WICHITA, Kan. — A rare silent movie filmed more than nine decades ago and featuring a cast of more than 300 members of the Kiowa and Commanche tribes was being shown Saturday in Kansas in only its second public viewing.
The movie, The Daughter of the Dawn, was recorded on highly flammable and easily decomposable silver nitrate film. There was only one copy, and for decades its existence wasn't much more than a rumor.
That changed in 2005 when Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, got a call from a private investigator in North Carolina who asked if the organization would be interested in buying the move. The detective said he had received the movie as payment for a case he had worked on, and that it had been stored in his garage for decades.
Blackburn wanted the movie but didn't want to pay the $35,000 asking price. After some negotiating, the Historical Society bought it for $5,000 two years later and set out to get grants to pay for restoration.
"When we received it, it was in five reels," Blackburn said. "Some of the parts of the film were in bad shape. Some of it had been spliced together with masking tape. We didn't want to risk further damage."
The movie is so valuable because the actors all were sons and daughters of the Kiowa and Comanche tribes who once roamed the Kansas plains, including two children of Commanche Chief Quanah Parker. It was filmed in the summer of 1920 in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma, near Anadarko.
"Very few movies with all-Indian casts were shot in Indian Country," Blackburn said.
The only other time the movie was viewed by the public was in Los Angeles in 1920. It was being shown Saturday at the Larned Community Center as part of the Annual Mess and Muster at the Fort Larned National Historic Site near Larned.
"I think this is the greatest program we've ever had for the Old Guard, and we've been putting on programs for 25 years," Leo Oliva, Kansas historian and writer from Woodston, Kan.
It's still considered a work in progress. The film has been digitized, with closed captions added, and all 83 minutes of the movie survived intact. The only thing missing was a musical score, which was never completed.
Once the movie is completed and premiered through the film festival circuit, the Oklahoma Historical Society plans on releasing it on DVD and Blu-Ray.
AP Source: The Wichita Eagle