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Edward Curtis' In the Land of the War Canoes, an almost-lost film about the native people of the Pacific Northwest, is neither wholly documentary nor wholly fiction. Just as he removed modern objects from his photos of Native Americans to make them more "authentic," War Canoes features footage of fictionalized ceremonies, a whale-hunting expedition that has nothing to do with traditional Kwakwaka'wakw life and a cobbled together love triangle, all added to heighten the dramatic impact. It also was made with the willing assistance of the Kwakwaka'wakw people, and depicts real elements of their culture in spite of such displays being illegal at the time of filming (1914). The film is a time capsule, at times a jaw-dropping document of a place and a culture that was changing even as Curtis recorded it. In the Land of the War Canoes screens at 6 p.m. this evening in Washington University's Steinberg Hall Auditorium (Forsyth and Skinker boulevards; 314-935-4523 or, as part of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum's current exhibition, Focus on Photography, a show that features several of Curtis' photographs. Admission is free.
Thu., July 8, 2010

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