Shalako Film Remade

Shalako FIlm Remade stillThe Shalako Film Remade is a collaboration between the AAMHC and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, that consists of the repurposing and re-interpretation of the silent film The Shalako Ceremonial at Zuni, New Mexico, made in 1923 by filmmaker Owen Cattell under the direction of the AMNH. As the title indicates, the film is about Shalako – the sacred Zuni religious ceremony – and refers to a historical turning point for Zunis over the use of documentary media by outsiders. In response to making of the film, no filming or recording of Zuni ceremonies would ever be allowed at Zuni again, and many other indigenous communities followed with similar decrees. This event marked the point that Zunis first engaged and began shaping the fields of ethnography and visual anthropology.

The origins of this project go back to 2012, when a group of Zuni religious leaders and part of our staff were shown the film during a collection review at the American Museum of Natural History. The reaction of the group while viewing the film was and continues to be complex. Besides the fact that the film should never have been made, it reveals some esoteric ceremonial scenes and misrepresents the ceremony with incorrect inter-titles and sequences of events. The inaccurate and inappropriate original film is in public domain and has been digitized, which raises a lot of questions about circulation and control over the dissemination of the controversial footage. We cannot realistically stop distribution of open source films when they are digitized, so we decided on another approach.

In 2013, we came to an agreement with the AMNH and were able to remake the film using a digital copy. We added our own inter-titles to correct the misrepresentation, included Zuni language voice-over in order to control the message and provide contextual information to the images, and edited some parts of the film that should not be seen by non-Zuni and even by non-initiated Zuni members. Essentially, through The Shalako Film Remade the AAMHC is seeking to regain control over the message and representation of Zuni visual culture held in museum archives.

The next step of this project is to engage the field of ethnographic film by making a documentary about the process of the campaign that the AAMHC undertook to remake the Shalako Film. One of the main purposes of this documentary will be to raise questions around access, control, and circulation of misinterpreted culturally sensitive images within digital contexts.