Notes — Colonization


The Development of Fourth World Film



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The Development of Fourth World Film
Like postcolonial literature in Indigenous North America, the development of postcolonial films also had different stages. The first stage is formed by colonial filmic discourse about the colonial subjects. The beginning of moving pictures at the end of the nineteenth century was also the beginning of ethnographic filmmaking and modern anthropology. The first piece of visual anthropology was created by Alfred Haddon, leader of the 1898 Cambridge expedition to the Torres Straits, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. He took a kinematograph with him and shot four minutes of Aborigine dances and fire making. This generation of anthropologists regarded the camera as their "microscope" or "telescope" which would solidify and preserve their work as well as lend it an objective character. In the 1920s, anthropology became less iconographic and anthropologists began to see that the medium of film was manipulative and would not assist them in developing anthropology as an "objective" science such as physics or biology.40 Very often in such films, dances were staged, dancers were wearing cardboard masks, people staged their daily chores and hunting in pre-contact clothes and could not use tools that they had acquired through Western contact. However, the making of ethnographic films (mostly in documentary form) continued and developed further so that it became one major aspect in the process of mental colonization and the creation of a discursive exotic other.41

Indigenous people of North America were filmed for the first time by Thomas Edison's company in the short film Sioux Ghost Dance of 1894.42 At the beginning of the twentieth century, the former United States Department of the Interior that was later to become the Bureau of Indian Affairs commissioned anthropologists to collect film footage about Indigenous people. Early American ethnographic films were composed out of this footage. They include Life and Customs of the Winnebago Indians (1912), See America First (1912), and Indian Dances and Past Times (1912).43 Edward S. Curtis produced his epic saga about the Kwakiutl In the Land of the Head Hunters in 1914. Various other ethnographic films followed, eg, History of the American Indian (1915) by Rodman Wanamaker, documenting rites and ceremonies, Indian Life (1918), Nurse Among the Tepees (1920), and a few colour documentaries shot in the 1920s, such as The Land of the Great Spirit, Life in the Blackfoot Country, and Heritage of the Red Man. In 1922 Robert Flaherty released his largely staged film Nanook of the North, which attempted to describe Inuit life by following Nanook and his family on their hunting trips and everyday activities. In the 1960s, two anthropologists and a cinematographer set out to produce a documentary series on the Netsilik Inuit, focusing on life and survival in the Arctic. The Netsilik Eskimo Project consists of fifteen films, each dealing with a special aspect in Inuit life. All these early ethnographic films form a stage in which individuals from the colonial group were making films about individuals from the colonized group. These films clearly resemble a subject/object relation (filmmaker/filmed) with its underlying self/other dichotomy. Later, numerous other ethnographic films were produced. Today there is a large market in the governmental and educational sector for documentaries about Indigenous cultures and issues. Indigenous filmmakers only have a small share of this market and these neo-ethnographic films44 remain strongly competing against self-controlled documentaries by Indigenous filmmakers.

Already at the beginning of the twentieth century, there were two Indigenous filmmakers James Young Deer (Winnebago) and Edwin Carewe (Chickasaw). Both of them made a series of commercially successful films, such as Cheyenne Brave (1910), The Yaqui Girl (1911), Lieutenant Scott's Narrow Escape (n.d.), and Red Deer's Devotion (n.d.) by Young Deer, and The Trail of the Shadow (1917) and Ramona (1928) by Carewe.45 These men are probably the first Indigenous filmmakers in North America but their accomplishments largely remained obscure. Their careers as directors were short-lived and they did not seem to influence the media (mis)representation of Indigenous cultures of their time. In contrast, Young Deer's work was informed by contemporary Hollywood practice and portrayed Indian attacks with simplistic plots, celebrating male heroism and unrequited love.46 These two early Indigenous filmmakers could not initiate the production of Indigenous films on a broader scale and Indigenous filmmaking was suspended for half a century. At the same time, until the late 1970s, Hollywood studios released approximately 2.000 feature films with 'Indian' content, and between 1950 and 1970 circa 2.500 were made as television segments.47 These numbers convey the dimension of mainstream Indian imagery that developed into a lopsided stereotypical discourse. As discussed earlier, these stereotypes include the whole range of clichéd Indian notions between the 'poles' of the 'noble savage' and 'bloodthirsty devil' as well as between the 'poles' of the contemporary 'drunk and lazy Indian' and the 'handsome exotic womanizer,' greatly exceeding the sexual qualities of Euro-American/Canadian lovers. In the same vein, westerns by relaying the cowboy(settler)/Indian dichotomy were 'mapping the terra incognita' in media discourse.

The 1966 project "Navajos Film Themselves" in Pine Springs on the Navajo reservation marked the beginning of the second stage of Indigenous media development.48 The anthropologist John Adair and the communication science professor Sol Worth trained six Navajos how to use film cameras and how to cut and splice, and asked them to make a film about Navajo life. The Navajos had till then been hardly exposed to film (except for the art student Al Clah), and Worth and Adair did not teach them about the concept of film. They studied how the Navajos used film as a form of cultural expression, how they structured their view of the world through film, and in what ways their films differed from films made by Western people, including film novices. The Navajos made a series of silent films on subjects that they thought important and appropriate to be filmed. Like 'as-told-to' autobiographies, this project can be seen as marking a stage in which individuals from the colonized group were making films in collaboration with members of the colonizing group, whereby the latter were in control. Although it is clearly a patronizing project and independence from imperial control could not be gained, it must be understood as a step in the process toward decolonized media making.



Itam Hakim, Hopiit by Hopi filmmaker Victor Masayevsa can be regarded as one of the first fully self-determined documentaries. He made the film in memorial of the tricentennial of the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. It was released in 1984 by IS Productions (Masayesva's film company) in collaboration with ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen; German public broadcaster which commissioned and funded the film). According to Masayesva, ZDF gave him free hand in the making.49 Likewise, the films of Shelley Niro (Honey Moccasin, Overweight With Crooked Teeth), Chris Eyre (Tenacity), Lloyd Martell (Talker), and Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner)50 reflect the creation of independent Indigenous media which marks a third stage that comes closest to a decolonized media making.

In a fourth stage of Fourth World filmmaking collaboration between mainstream and subaltern filmmaking is chosen as the way of production and, foremost, the relation of decision-power in the process of creation is balanced. In 1971 Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki) directed her first documentary film at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and has since then been making documentaries about social and political Indigenous issues with determined perseverance. She is a pioneer in Indigenous filmmaking and won about thirty awards.51 Many other Indigenous filmmakers followed and made documentaries within major companies, in Canada mainly with the NFB.52 Also the films Smoke Signals (dir. Chris Eyre) and Big Bear (dir. Gil Cardinal), the first major motion pictures made by Indigenous filmmakers in the US and Canada, are made in collaboration with mainstream film companies and/or distributors. Smoke Signals' script and the text which it is adapted from were written by an Indigenous author (Sherman Alexie), whereas Big Bear's script was co-written by an Indigenous and non-Indigenous author (Gil Cardinal and Rudy Wiebe), and the script is based upon a novel by the latter. On the one hand, these films cannot be regarded as fully self-controlled but on the other, they do not belong to the second stage since here the collaboration is self-chosen and is largely restricted to providing technical and financial support. Co-producers, camera persons, editors, sound editors/managers and other crew members are usually part of the respective mainstream company but what counts is that producer and/or co-producer, director, and script writer belong to the colonized group. Collaboration with major film companies has become necessary and is sought because Indigenous companies do not (yet) have the financial means to produce million-dollar budget films and because some filmmakers do not regard it as important to exclude mainstream involvement in the making of their films. To them, such collaboration is fruitful in the creation of Indigenous media.53

Indigenous filmmaking began as a "cinema of duty" discourse, which Bailey defines as: "social issue in content, documentary-realist in style, firmly responsible in intention," positioning its subjects "in direct relation to social crisis" and attempting "to articulate 'problems' and 'solutions to problems' within a framework of centre and margin. [...] The goal is often to tell buried or forgotten stories, to write unwritten histories, to 'correct' the misrepresentation of the mainstream."54 To a large degree employing the documentary mode, Indigenous filmmakers deal with social and political issues and presented historical and cultural narratives from within the subaltern discourse. The documentary mode was/is favoured because this genre requires much lower budgets and because the major funding sources have traditionally supported documentaries.55 Leuthold outlines three other reasons for the documentaries' prevalence: "the place of documentaries in education, the natural adoption of electronic media documentaries by members of traditionally oral cultures, and the desire to document disappearing cultural practices."56 As educational broadcasters also show an interest in airing Indigenous documentaries and tribal councils and the Canadian government commission Indigenous filmmakers to produce videos about important events, about conditions on reserves, and videos with community profiles, the production of documentary work is nurtured by this emerging market as well.57 In that sense, Weatherford observes: "Documentary has long been the genre of choice for Native directors concerned that Native American history and contemporary viewpoints lack authentic representation in American society."58 Tied in with the constraints of the 'cinema of duty' is what Mercer calls the "burden of representation," a sense of urgency to comment on all social and political problems and correct all misrepresentations in one film.59 This burden that many pioneer Indigenous filmmakers may know bears a potential danger for filmmakers to succumb to essentializing and moralizing tendencies. They did not always succeed in warding off such tendencies.

In the last few years, there has been a movement away from a social and political realism in documentary form to the dramatized mode in which filmmakers largely stay close to conventional filmmaking but also experiment with style, techniques, narrative forms, metaphorical plots, and a humorous subversive play with the dominant media discourse. I call this discourse the 'cinema of pleasure' in relation to the 'cinema of duty.' Presently, both cinematic approaches coexist and their mixing is not the exception but rather becomes the shaping norm. The movement toward the dramatic mode was enabled by filmmakers' growing interest in the subversive potential of cinematic fiction as well as by their entrepreneurial spirit to start small independent film companies and their ability to commit mainstream companies to cooperative projects.

The release of Indigenous feature films increased in the past few years. Naturally Native (1997) by Valerie Red Horse and Jennifer Wynne Farmer was financed with Indigenous monies, casino profits of the Mashantucket Pequots.60 The films Tushka (1996) by Ian Skorodin is labelled as the first all-Indigenous feature production. Shirley Cheechoo's Bearwalker (1999, re-released as Backroads, 2000), Sean Morris' Kusah Hakwaan (2001), and Zacharias Kunuk's Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) are the first Indigenous features partly or completely in an Indigenous language: English and Cree, English and Tlingit, and Inuktitut respectively, with English subtitles.61 Sherman Alexie has adapted his collection of poetry The Business of Fancydancing (2002) for the screen and also directed this production. Last but not least, Chris Eyre followed up his successful Smoke Signals with Skins (2002), Skinwalkers (2002), Edge of America (2003), A Thief of Time (2004), and A Thousand Roads (2005).

These recent developments indicate that Indigenous filmmaking is on the threshold of taking a firm share in the media industry and of becoming a full-scale and internationally acclaimed film tradition. These feature films show that Indigenous filmmaking is not only a matter of adapting Western filmmaking techniques to Indigenous themes and creating mixed film codes but that the film sources can be of mixed origin as well. Smoke Signals, The Business of Fancydancing, and Skins are based on texts by Indigenous authors, but Big Bear, Skinwalkers, A Thief of Time, and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen are based on texts by non-Indigenous authors, Rudy Wiebe, Tony Hillermann, and Knud Rasmussen. The first two are present names in the appropriation debate, and the choice of their texts indicates that emphasis is put not so much on which texts are adapted for the screen but how they are adapted. In that sense, the filmic translation of texts belonging to the colonial discourse might be understood as a double act of decolonizing. It is imaginable that in the near future all-Indigenous productions funded by Indigenous finance capital will be common, and Indigenous filmmaking will have its grand entry into the mainstream industry as fully decolonized and self-controlled media.



To Indigenous filmmakers, decolonization starts when they take their representation and image making into their own hands, creating decolonized cultural, historical, and political discourses in films, and progressively become emancipated in the Hollywood-dominated industry. This decolonizing process works in a twofold manner: first, as a political struggle by creating self-controlled images and anticolonialist history writing/filming, and secondly, as an aesthetic struggle by defying and/or negotiating established feature film and ethnographic film conventions.62

The 'parent--child' relation between mainstream governments and their colonial subjects in North America is also demonstrated in the fact that there seems to be a paternalistic notion that Indigenous people cannot speak for themselves, and that they do not have the potential for making films. This paternalistic notion, coupled with prejudices and institutional and structural racism, fosters a situation in which all kinds of obstacles bar the subalterns' way to self-controlled films. Production companies, broadcasters, and funding agencies do not trust Indigenous filmmakers, reasoning that they are not properly trained, that they are not reliable or organized enough, or that they do not have the gist of making good films.63 As a result, projects with Indigenous content are often placed in the hands of non-Indigenous filmmakers. Documentaries, television series, and feature films with Indigenous content are made for them instead of by them. For example, the federal government in Canada attempts to support Indigenous film practice by consigning monies to big film companies and broadcasting corporations, such as SaskFilm, Telefilm, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Canadian Television (CTV), and the NFB, for the promotion, production and broadcasting of Indigenous film and video productions. But most often the monies are not given directly to Indigenous filmmakers but are distributed through such non-Indigenous companies so that the discussed paternalistic procedures take effect.64 The NFB has the greatest share in the Canadian documentary production. On the one hand it has been supportive of Indigenous documentary making through its "Challenge for Change"65 and "Studio One" programs that trained and guided Indigenous media producers in the creation of documentaries. In 1996 the decentralized "Indigenous Filmmaking Program" emerged from "Studio One" and finances Indigenous documentary projects four times a year. On the other hand the NFB transmits hegemonic structures since it hardly supports experimental or feature projects but only conventional documentaries and usually provides the producer for a project.66 Monk observes that the NFB "ghettoizes the Aboriginal experience within a government institution [...] and limits not only the exposure of the art to a wider audience, but limits the content of the work to fact-based, documentary exposés of real-life scenarios."67 Likewise, in the US the Native American Public Telecommunications, Inc. (NAPT) allocates funds for Indigenous projects to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous media makers. There have been concerns on the part of Indigenous media producers that NAPT also funds projects of non-Indigenous media producers as long as Indigenous media producers have key roles in the production process. As such policy facilitates tokenism, Indigenous media producers believe that such funding for Indigenous projects should be allocated to them only, and then they could decide to hire non-Indigenous participation in the project.68 Only in the past few years there seems to have been recognition of Indigenous filmmaking potential and a gradual change toward placing Indigenous image making into Indigenous hands.

But Indigenous and non-Indigenous voices are still far from being balanced in the mainstream media as David observes in her report on Aboriginal Language Broadcasting in Canada of November 2004:


The issue of appropriation is also a common issue for Aboriginal people in the media. Well-intentioned non-Aboriginal people are often asked to comment upon or categorize Aboriginal people or situations, leaving Aboriginal people without a voice and creating a void in the media where Aboriginal people are being seen and discussed, but not consulted or asked to contribute in a significant way. Finally, Aboriginal artists¾performers, writers, producers, directors¾are often excluded from mainstream television altogether, and have had to find access to media through Aboriginal-specific venues such as APTN. Much-touted programs such as North of 60 and The Rez, while employing Aboriginal people and telling Aboriginal stories, were still a product of a mainstream network, subject to higher management decisions and editorial control based on audience preferences and network policies. These decisions are made without consultation with Aboriginal people; mainstream television thus provides no consistent window on Aboriginal reality.69
With respect to film conventions, classical documentary and Hollywood narrative cinema is the shaping norm in both Canada and the US. In economic terms, Hollywood and the North American mainstream also control the cinema market and the television sector. The Indigenous-run broadcaster Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) (formerly TVNC) in Canada has a minimal share of the public television sector. Nevertheless, this minimal share of air space and access to viewers is controlled by Indigenous people, employing basic Western television conventions while at the same time catering to culture-specific concerns. TeleVision Northern Canada (TVNC) emerged in 1992 on account of continual lobbying of various Indigenous organizations and with the support of government funds. It integrated the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), nine smaller local Indigenous broadcasters, and five non-Indigenous broadcasters.70 It ran education, children's, communal and political discussion programs, documentaries and small features tailored to Northern communities. TVNC aired in various Northern Indigenous languages belonging to fifteen different language groups besides English and French.71 In 1999 TVNC became the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) with a country-wide broadcast license. It is financially backed up by the Canadian government's Northern Native Broadcast Access Program and the Northern Distribution Program, but is financed mainly through advertisement and subscriber fees.72 As the first national Indigenous television network in the world, its programs consist of Indigenous documentaries, news shows, live coverage of special events, feature films, children's series and cartoons, youth shows, cooking shows, educational programs and programs on culture, traditions, dance, and music. These programs are broadcast in English, French, Inuktitut, Cree, Micmac, Ojibway, Mohawk, Dene, and other Aboriginal languages. The shares of program languages are sixty percent English, fifteen percent French, and twenty-five percent Aboriginal languages with six hundred dialects.73 Aside from being broadcast by this Indigenous station, Indigenous media works are largely shown at Indigenous film festivals such as the Dreamspeakers Festival in Edmonton, the imagineNATIVE Festival in Toronto, the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, the Annual Taos Talking Picture Film Festival, the Native American Film and Video Festival at the NMAI in New York, and Two Rivers Native American Film and Video Festival in Minneapolis. Beside presenting filmic works, these festivals are forums for discussion, networking, and exchanging ideas among filmmakers.

The Aboriginal Film and Video Arts Alliance (AFVAA) in Canada, the Native American Producers Alliance (NAPA), and the Native American Public Broadcasting Consortium (NAPBC) in the US are organizations which create a network for/of Indigenous filmmakers, support their projects and work against exclusion, silencing, and appropriation of Indigenous voices in the film and video industry. NAPBC was founded in 1977 with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and thirty other public television stations. In 1995 it was renamed Native American Public Telecommunications, Inc. (NAPT). It operates the largest library for Indigenous video programs in the US, provides structural support and access to national funding sources for emergent Indigenous filmmakers as well as supplies small-scale funding.74 Film centers such as the American Indian Film Institute (AIFI), which hosts the annual American Indian Film Festival, The Center for Media, Culture, and History at the New York University, and the Native Voices Public Television Workshop in the US similarly support the work of Indigenous filmmakers, partly through funding.75 Indigenous filmmakers also have access to funds for media production for example through the Canada Council, the Canadian Television Fund, APTN, and the NFB in Canada and the CPB in the US. However, as of 1998 less than two percent of media funding in Canada was spent for Indigenous filmmakers.76


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