Chicago Film Archives presents:
Out of the Vault 2012: THE SPIRIT OF AMERICA
For this year’s Out of the Vault program, CFA offers films that speak to the spiritual realms that cleanse, cure, uplift and replenish the American soul. Religion and spirituality are deeply ingrained in our history and culture. Enhanced drama and high ritual spring from religious ceremony and are reflected in many films from CFA’s collections. Join us for an unusual Sunday afternoon with films of the devoted and infuse your souls with some of the good stuff.
Be sure to come a bit early, as we will project excerpts from our collections before the screening.
Featuring: POMO SHAMAN (1964), LAUDATE (1966) and HOLY GHOST PEOPLE (1967)
Total Running Time: 84 minutes
Film program curated by Nancy Watrous & Anne Wells
POMO SHAMAN (from the Minnesota University Collection), William Heick, 1964, b/w, sound, 16mm, 22 min.
POMO SHAMAN documents the second and final night of a Kashaya Pomo healing ceremony lead by Essie Parrish (1903-1979), a spiritual, cultural and political head of the Kashaya Pomo community and one of the only southwestern Pomo sucking doctor who still practiced this ancient form of doctoring. Along with her good friend, Cache Creek Pomo medicine woman and fellow basket weaver Mabel McKay, Parrish would be the last of the sucking doctors in California—and probably the last in the entire country.
The ceremony took place June 1, 1963 in a ceremonial roundhouse of the Southwestern Pomo (now more commonly referred to as Kashaya or Kashaya Pomo) near Stewarts Point, California. During the ceremony (which is presented without narration), Parrish enters a trance and cures a patient with the aid of a spiritual instrument used to suck out the patient’s illness. Parrish only gave the film crew one chance to shoot the ceremony, with no equipment allowed inside the roundhouse where the ceremony took place. All cameras and lighting were setup to shoot through knot holes in the walls, which explains the films dark, high contrast appearance.
William Heick made POMO SHAMAN while Director and Chief Cinematographer for the University of California at Berkeley’s National Science Foundation supported Amercian Indian Film Project. It is an edited version of Heick’s larger work SUCKING DOCTOR (1963, 45 minutes). Heick’s POMO SHAMAN grants us a rare chance to experience a ceremony generally off-limits to cameras. According to Essie’s son, Parrish only agreed to be filmed knowing that their traditions were going to be preserved on film for both their community as well as the outside world. To this day, the Kashaya watch this film before performing healing ceremonies since the film, according to Essie’s son, is “infused with her healing powers.”
CFA is aware of the sensitivity in presenting indigenous cultural heritage and have sought permission from the Kashaya Pomo of Northern California, or more specifically Essie’s son Otis Parrish, to present this film. He has given us their blessing, as well as a warning that our audiences may feel signs of his mother’s healing powers and begin to “heal for ourselves individually.”
LAUDATE (from the Margaret Conneely Collection), Nicholas Frangakis, 1966, b/w, sound, 16mm, 9 min.
This experimental student film shot in California is about a young boy who must choose between the Benedictine Community and the industrialized modern world. Images of both worlds race through his mind and are set to the score of Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms.” It even features real monks and nuns from the Valyermo, California Benedictine Community! Found in the Margaret Conneely collection, this film is in keeping with her weird and sometimes barely twisted notion of life. Beware of a birth scene that catches by surprise!
HOLY GHOST PEOPLE (from the Southern Illinois University Collection), Peter Adair, 1967, b/w, sound, 16mm, 53 min.
Tucked away in Scrabble Creek, West Virginia, faith is alive and trying to be well. Filmmaker Peter Adair and his crew are welcomed and then ignored at this Pentecostal service where speaking in tongues is considered evidence that God exists. Who hasn’t wanted the concrete proof that we’re sheltered and protected by some higher power? The shrieking and convulsive dancing seem fun and democratic and even cleansing… the testimonials not really that crazy. But the Copperheads and Rattlers bring a touch of tension to the room and once again we’re reminded of the camera crew as they keep a bead on the snakes that are passed around, slithering on the floor and wrapped around the arms of the devoted.
Holy Ghost People was directed by Peter Adair (1943-1963), a documentary filmmaker best known for his film “Word is Out” (1977).