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In the Land of the Head Hunters

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Digitally Restored Print and Soundtrack!

Screening preceded by a presentation by Author and Filmmaker André Dudemaine and a representative of Wapikoni

It’s 1914, and while the Lumière Brothers’ cinematograph continues to astound the public the world oveer, Edward S. Curtis, a renowned American photographer, obtains a film camera of his own and embarks into the wild country of western Canada. He undertakes a perilous journey with one precise goal in mind — to make the most beautiful film ever made. It’s an ambitious project, to make film in the revolutionary new feature-length format, and this without a celebrity cast — rather, his stars are an actual First Nations tribe. Originating on Vancouver Island, the Kwakwaka’wakw had always impressed Curtis, who regarded them as accomplished artists. So too has the anthropological community, recognizing the incredible craftsmanship off their totem poles, their sumptuous clothing and their impressive war canoes. Over three years, Curtis carefully committed to nitrate this people’s ancestral customs — and then had the daring to go a step further. Rather than limit himself to a straightforward documentary, he drew upon the religious beliefs of the Kwakwaka’wakw and embellished his portrait of a people with an epic tale that could only happen in the land of the headhunters!

His technology was new, but the tale to be told was as old as the hills. The young Motana embarks on a initiatory voyage to find the source of supernatural power that will make of him a chief as strong as his father. Along the path of his Homeric journey, he is smitten by Naida, a beauty promised to the evil sorceror of the Yilis. Their forbidden love sparks a violent conflict, pitting bow and arrow against black magic.

A precursor to even NANOOK OF THE NORTH, and to the mondo movie craze in its mix of fact and fiction, IN THE LAND OF THE HEAD HUNTERS is an overlooked masterpiece of our collective heritage. In filming a First Nations society still untouched by colonial ways, Edward S. Curtis harnessed to great ends the burgeoning power of motion pictures. His ethnographic efforts fascinate while his sensational sequences keep the audience spellbound. You will never forget Motana’s whale hunt, nor his battles against fierce adversaries. Created two years before BIRTH OF A NATION, Curtis’s film seems like the stuff of dreams today. Fantasia is proud to salute this film’s hundredth anniversary as we present a sublime digital restoration care of Milestone Films, who have also retained the original 1914 musical track. Here is HEAD HUNTERS as it was meant to be seen and heard. Come discover this prelude to an amazing century of cinema!

— Simon Laperrière