For many decades, Hollywood studios did a hatchet job on the public image of Native Americans, pumping out Westerns in which the cowboys were the civilized good guys and the Indians the bloodthirsty “savages.” They mushed various tribal cultures together indiscriminately and dressed white actors in fanciful designer versions of indigenous costumes. But on a few occasions in the early days of the cinema industry, indie filmmakers with limited production budgets managed to capture more authentic representations of Native American lifeways.
One such experiment, long thought lost but recently restored, was The Daughter of Dawn, shot in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma in 1920 by Norbert A. Myles and Richard Banks. A romantic melodrama about a love triangle involving the daughter of a Kiowa chief, the silent film cast more than 300 Comanche and Kiowa actors, who wore their own traditional clothing, supplied their own props including tipis and weapons and performed dances that they had preserved despite a US government ban on such rituals. Much of the story revolves around a buffalo hunt.
A copy of The Daughter of Dawn, held together in places by masking tape, surfaced in 2005. It was acquired by the Oklahoma Historical Society, restored and digitized in 2012. Few have yet seen this rare piece of cinema history, but we’ll get our chance this weekend, when the Rosendale Theatre’s monthly Sunday Silents series presents an afternoon screening of The Daughter of Dawn. Local musician Marta Waterman will improvise a film score live on piano, and a music and dance program preceding the screening will feature Pamunkey/Powhatan musician Reverend Nick Miles and his drum group, the Cloudbreakers.
Admission to The Daughter of Dawn screening at 3 p.m. on Sunday, November 6 costs $7. The Rosendale Theatre is located at 408 Main Street (Route 213) in Rosendale. For more info, call (845) 658-8989 or visit www.rosendaletheatre.org.