We live in one of the most exciting eras of Native American – Euro-American relations, especially when it comes to the field of film. For most of the 400+ years of European occupation, Native Americans were decimated, dispossessed, and nearly destroyed. The 21st century, however, has witnessed the building of the National Museum of the American Indian on the national mall in Washington D.C.—which makes extensive use of digital technology and film—and the rise of a new generation of films that open portals into the remarkable, complicated, and enthralling depths of American Indian culture.
The class will review the history of Native American image making, but will focus primarily on contemporary films. The course is designed to be both challenging and fun. “Texts,” for example, will include novels, film, the world wide web, and buildings such as the Penn Museum which has changed dramatically over the last 130 years in terms of how it displays Native American culture, now utilizing videos in the Native American exhibits. Students will not just study this new historical moment from a distance, but will be involved with two on-going projects. The first is a digital exhibit that will demonstrate how digital technology brings the Native American oral tradition to life and will compare how different chronological “history” is from the spirit-infused narratives told by an Ojibwe tribal historian. The second another on-going project to finally return films made by Navajo people in the 1960’s, now housed at the Penn Museum archives, to the community that produced them… forty years after they were made!