In the Land of the Headhunters, the oldest film shot in B.C. and the oldest surviving film shot in Canada, will be screened at the Tidemark Theatre April 12 as part of a special event.

‘Important’ historical film comes to Tidemark Theatre

In the Land of the Headhunters, the oldest surviving film made in Canada, screens April 12

It was the first feature film made in B.C. and it’s the oldest existing feature film made in Canada.

It’s the first feature film made with an entirely North American Indigenous cast.

It’s a significant and important piece of our collective history. And it’s coming to the Tidemark Theatre.

Ethnologist and photographer Edward Curtis worked in collaboration with the Kwakwaka’wakw (formerly Kwakiutl) people of northern Vancouver Island in the creation of the film, In the Land of the Headhunters, way back in 1914.

“Let’s just say it didn’t really take off like he thought it would,” says Campbell River criminology student Landon Walters, who spearheaded the effort to bring the film back to the area in collaboration with the museum and Campbell River Arts Council. “It was only shown in Seattle and New York, and then it basically sat up on a shelf getting dusty for about 60 years.”

It was rediscovered, however, by a colleague of Simon Fraser University professor Colin Brown.

“I guess he called Colin up and said, ‘hey, we have to do something with this movie’,” Walters says. “So, using his connections, he brought in a symphony and added music into the film – because obviously they didn’t have the capability to do that very well in 1914 – and did as much colour correction as they could and remastered it to the point where it could be shown to a modern-day audience.”

But the April 12 Tidemark screening of the film is about more than just letting people see a historic movie that’s been touched up.

“The cool thing about this event is that it’s not really about the film,” Walters says. “While the film itself is important, there’s also going to be a whole roundtable Q&A period with Colin and Andy Everson after the film where people can ask questions and really get a closer connection to the film and our history.”

Everson is the great grandson of Margaret Frank, who played the role of Princess Naida in the film.

“The film has a bad reputation sometimes, in some circles,” Walters says. “Some people see it as this white guy coming in and getting these Aboriginal people to do these things they wouldn’t normally do so he could profit off them. But that wasn’t the case at all. While it’s not a documentary, he actually lived with them and they had input in what was being created. That’s the kind of historical viewpoint that Colin and Andy will be there to give.”

Walters also hopes the screening will be an opportunity for people to get a little closer to the history of the Indigenous people of the area.

“Growing up in a hockey family here in Campbell River, it’s a bit amazing to me that I wasn’t really exposed much to Aboriginal culture or history,” he says. “I feel like this event will give people the opportunity to walk away having experienced First Nations culture from over 100 years ago. There are traditional dances and things in this movie that people will have never seen before, and then to have the chance to meet these people who are connected to this movie is something that sometimes gets missed at a lot of film screenings, and I think it allows people to connect to the film on a little deeper level.”

And Walters wants to make sure that not only do the people who attend the screening get something positive out of it, the community itself benefits, as well.

So the proceeds from the night will be going to Grassroots Kind Hearts, an organization that feeds dinner in Campbell River’s downtown to anyone who needs it seven days per week.

“There are a lot of worthy organizations in town, but I feel like they go over and above,” Walters says. Having worked a few summers for the City of Campbell River in the parks department doing maintenance downtown, he was exposed – for the first time, he says – to the homeless and struggling in our community, “so it was kind of a no-brainer for me to have it benefit the people who do what that group does for those folks.”

Tickets for the event are only $12 and are available at the Tidemark Box Office or online at tidemarktheatre.com

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