Museum of Anthropology
The 4Hs of Tourism
Documentaries by Valene Smith
Life is a journey not a destination
—Vincent Van Gogh
Three Stone Blades
Valene on the scout trip of the first documentary she produced (1969).
The passion of the anthropologist to preserve the artifacts and aesthetics of different cultures led me into documentary films. I became involved with these stories because the topics were so compelling, they needed to be shared with the wider world.
Filmed on location in Alaska in 1970, the film recreates the Inupiat (Eskimo) folktale about the fate of a widow and her children in the Arctic. It is the most widely known single legend in the Western Arctic. The film was created with the support of the villagers of Point Hope, Alaska – the farthest northwest village on the North American continent.
Point Hope is subject to extensive wave erosion, and the village has been moved twice. The compulsion to make a documentary about the famous legend was also rooted in the desire to photographically preserve Nani’s igloo, constructed of whale rib and insulated with sod (circa 1900).
Three Stone Blades DVD During Valene’s research in the Arctic, she met Nani, who graciously agreed to allow Valene to photograph her ancestral home. She had occupied the igloo for more than 75 years. It was the last remaining sod igloo on the North American continent.?
The dramatization of the famous Eskimo legend of the Bering Strait region, about a selfish woman whose husband leaves her to become the provider for his dead brother’s family — a custom known as “the levirate”.
The shaman scene introduces Inupiat faith when the desperate widow encounters the abandoned summer tent camp and finds spiritual guidance.
The script, sets and actors are authentic to the story told by Aniviaq (Freda Goodwin) of Kotzebue, Alaska, to Valene. Photographed by Ira Latour and narrated by Robin King.
Visual Pioneers of the 19th Century: The World of Theodore Wores
Valene was introduced to the paintings of San Francisco artist (1859-1939) Theodore Wores by a Chico State alumna, who suggested that the University mount an exhibit of his North American Indian paintings as part of an American Indian exhibit (1978). Intrigued by his work, Valene suggested a CSU-C second exhibit of Wores’ then virtually unknown Japanese paintings.
Following the opening night ceremony, Valene turned to her husband and said, “There’s a documentary in that man’s life — he is an ethnographer with a pallet.” Virtually nothing was known of Wores because he had withdrawn his paintings from public view some 60 years earlier. Wores, the former Dean and instructor of the San Francisco School of Design, was disgusted with modern art (cubism).
Ira Latour, the cinematographer on Three Stone Blades, shared her enthusiasm. As a highly trained art historian, he researched Wores’ early training. Working together, he and Valene then found the photographs to support their co-written script. The film premiered in 1982 and won the Wores DVD imageBronze Award at the New York Film Festival.
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