December 18, 2013Kim Moyer
Oklahoma movie "The Daughter of Dawn" selected for Library of Congress' 2013 National Film Registry
Story and legacy of "The Daughter of Dawn" will be permanently housed at OKPOP Museum
The Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) today announced the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. has selected "The Daughter of Dawn," as one of the films inducted to its 2013 National Film Registry, a collection of cinematic treasures that represent important cultural, artistic and historic achievements in filmmaking. The 80-minute, six-reel silent movie was shot during the summer of 1920 in Oklahoma's Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge outside of Lawton.
"This film is an American treasure both as an early art form in the history of cinema and as a window into the material culture of Oklahoma's Kiowa and Comanche tribes," said Dr. Bob Blackburn, OHS executive director. "The National Film Registry spotlights the importance of preserving America's unparalleled film heritage. We are proud to have the film represent our great state, its people and the beautiful landscape of southwestern Oklahoma." The story and legacy of "The Daughter of Dawn" will then be permanently housed at the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture (OKPOP), a new museum being developed by the OHS that will be located in downtown Tulsa.
The OHS and OKPOP have partnered with Milestone Films out of New Jersey for distribution of "The Daughter of Dawn" starting in 2014. Plans include a high-definition release through special screenings at national and international film festivals, movie theaters and on DVD.
"While there are many movies directed, produced and edited by, or starring Oklahomans, "The Daughter of Dawn" is the first narrative feature filmed in Oklahoma to be included in the National Film Registry," said Jeff Moore, OKPOP project director. "The Library of Congress deemed this film important enough to be included in the national registry and the OKPOP Museum will share this incredible story for future generations."
There were only a handful of showings when "The Daughter of Dawn" was completed in 1920. Newspaper articles indicate that it was shown in Los Angeles, Kansas City and Tulsa among a handful of places. However, historians believed that the film was lost just like a vast majority of films from this era. In fact, the survival rate for a motion picture from the 1920s is about 20 percent, with the majority of silent films being lost, damaged or decayed.
The dramatic events behind the recovery of "Daughter of Dawn" began with a phone call to Brian Hearn, film curator at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, from a private investigator in North Carolina, who had been given five reels of film from a client in lieu of payment. Knowing that the film needed to be preserved and returned to Oklahoma, Hearn contacted Bill Moore, the now-retired film archivist at the Oklahoma Historical Society. Through support from the Lawton community, the OHS was able to acquire the reels in 2007.
"Once we had the reels, we worked with film historians and preservationists to restore it to near original condition," Blackburn said. "After restoration, we decided the final product deserved original music to accompany the 80 minutes of moving images."
The OHS commissioned classical composer Dr. David Yeagley, a member of the Comanche Nation, to compose the score. Dr. Blackburn reached out to President Robert Henry and Dean Mark Parker of Oklahoma City University, and in 2012 the university's Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Ben Nilles recorded the music.
The film is rare in that it has an all-American Indian cast of nearly 300 Kiowas and Comanches. The plot involves two young men, White Eagle (White Parker, son of Quanah Parker) and Black Wolf (Jack Sankey-doty), who are romantically interested in Dawn (Esther LeBarre), daughter of the chief (Hunting Horse). Dawn and White Eagle are in love but the Chief says she must also consider Black Wolf for marriage, who also loves Dawn. Lastly, Red Wing (Wanada Parker, daughter of Quanah Parker) is in love with Black Wolf.
The Kiowas and Comanches, who had been on the reservation less than 50 years, brought with them their own tipis, horses, clothing and material culture. The film is significant because it depicts life on the southern plains, showing a buffalo hunt, fight scenes and ceremonial dances that were considered illegal by the U.S. government, but were allowed because they were part of the movie.
"The historical context is important, and as the OHS continues to collect important stories and show the world the creative accomplishments from across Oklahoma," Moore said. "The OKPOP Museum is allowing us to bring collections from all over the country back to Oklahoma. This motion picture, filmed near Lawton, Oklahoma, which is now a national treasure, is a perfect example of this."
For each title named to the registry, the Library of Congress ensures that the film is preserved for future generations, either through the library's motion picture preservation program or through collaborative ventures with other archives, motion picture studios and independent filmmakers.
When constructed, OKPOP will be a 75,000-square-foot, four-story building dedicated to the creative spirit of Oklahoma's people and the influence of Oklahoma artists on popular culture around the world. Pending approval from the Oklahoma Legislature, the OKPOP Museum could open as early as 2017.