Schultz, Harald (1909-1966)*

Harald Schultz with a Caduveo woman, Posto Indígena, Presidente Alves de Barros, Mato Grosso do Sul, 1942. Photographed by Heinz Förthmann, when both were working for the Research Section (Seção de Estudos) of the Serviço de Proteção aos Índios (SPI). Though barely visible in the photograph, Schultz’s face is decorated in the traditional Caduveo manner. Acervo Museu do Índio.

Today, some fifty years after his death, Harald Schultz is a largely forgotten figure in the history of ethnographic film. And yet, if the number of ethnographic films that a film-maker released in the course of their career were the only criterion, one would have no hesitation in acknowledging Schultz as by far the most important ethnographic film-maker working in Brazil in the mid-twentieth century.

For in the two decades between 1944 and 1965, Schultz shot 67 films among a large number of different indigenous groups across Brazilian Amazonia. Details of all these films are held in the German National Library (TIB) and are available here. There may be further films, yet to be released, in the possession of his descendants.

Of those that have been released, a remarkable 28 films concern the Krahô (referred to in the older literature as the Eastern Timbira) of the Tocantins River valley in Central Brazil, while nine concern their indigenous neighbours to the west, the Karajá, of the Ilha do Bananal on the middle reaches of the Araguaia River.

Schultz shot a further 20 films in the upper Xingu River region among various indigenous groups,  five among the Rikbatsa (whom he called Erigpactsá) of the upper Juruena, two on the upper Purus, among the Tukurina (linguistically related to their better-known near neighbours, the Kulina) and the Cashinahua, and another about the Tikuna of the upper Amazon mainstream.

Two particularly interesting films, his first, are those that Schultz made in 1944-45 about the Umutina, a small group, linguistically related to the Bororo but now extinct as an autonomous group, but who then inhabited the headwaters of the Paraguay River in Mato Grosso state. These two films were shot when Schultz was working for the Serviço de Proteção aos Índios (SPI). All his later films were shot after he was appointed to a research position at the Museu Paulista in São Paulo in 1947.

By and large, the cinematographic quality of Schultz’s films is high. They were almost all shot on 16mm film stock and in 80% of cases, in colour. However, the great majority of his films are very short.  Two-thirds are only ten minutes or less in duration, and of the remaining third, the longest is only 24½ minutes. The total duration of all 67 films comes to no more than ten hours.

Moreover, the subject matter of the films is very limited. The great majority are about technical or aesthetic processes such as craft activities, subsistence practices and body decoration. Although he also filmed ceremonial dances, he tended to film these as isolated events rather than attempting to cover the ceremony as a whole. Though his films have titles and sometimes explanatory intertitles, they are almost all silent, with neither ambient sound, nor voice-over commentary.

A major exception is Schultz’s very first film, Os Umutina and also one of his longest at 24 minutes, which was made when he was still at the SPI. This is of a more general documentary character, combining sequences of subsistence activities, self-decoration and ceremonial practices within an overarching narrative structured by a voice-over commentary as well as an introductory map. There is also intra-diegetic non-synchronous sound.

Another distinctive feature of Schultz’s work is that the production and release of his films was very uneven over time. After his two films about the Umutina, four years elapsed before he made his first three films among the Krahô in 1949. These were all very short, the longest being Ritual Relay Races with Wooden Logs, which was five minutes long and dealt with Krahô’s celebrated log-racing.

In 1950, Schultz travelled to the upper Purus River accompanied by his new wife, Vilma Chiara, who had studied anthropology at the Universidade de São Paulo. Here, Schultz shot a short film of only 3½ minutes duration, about the treatment of the sick among the Tukurina.

While working with the Tukurina, Schultz heard about the Cashinahua, a Panoan-speaking group which had then only recently entered into prolonged contact with the outside world. He visited them the following year, but as the Cashinahua were actually living within Peru at that time, he had to get special permission from the Peruvian government. It was during this visit that he shot Fishing Expedition and subsequent Ceremony. This is a partial exception to the general pattern of Schultz’s films in that it combines two different events, though it is still only 8½ minutes in duration.

After the Cashinahua film, there was an extended interlude in Schultz’s film-making activities. In 1952-53, he went on various research expeditions to indigenous groups living along the Bolivian border in Mato Grosso as well as to the Karajá and Tapirapé of Central Brazil, but he appears not to have shot any films. In 1954-58, he is reported to have been primarily involved in archeological expeditions in eastern Brazil and similarly, does not appear to have made any films.

It would not be until 1959 that Schultz started making films again, though when he did do so, he was highly productive, shooting 59 films before his tragically premature death in January 1966.

In the first year of this highly active final stage of his career, Schultz visited both the Karajá and the Krahô, shooting six films with the former and ten with the latter. Most of the Karajá films concerned craft activities, but they also included a longer film of 20½ minutes about their Aruanã Masked Dances. This is another unusual film in the corpus of Schultz’s films in that it combines two different types of event (ritual performance and honey-gathering).

The Krahô films also mostly consisted of short process films, but included one longer work, Hunting Expedition of Both Ceremonial Groups, which, with a duration of  24½ minutes is the longest of all the films that Schultz made.

In 1960, Schultz returned to the Karajá and shot a further three short process films, one about basket weaving and two about fishing techniques, but he also visited the upper Xingu, where he shot further five process films among the Suyá, the longest, at 16½ minutes, being Making an Arrow. On the same trip, he shot a curious two-minute film among the Kayapó, showing how a man could eat, drink and smoke while wearing a large lip plug.

It was also in 1960 that he shot his single film about the Tikuna on the Amazon mainstream. This is Making Bark Cloth, a very straightforward process film which, at 22 minutes, is another of his longer films.

All 25 films that Schultz shot in 1959-60 were then ‘published’ (i.e. released) in 1962 as part of the so-called Encyclopaedia Cinematographica (EC), a collection of films produced by the Institut für den Wissenschaftlichen Film (the Institute of Scientific Film/IWF), located in Göttingen, in what was then West Germany. Schultz went in person to Göttingen on two separate occasions, in consecutive years (probably 1961 and 1962), and worked with the IWF producer, Werner Rutz, to prepare them for inclusion in the EC.

Remarkably, although Schultz only stayed for a short period on each occasion, during these visits he and Rutz also prepared all his earlier films for inclusion in the EC as well. (In the case of Os Umutina, this constituted, in effect, a second release, since this film had first been released by the SPI back in 1945). In total therefore, in 1962, no less than 32 of Schultz’s films were added to the EC.

In terms of the sheer number of films produced, this represented only the mid-point of Schultz’s career. Over the remaining five years of his life, he would shoot a further 35 films.

In 1962 itself, he visited the Rikbatsa of the upper Juruena, while in 1964, he returned to the upper Xingu, this time to film the Waurá. The five films that he made about the Rikbatsa and three Waurá films were released by the EC in 1965. Another eleven Waurá films were released in 1966. The longest of the Rikbatsa films, Weaving a Carrying Basket was only ten minutes while the longest of the Waura films, 18 minutes, described the process of Extracting Salt from Aquatic Plants. By this time, Dore Kleindienst-Andrée had taken over in Göttingen as the producer of Schultz’s films for the EC.

In 1964 and again in 1965, Schultz  received a visit from some Krahô men at his home in São Paulo and he shot two films about them making string figures. It was also in 1965 that Schultz made his final  visit to the Krahô, shooting thirteen films, all of which, with the assistance of Vilma Chiara, were released posthumously at various points by the EC, the last release not being until 1988.

The longest of these Krahô films, 16½ minutes, was the second film about the making of String Figures, a testimony to the remarkable importance ascribed to this activity in early ethnographic texts generally. A film perhaps speaking more directly to present-day concerns is a ten-minute film about an important ceremonial event, Climax of the ‘Piegré’ Festival Cycle.

To understand this rather extraordinary pattern of film production, one must look more closely at the detail  of Schultz’s career.

Biographical background

Schultz was born to German-Danish parents in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, on the Atlantic coast of southeastern Brazil, in 1906. After attending school in Germany until he was 15, he  returned to Brazil and began his career as a photographer. For five years, he worked in the communications office of the then President of Brazil, Getúlio Vargas. His widow, Vilma Chiara much later reported that it had been Vargas himself who had invited Schultz to work in Rio de Janeiro.

In Rio, Schultz came into contact with the charismatic figure of General Cândido Rondon and was recruited to the SPI, which Rondon himself had founded in 1910. In 1939, in a sort of reprise of his appointment of Luiz Thomaz Reis to head up the new Section of Photography and Cinematography of his Commission in 1912, Rondon invited Schultz to set up a new Research Section (Seçao de Estudos) for the SPI.

Schultz remained with the SPI until 1946. During this time, he worked primarily as a photographer, though he also carried out ethnographic research. Among the groups that he visited were the Terena, the Caduveo and the Bakairi, all of whom live in the Mato Grosso region.

Among his colleagues at the SPI was Heinz Förthmann, also then working primarily as a photographer, but who would also later become an ethnographic film-maker, albeit one with a very different approach to that of Schultz. Both were from families of German descent based in Porto Alegre, and they were related by marriage. (Förthmann’s sister was married to Schultz’s brother). Indeed it had been Schlutz who had recruited Förhtmann to the SPI in 1942. It was while they were visiting the Caduveo later that same year that Förthmann took the photograph at the head of this entry.

It was during his time at the SPI that Schultz worked with the Umutina of the upper Paraguay river. He made his first visit in 1943, returning in 1944 and 1945, spending eight months in total with them. During his second and third visits, he shot the material for his general documentary Os Umutina and also for a much shorter film, Dances of the Cult of the Dead, 4½ minutes, which concerns three ceremonial dances, though this was not released until 1962, long after Schultz had left the SPI.

Schultz among the Umutina in 1943-45 (photograph in Schultz 1954, p.73).

In addition to these two films, Schultz also produced a large number of photographs of the Umutina and a short fieldwork memoir, in which, in addition to conventional ethnographic descriptions, he relates how his fieldwork was brought to an abrupt end when his Umutina interpreter, who had been brought up by non-Indians,  stabbed him, almost killing him, having been angered by what he considered an act of disrespect on Schultz’s part.

Shortly after this experience, Schultz left the SPI, frustrated by its general disorganisation and enrolled on the courses  being offered at the Museu Paulista in São Paulo by Herbert Baldus, a German anthropologist who had arrived in Brazil in the 1930s and is regarded as one of the foundational figures of modern Brazilian anthropology.

In January 1947, Baldus appointed Schultz to be his ethnographic research assistant at the museum, a post that he would hold for the rest of his life. Initially, Schultz accompanied Baldus on his field trips to Southern and Central Brazil, though he did not make any films during these expeditions. But thereafter he struck out on his own.

Schultz’s move to the Museu Paulista coincided with a major change in the style and approach of his film-making. Os Umutina, the film that he made whilst still with the SPI, was one of several films that the SPI produced around that time that purported to give a general account of a particular indigenous group. These films included Calapalo (1946) directed by Nilo Oliveira Vellozo, Os Carajá (1947) directed by Heinz Förthmann and Os Índios “Urubus” (1950), jointly directed by Förthmann and Darcy Ribeiro.

But after he moved to the Museu Paulista in 1947, Schultz began to to make films in accordance with a very different methodology. As this methodology was then the dominant orthodoxy in German educational film-making, it seems very likely that it was Herbert Baldus who most influenced him in this regard.

This is the methodology that would be explicitly adopted by the  Encyclopaedia Cinematographica (EC) when this was set up at the IWF in 1952 and it was in this film collection that, ten years later, all Schultz’s films would be ‘published’.

Films that were ‘published’ by the EC had to conform to a strict set of methodological rules designed to ensure that they were as scientifically objective as possible. As applied to the making of ethnographic films, the EC methodology encouraged the production of short ‘monothematic’ films that followed processes, cultural as well as technical.

The general aim was to produce data, not cinematic narratives. In the hope of ensuring objectivity, the rules required that there should be no interference in the process filmed, nor any changes of chronology at the editing stage. If synchronous sound was not possible for technical reasons (which was usually the case in remote locations until the late 1960s), the films should be silent: soundtracks based on non-synchronous ‘wild’ sounds or library effects were not permissible. Nor should there be any voice-over commentary. Instead, all necessary explanation and contextualisation should be provided in the form of an accompanying written text.

The overall effect of these principles was to encourage a preponderant focus on topics that lent themselves well to the particular underlying methodology: that is, technical processes, subsistence activities, the performance of particular dances (but not a whole ceremonial event). Aspects of social life that were less obviously processual, for example, the emotional tone of interpersonal relationships, were simply not covered.

The great majority of Schultz’s films conform very closely to the norms of the EC, both in a technical sense and in terms of content.  They are also all accompanied by study guides that provide ethnographic contexualization, though this is mostly descriptive rather than analytical or comparative. Theoretical discussion is almost wholly absent. (Again, Os Umitina, the film that Schultz made for the SPI, is an exception here: although it too was also ‘published’ by the EC, there is no accompanying study guide, only a transcription of the commentary text).

These texts also describe the circumstances of production: the cameras and film stocks are listed, the lenses, the tripod, even on one occasion the light meter. Schultz also frequently explains whether or not he had to ask his subjects to move to take advantage of the available light since he had no means of artificially lighting a scene.

The writing and publication of these texts usually took place some years after the release of a film: many were written in part or entirely by Vilma Chiara after Schultz’s sudden death in 1966. The last text to be published, along with the last of Schultz’s films, did not appear until 1988.

The legacy of Harald Schultz

Schultz had no formal higher education qualification either as a film-maker or as an anthropologist. Although Baldus claimed in his obituary for Schultz that he was a student of both General Rondon and the leading Brazilian indigenist, Curt Nimuendajú, this was only true in the sense that both had given classes on a two-month short course on ethnology at the Museu Nacional that Schultz had taken after he was appointed to the SPI in 1939.

No doubt Schultz would also have learned much from working with Baldus himself and from following his courses at the Museu Paulista. He would equally surely have learned a great deal from his anthropologist wife, Vilma Chiara, who was his companion through much of his film-making career.

But notwithstanding his lack of formal training, Os Umutina, Schultz’s first film, proved that he was a film-maker of great artistic sensibility as well as considerable technical ability. His companion study guides and many other publications showed that he had an ethnographic sensibility to match, as well as being an accomplished story-teller.

By undertaking the most arduous journeys, Schultz was able to visit the most remote indigenous communities on which the impact of the outside world was still then minimal. And he carried with him the same film-making equipment that around the same time in Africa, Jean Rouch and John Marshall were using to create a number of the great ‘classics’ of ethnographic film history.

Yet once Schultz adopted the EC methodology, in the hope of achieving a chimerical objectivity, his films became restricted to mute registrations of mostly banal everyday processes or decontextualised ceremonial performances that today challenge the patience of most audiences, even those with the most dedicated specialist interest in the subject matter.

Thus, although Harald Schultz’s films undoubtedly offer an extensive descriptive record of certain, mostly technical, aspects of Brazilian indigenous life in the mid-twentieth century, when considering his body of film work as a whole, one cannot help but feel the most profound sense of lost opportunity.

TextsSchultz 1954, Baldus 1966, Campos 1994, Campos 1999, Souza Mendes 2006, Husmann 2007, Arruda 2013, Marcolin 2013. This entry also draws on a number of generous personal communications by Werner Rutz (June 2020).


© 2018 Paul Henley