For this Canada Day edition of Movie Night in Canada, we decided to run a recommendation from someone with an extensive knowledge of film: Vancouver International Film Festival director of programming Alan Franey.
Franey chose a landmark docudrama from right here in B.C. that is actually the oldest existing feature film made in Canada.
In the Land of the Head Hunters (also known as In the Land of the War Canoes) celebrated its centenary in December. Vancity Theatre and the Cinematheque held special screenings of the restored 1914 film.
The silent melodrama, featuring elements of documentary, was directed by photographer Edward S. Curtis. The film depicts the Kwakwaka’wakw (formerly known as Kwakiutl) people and culture of northern Vancouver Island, in a dramatization of love and war prior to European contact.
Here's what Franey had to say about the film:
My first recommendation for a must-see Canadian film has to be In the Land of the Head Hunters, directed by Edward Curtis in 1914. It's a remarkable dramatization of coastal First Nations life here in B.C. (specifically Kwakwaka'wakw) before it was so radically altered by the arrival of foreign cultures and technologies.
Many people have seen snippets of the film without realizing its importance or ever having seen it properly. Finally that's easy; just look online for this: Milestone in New York have just released a restored version on DVD and Blu-ray on the occasion of its hundredth anniversary, with a neat new score by Vancouver's Turning Point Ensemble.
It's been well over 100 years that indigenous peoples and anthropologists have been concerned that ways of life were disappearing without trace. In the Land of the War Canoes (as it was first called) was an attempt to document and re-create activities and artifacts while they were still within living memory.
It is historically significant to film history in so many ways that I suggest you check its page in Wikipedia. But that's not why I'm recommending it. See this seminal docudrama to better imagine what human life on our coast has been in the past, and as a very meaningful example of actual collaboration between curious whites and natives, artists and subjects. One can wonder why not only that is rare, but why there are so few examples of other filmmakers engaging with earlier eras of British Columbia's amazing, story-filled history.
Here's a trailer for the film:
For more recommendations of Canadian films, you can always check out our Movie Night in Canada webpage. After all, what could be more appropriate than watching a Canadian movie on Canada Day?
Stay tuned for more recommendations of obscure, under-the-radar, or forgotten gems from Canadian cinema as we've got many more to come.