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Film, Video and Sound

General accesss conditions for collection
Consultation: open


with written permission of copyright owner of the source footage : with permission of National Archives


1. This film is a restoration of a film for which the only footage known to exist is in two other films SAVING THE SAGAS and FISH AND MEDICINE MEN.
2. The restoration was carried out at the National Archives of Canada.
3. The film originally consisted of three 35mm reels, one of which consisted of out-takes.
4. The filmmaker, James Sibley Watson, sold the unedited footage to Associated Screen News, the Montreal film company also contracted to do some work on the final production.
5. Associated Screen News subsequently recut the footage and intertitles contained in the reels to create the films SAVING THE SAGAS and FISH AND MEDICINE MEN. [1-1]
Restrictions on individual titles within this Collection may differ from the General Access Conditions
Accession number: 2001-0196
Item number (ISN): 331568
Media: Film
Title: Nass River Indians
Part: 1 of 1
Version: Reconstruction version
Production date: 2000

Production company:

National Archives of Canada

Country of production:

Production credit: photography, James Sibley Watson Jr.; intertitles, C. Marius Barbeau
Cast credit: Marius Barbeau, Ernest MacMillan
Description: Silent with English intertitles

This film, reconstructed by staff of Library and Archives Canada from film shot by James Sibley Watson Jr., documents the activities of Marius Barbeau and Ernest MacMillan among the Nisga'a of the Nass River region of British Columbia. Barbeau, an ethnologist at the National Museum of Canada, and MacMillan, then principal of the Toronto Conservatory of Music, are depicted in their efforts to record "with camera and phonograph" what the film's first intertitle describes as "the vanishing culture, the rites and songs and dances of the Indians along the Canadian Pacific Coast, north of Vancouver". Beginning with a sequence depicting aboriginal women at work in a cannery at Fishery Bay near the mouth of the Nass, the film depicts a journey upstream, from the cannery and bungalow camps near the coast to the mission village of Kincolith, and "old Geetiks" further inland. Along with the ensuing spectacle of dance and song, and the display of material culture these involved, Barbeau and MacMillan are shown transcribing songs and making wax cylinder recordings. The film ends with the intertitle: "The cannery cans the salmon. The camera cans the dances and now the phonograph cans the songs - everything canned but the Indians!" <17mn 25s>
Copyright status: Under copyright.

Copyright owner:

Original copyright owner: James Sibley Watson Jr.
Original copyright owner sold this footage to ASN.
Astral Media transferred rights to LAC with the Deed of Gift.
This reconstructed film was created by staff of LAC from source material from the ASN collection.
Copyright owner: LAC (Crown material).
Donor restrictions: The permission of the National Archives is required to reproduce this title.


1. The film originally consisted of three 35mm reels, one of which consisted of out-takes. Associated Screen News subsequently recut the footage and intertitles contained in the reels to create SAVING THE SAGAS (ISN 195745), issued in 1928, and FISH AND MEDICINE MEN (ISN 195744), both of which were sponsored by ASN's parent company Canadian Pacific.
2. James Sibley Watson Jr. was born in 1894 and died in 1982.
3. For background information on the history of this film, see the articles by Lynda Jessup, "Tin Cans and Machinery: Saving the Sagas and Other Stuff", Visual Anthropology, Volume 12, pp. 49-86, reproduced on the website, and "J.S. Watson, Jr.: Nass River Indians (1927-28)", in Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1893-1941, pp. 116-120.
4. This film is a reconstruction by Library and Archives Canada, with the assistance of Lynda Jessup, of the longer, lost film NASS RIVER INDIANS, which was produced by Associated Screen News from footage shot in 1927 for use by Canada's National Museum. Some of the footage and intertitles were duplicated by Associated Screen News in the films SAVING THE SAGAS and FISH AND MEDICINE MEN.
5. Evidence of the original sequence of shots and intertitles in the 1927 production NASS RIVER INDIANS is found in the National Museum's 1933 publication Catalogue of Motion Picture Films (as cited in Tin Cans and Machinery: Saving the Sagas and Other Stuff, p. 14).
6. The footage for NASS RIVER INDIANS was shot by James Sibley Watson.
7. NASS RIVER INDIANS was made to be shown in conjunction with an exhibition of North American West Coast art entitled Exhibition of Canadian West coast Art, Native and Modern, and Associated Screen News also made the film TOTEM LAND, on behalf of Canadian Pacific, for the show.
8. In the article "J.S. Watson, Jr., : Nass River Indians (1927-28), Lynda Jessup writes that Marius Barbeau had enlisted the services of Associated Screen News, "through the CPR" to process the film footage shot by Watson (p. 117) and that it appears that Barbeau arranged for Associated Screen News to buy Watson's footage, ASN having bought only 2,000 feet of the 5,000 feet Watson shot (p. 118).
9. Jessup writes that ASN gave the National Museum the final 35mm print of NASS RIVER INDIANS, the print became part of the museum's circulating collection, but it had disappeared by 1974 when it was no longer listed in the museum's catalogue of ethnographic films (p. 118).
10. The full citation for Unseen Cinema is Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1893-1941, edited by Bruce Posner, New York: Black Thistle Press/Anthology Film Archives.

Consultation copy:

V1 2002-10-0040

Physical description
Source: DSINTRNL - 331568