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Legendary photographer Edward S. Curtis devoted his life to documenting the world of Native Americans in firm belief that the information he gathered “must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost.” In 1914, he created one of the first feature length dramas ever made — a masterpiece filmed with and starring members of the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) tribe of British Columbia. Curtis’ haunting melodrama, set before Europeans arrived on the North Pacific Coast, tells the story of a warrior’s spiritual journey, of love won and lost, and of a battle between tribes to save the warrior’s bride. The film’s attention to historic detail and Curtis’ legendary eye for composition make IN THE LAND OF THE HEAD HUNTERS one of the most beautiful films of the silent era and a stunning evocation of a culture famed for its incredible artistic heritage. Aspects of the film were based on he Kwakwaka’wakw’s oral traditions and it accurately portrays rituals, including the potlatch, which were strictly prohibited by Canadian law until 1951.

Motana, the son of a great chief, must gain power from the spirit forces through a quest. His love is the beautiful Naida, a maiden who has been promised to the Sorcerer of another tribe. After Motana kills his rival in battle and marries his love, the dead man’s brother attacks the village and kidnaps the bride. Although her captors plan to kill her, the beauty of Naida’s dancing saves her life. But only Motana can lead his tribe in a daring raid to rescue her.

The film’s gala premieres in December 1914 featured the performance of an original orchestral score by composer John J. Braham. That composition, the earliest known for a feature film, was recently rediscovered. The Turning Point Ensemble’s rousing and beautiful rendition is a lovely match for the painstaking reconstruction/restoration by UCLA Film and Television Archive’s Jere Guldin which showcases the original film’s gorgeous color tinting.

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MF144 In the Land of the Head Hunters DVD (1914) $29.95 $26.99