woman  works on a string figure. There are more carved figures. 

Around 5:40, the film moves indoors to show a series of ‘potlatch’ dances. These are presented as if they were taking place in a Big House, but in fact it was a boathouse converted for the purposes of the film. 

The scene is very poorly lit and the shooting no more than minimally competent, but there are some fine masks on display. These may be the same ones that would appear in the other Orbit film productions, Blunden Harbour and Dances of the Kwakiutl. The same is true of the wall hangings, which are decorated with traditional designs but do not themselves look traditional. But as far as one can tell, the dancers do seem to be different, at least for the most part.

Text: Jacknis 2000: 109-110, Williamson 2019.

Mountain Chant, The (1928) – Laura Adams Armer

Na-Nai, the Navajo healer known as ‘The Crawler’. Photograph by Laura Adams Armer (in Armer 1953, p.6)

Not viewed. Duration and other technical specifications unknown. 

Background: Laura Adams Armer (1874-1963) was a Californian artist and writer who began painting and taking photographs of the Navajo in the 1920s.

In February 1928, with no previous experience as a film-maker and with financial support from the brothers Lorenzo and Roman Hubbell, who ran the local trading post at Ganado, Arizona,  Armer made this film about the Mountainway chant, a ceremonial process performed by Navajo healers to relieve mental distress.

She later wrote an account of the making of this film, published in 1953. Here she describes how she came to film a widely respected healer, Na-Nai – known as ‘The Crawler’ since he had been born without feet – when he was asked to cure a man whose dreams were being disturbed by the presence of a child who had died some years before.

Armer directed the film but she was assisted by two cameramen. Before the ceremony began, she studied an account of the Mountainway chant written by Washington Matthews in 1884 so that she knew where the cameramen should position themselves.

Na-Nai diagnosed the man’s problem as deriving from the fact that before he was even born, his mother had seen a dead bear, which had been killed by lightning. The bear had been offended, Na-Nai concluded, and he undertook to resolve the problem by singing the Mountainway chant.

This took place in a pinewood lodge built specially for the purpose and involved an elaborate range of chants and dances, and the making of sandpaintings over a nine-day period. Armer briefly describes the ceremonial process and its symbolic significances, reporting that it was attended at its climax by 2000 people.

She comments that the Navajo subjects posed no obstacle to her filming and even removed some boards from around the smoke-hole of the lodge to let in more light and therefore make it easier for the cameramen to film the sandpainting, the first time that this had been permitted inside a ‘medicine-lodge’.

Armer initially hoped to interest a Hollywood producer in the material, but having failed to do so, she contented herself with showing the film in a number of more academic settings.

A copy of the film is said to have been deposited with the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, and possibly also with the Wheelwright Museum, Santa Fe.

Texts: Armer 1953, Lyon 1988: 266-267, Palmquist 1996

Navajo Yei Bichei ceremony footage (1904) – Edward S. Curtis.

Posed image of participants in the Yei Bichei ceremony. Photograph by Edward S. Curtis, 1904. Wellcome collection 564565i.

Precise duration unknown, but probably very short.

Source: Brief passages of this footage are shown in Coming to Light, a PBS television documentary about Curtis’s work directed by Anne Makepeace and released in 2001.

This film can be viewed, albeit under an incorrect title, on YouTube here. The section about Curtis’s filming of the Yei Bichei ceremony is between 14:38 and 17:06 mins., and again between 18:02 and 18:46 mins..

Background: The Navajo Yei Bichei ceremony takes place on the ninth and culminating night of a ritual process, often referred to as the Nightway or Night Chant, aimed at healing a number of major illnesses or conditions, including blindness, deafness and paralysis.

In Navajo, the name of the ceremony literally means ‘Holy People Grandfather’, a reference to the fact that Talking God, referred to as bichei, ‘grandfather’ is thought to preside over the yei, ‘holy people’, embodied on this night by masked impersonators.

But there are many aspects to the Nightway other than masked dancing: it also involves the making of sand paintings and the manufacture of dolls, medicine bundles and other items, over a prolonged period.

Curtis liked to boast that he managed to film the Yei Bichei ceremony in 1904 after representatives of the Smithsonian had tried for decades and failed, and had even come to believe that it was impossible.

But what Curtis filmed was only a very slight simulacrum of what the ceremony both was and continues to be in reality. In fact, his film showed no more than a very brief re-enactment, performed during the day so that it could be filmed, with a reduced number of masked dancers.

The ceremony was also not genuine in the sense that there was no patient being cured. Rather it was performed entirely at Curtis’s request in exchange for payment in the form of silver dollars and rolls of cloth. He does not appear to have filmed any other of the elaborate ritual processes associated with the Nightway ceremonies. 

As this footage is most commonly shown, the dancers are dancing anti-clockwise, contrary to the normally clockwise motion, with their rattles in their left hand, rather than in their right as is customary. Some commentators have detected in these inversions a passive resistance on the part of the performers to Curtis’s attempt to film them.

However, given that such an elaborate subterfuge would have implied the expenditure of a great deal of time and effort for what was, in effect, only a brief and fake performance, it seems more likely that the inversions are merely an effect of the negative having been printed the wrong way round, something that did occasionally happen in early ethnographic filmmaking.

Texts: Gidley 1982: 72; Lyon 1988:266; Overstreet 1992.


Apache footage (1914) – Pliny Goddard and Howard McCormick

Women grinding and chucking maize, San Carlos, Arizona. Frame from Pliny Goddard’s 1914 Apache footage. AMNH Library Services neg. no.242693, reproduced in Griffiths 2002, p.295.

Not viewed. Duration and technical specifications unknown.

Source: American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)?

Background: In July and August 1914, the AMNH curator, Pliny Goddard, accompanied by artist and cameraman Howard McCormick, visited the Apache reservation in Arizona, equipped with a 35mm Ensign moving image camera.  Only limited information is readily available on the material that they shot. It is not even clear if the footage still exists.

Although accompanied by McCormick who had successfully filmed the Hopi Snake Dance at Supawlavi at Goddard’s request in 1912, Goddard appears to have done at least some of the filming himself. From his correspondence with colleagues at the AMNH, it is clear that his skills as a cinematographer were limited. 

It appears that he primarily focused on making films about “native industries”, i.e. technical processes, and food preparation. Topics mentioned include a single woman weaving a basket and a group of women chucking and grinding corn, as in the image above, shot in San Carlos.

Although Goddard would also have liked to film ceremonies, such as the initiation of an adolescent girl, which he attended in August 1914, he seems to have been unable to do so, though it is not clear whether this was due to technical limitations or refusal on the part of his hosts.

Text: Griffiths 2002: 294-297.

Shalako Ceremonial at Zuni, New Mexico (1924?) – Frederick W. Hodge and Owen Cattell.

The ‘shálako’ masks are considered embodiments of ‘kokko’, ancestral spirits. Framegrab from the film.

29 mins., b&w, 35mm stock. Silent, English intertitles. 

Production: This film was shot in 1923 around the same time and by the same film-makers as a series of films on Zuni life produced by the Museum of the American Indian (MAI).

However, it is reported to have been made at the request of the curator of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), Clark Wissler (1870-1947) and may not therefore have formed part of the MAI series. It seems likely though that it would  have been released in the same year as the series, i.e. 1924.

Source: Some evidence for its independence from the broader series of Zuni films is that whereas the latter is held by the National Museum of the American Indian, the successor institution to the MAI, the original copy of Shalako Ceremonial is held by the AMNH. Its catalogue number in the AMNH Film Collection is 273, but due to its cultural sensitivity, viewing is restricted.

Background:  Like the other Zuni films, this film was made as part of the MAI’s Hawikku project, directed by the ethnologist Frederick W. Hodge (1864-1956). This ran from 1917 to 1923, and although primarily archeological, also involved ethnographic research and in the last year, ethnographic film-making. 

As director of the Hawikku project, Hodge is often considered to be the director of the films associated with it. He is not mentioned in the film credits of Shalako Ceremonial and it is not clear whether he was present during the making of this particular film. But he was instrumental in gaining permission for the making of the film while the intertitles certainly appear to have been written by an ethnologist. 

Although Hodge may have been the director, the cameraman and principal practical film-maker was Owen Cattell (1897-1940). Although they do not receive credits, Cattell was assisted by Donald A. Cadzow (1894-1960), an MAI archeologist, and Lorenzo Chávez, a Zuni.

Permission to make the films had been negotiated by Hodge with Lotario Luna, the governor of the Zuni pueblo, and also a leading priest, Komosana. This included permission to film religious ceremonies, which among the Zuni generally involve a great deal of dance.

Hodge believed that a film record of the ceremonies would prove their genuinely religious nature. As such, they could serve to undermine a federal government proposal to ban Native people’s dances since religious freedom was and is guaranteed by the US Constitution.

The shálako ceremony constitutes the climax of the complex Zuni annual ritual cycle. It takes place shortly before the winter solstice and involves the arrival of six large masked figures, the shálako, who are considered to be embodiments of kokko, ancestral beings (see image at the head of this entry).

The shálako are received by two other groups of masked figures, the sayatasha, the so-called ‘council of deities’, and the grotesquely costumed koyemshi, clownish trickster figures who orchestrate the ceremony. Although the shálako leave the village after one night, the ceremony continues for another four nights, culminating in the ritual welcoming of ten young girls, the Corn Maidens, into the village plaza.

The filming of the more general MAI series, which primarily concerned traditional crafts, does not seem to have caused any tensions within the Zuni community. But the filming of the shálako ceremony, the most sacred of all Zuni religious ceremonies, was a different matter.

In view of the sensitivity, it was agreed that Cattell should shoot from a considerable distance. Even so, some Zuni were incensed by his filming of the ceremony, particularly of those parts that should normally be witnessed only by initiated men. 

The filming also got caught in the midst of a deep-seated division within the Zuni pueblo between Protestants and Catholics. The governor who had given permission was a Protestant, as was  Lorenzo Chávez, Cattell’s assistant.

One version of the dispute is that the Catholics argued to Robert Bauman, the local representative of the federal Indian Bureau that in giving permission to film ceremonies, the governor had not consulted with the community, thereby violating its trust in him and requiring his removal from office.

Another version, not necessarily incompatible with the first, is that the governor had not shared out the $300 that Hodge had paid in order to be allowed to film the ceremony.

Stories of Cattell’s camera being smashed and of him and Hodge being peremptorily expelled from the pueblo are probably exaggerated. But they were certainly not allowed to film the final day of the ceremony. And since then, no film-making of any kind has been allowed of Zuni ceremonies. 

Content: The film follows the development of the ceremony chronologically in a series of sequences interspersed with explanatory intertitles.

The first 12 minutes of the film – that is, approaching half of its total duration – cover a phase of the ceremony in which only initiated men may participate. Those who will wear the masks are shown praying and making offerings to the katsina spirits whom they will personify.

Then, after a four-minute sequence showing the building of the houses in which the katsina will dwell during the ceremony, the sayatasha masked figures are shown crossing the river that lies outside the village.

At this point, a man comes and stands in front of the lens. Contemporary accounts suggest that he was only one of several people who attempted to prevent the making of the film.

As the sayatasha dance in front of the houses built for the spirits, the camera keeps its distance.

However, the filming continues, showing the sayatasha dancing in front of one the houses built for the spirits. They are observed by women and children, and seemingly by some non-Natives. The women bless the dancers by sprinkling them with cornmeal.

Later that afternoon, 19 minutes into the film, the giant shálako masks appear in the distance, outside the pueblo. They are filmed from very far away, but even so, as an inter title explains, one of the six masks refused to appear  because it “objected to being photographed”.

The ‘shalako’ dance in front of the houses built specially to house them during the ceremony.

After “a night spent in ceremony”, the shálako are shown, in a highly dramatic sequence, running at high speed back and forth in swirling snow in front of the houses built for the spirts.

The sayatasha dance before the shálako, who then leave. Now it is the turn of the koyemshi, the “delight-makers”, to dance in front of the spirit houses. 

Throughout these sequences, the camera has kept its distance. But all to no avail. As announced in an intertitle, permission to film the final phase of the ceremony, in which the Corn Maidens arrive in the village plaza, was withdrawn.

The last shot of the film is rather forlorn: it is taken from far outside the village. On top of the houses one can see the backs of spectators looking down, presumably watching the Corn Maidens making their entrance. 

Remaking: In 2012, a group of Zuni religious leaders and some of the staff of the AAMHC were shown the film during a collection review at the AMNH. They were particularly concerned about the initial lengthy sequence that shows a scene that only initiated Zuni men should see. They also identified errors in the intertitles and in the sequencing of events. 

More generally, they felt that the film should never have been made. But recognising that as it is now in the public domain, its circulation is impossible to restrict absolutely, they decided instead to collaborate with the AMNH to produce a new version, entitled The Shalako Film Remade. 

In this remaking, the sequences that should not be viewed by the uninitiated were omitted and new intertitles and a voice-over in Zuni were added to correct what they considered to be the misrepresentations of the original.

But the more fundamental aim of this remaking was to regain control over the representation of Zuni culture. Further details available here.

Texts: Anon 1924, Pandey 1972: 331-332, Tedlock 1983, Lyon 1988: 246, 264-265, Wenger 2009, Anderson and Montenegro 2017.

Hopi Indians of the Southwest (1925) – Pliny Goddard and Howard McCormick

Young members of the Snake Society shoot lightning frames over the Antelope kiva, Musangnuvi, Arizona, August 1925.

16:58 mins.

Source: American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), film collection, no. 192

Background: This is a compilation film shot in two, possibly three, different Hopi villages.   The digital copy available through the link above is only a remnant since the original film suffered from nitrate damage.

Possibly for this reason, the film itself carries no opening titles and it is only from the AMNH catalogue that one learns that it was made by the AMNH curator Pliny Goddard and Howard McCormick (1875-1943), an artist and accomplished cameraman, who had previously been commissioned by Goddard to shoot Snake Dance footage in the Hopi village of Supawlavi in 1912. McCormick had also accompanied Goddard on a filming expedition to the Apache region in 1914.

This film is based on footage shot during an expedition to the Hopi region undertaken by Goddard in 1925.  The generally high quality of the material suggests that he might have been accompanied by McCormick or another professional cameraman since by his own admission, his own cinematographic skills were limited. 

Content: The first sequence, which runs for seven minutes, shows a man carding, spinning and weaving a woollen sash on a loom. There is no indication of the location, nor of the date, but one presumes that it was shot during the 1925 expedition.  

It is very well shot, involving several different camera positions and a sophisticated editorial ‘grammar’ featuring matched continuity cuts.  The sequence ends with a wide shot showing the man walking out of frame. It seems very unlikely that Goddard could have shot this.

A matched continuity cut – an example of sophisticated editorial ‘grammar’ for the period.

The second sequence begins abruptly with preparations for the Snake Dance ceremony, then held biennially in most Hopi villages in order to convince the spirits controlling the elements to release the rains.

This starts with an intertitle suggesting that having seen one footrace, one is about to see another, longer footrace that takes place early on the ninth and culminating day of the ritual process leading up to the Snake Dance ceremony. However, neither footrace is shown, suggesting that this part of the film was lost to nitrate damage. 

Instead, one sees three young men in a village plaza, walking around a kiva, an underground chamber normally reserved to initiated male members of a particular ‘society’, i.e. religious confraternity. Judging by the classic ethnographic accounts of the Snake Dance ceremony, these men are probably the winners of the ninth-day footrace while the designs on their kilts suggest that they are members of the Snake Society. 

This sequence is competently shot but from a single static position, seemingly from the roof of a house overlooking the plaza. The location is not indicated but it seems to be the Second Mesa village of Musangnuvi.

The men are vigorously whirling bull-roarers and shooting out telescoping wooden representations of lightning to evoke the impending rain (see the image above). They circumambulate one kiva before moving on to another kiva nearby and doing the same. 

Descending into the Snake ‘kiva’

They then descend into the second kiva, suggesting that this is their own Snake kiva, whereas the first kiva was that of the Antelope Society, with whom they will dance in counterpoint during the main ceremony later in the day. 

The third sequence, beginning around 9:00, shows the ‘dancing plaza’, also shot  from a distant roof. It shows the kisi, the cottonwood bower where snakes captured in the surrounding desert on the previous days will be stored.

The Antelope chief prepares a pit in front of the kisi in which prayer sticks directed to the spirits controlling the rain will probably be placed. He covers the pit with a plank that will serve as a foot drum during the dancing.

The snakes are stored in the ‘kisi’.  Spectators begin to gather. 

Two young men bring the snakes in bags and place them in the kisi. The spectators, including many outsiders, begin to gather around the perimeter.

With the Snake Society lined up in front, the Antelope Chief prepares to sprinkle a line of cornmeal in front of the Antelope Society. Frame from the 1912 McCormick footage.

But then at 10:48, an intertitle announces that “due to the meddling of a Hopi from another village”, the Snake chief withdrew his permission to film, so instead, McCormick’s footage shot in Supawlavi in 1912 will be substituted.


This continues to the end of the film with no final titles.

Texts: Voth 1903, Griffiths 2002: 294-299, 407.

© 2018 Paul Henley