Preserving the Yanomamö Films

DER's Yanomamö Film Preservation Project

In the summer of 2017, the DER team began taking steps to preserve and remaster the films in our Yanomamö Series, a groundbreaking ethnographic media project by DER co-founder, Tim Asch, and anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon. In 1968 and again in 1971, Asch and Chagnon formed a unique collaboration to document the Yanomami, an indigenous community living in the Amazon River Basin. The resulting Yanomamö Series consists of twenty-one finished films, which expanded the scope of what was then possible in cross-cultural filmmaking. The Yanomamö Series was one of DER’s founding collections: produced, edited, and distributed in-house, and we are pleased to be stewards of these innovative works in the history of documentary filmmaking.

Together with our colleagues at the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives, we crafted a proposal for the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) for funds to preserve nine films from the series. The NFPF awarded us a $33,500 matching grant for the project, and we got to work!

To raise matching funds, we braced ourselves for our next challenge: Kickstarter. We were blown away by the response from the anthropology and documentary film communities, both locally and internationally! Fundraising provided a wonderful opportunity to connect with filmmakers, researchers, and others who not only cared deeply for the project, but many of whom were involved in the making of the films. We can’t thank our supporters enough!

With the help of DER’s wide community of filmmakers and anthropologists, we raised an additional $26,000, enabling us to not only preserve, but also digitally restore and remaster the films. Under the terms of the NFPF grant, for each film we will create a new 16mm preservation internegative that will go directly into cold storage at the National Anthropological Film Collection (NAFC, formerly the Human Studies Film Archives) in the National Anthropological Archives (Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History). In addition, we will create an ultra high-definition digital master, copies of which will be kept in the Smithsonian’s digital asset management system, and which will be available to DER for distribution purposes.

Restoration and preservation work is now underway for the following films:

A Man Called “Bee” (40 min, 1974) Tim Asch’s documentation of Napoleon Chagnon’s fieldwork among the Yanomami.

Magical Death (29 min, 1973) documentation of Yanomami shamanism.

A Father Washes His Children (15 min, 1974) observational study of a Yanomami headman.

Moonblood: A Yanomamö Creation Myth (14 min, 1976) exploration of Yanomami mythology.

Weeding the Garden (14 min, 1974) documentation of everyday Yanomami life.

Climbing the Peach Palm (9 min, 1974) observational study of Yanomami tool use.

A Man and His Wife Make a Hammock (12 min, 1975) observational study of Yanomami daily life and crafts.

Arrow Game (10 min, 1974) documentation of Yanomami children’s games.

Children’s Magical Death (7 min, 1974) Yanomami children imitating their shaman fathers.

Restoration of Climbing the Peach Palm has recently been completed, and the 2K digital file has arrived at DER HQ! We are looking forward to sharing all nine of the restored films with audiences soon!

In addition to these titles, preservation for the films The Ax Fight and The Feast was completed in the early 2000s. We’d like to preserve and create high-definition digital masters for ALL twenty-one titles in the series. Today, these films serve as important documents of cultural heritage, language, and life, and we seek to ensure their availability for future generations.

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