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Conversation Through Film: “Rockywood Reels” at the Whyte Museum

By Kate Skelton, Archival Assistant

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Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson Film Poster

While working as an Archival Assistant for the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies over the past several months, I have focused heavily on the processing and digitization of photographic materials in the Museum’s collection. To support the preservation of physical photographs in the Whyte Museum’s archival collection, these photographs must be organized, numbered and stored according to archival standards. Creating and preserving digital copies of these photographs also allows them to be made publicly accessible online.

Recently I was tasked with the digitization of several dozen photographs from photographer Bruno Engler’s professional collection sub-series, titled “Films and Film Making”. The images were captured in 1975 during the filming of the movie Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (released 1976). These photographs included still shots of cast members, views of the film set near Morley, Alberta and members of the film’s camera crew at work. These images will be made available for public access online through the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies archival database in the coming weeks.

Action scene from shooting of Buffalo Bill, 1975, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Bruno Engler fonds (V190/I/F/6/PA-25)

Buffalo Bill tells the story of “Buffalo Bill” Cody (played by Paul Newman), an American Civil War veteran who creates a “Wild West Show” following the end of his military career. In the film, Buffalo Bill’s former enemy, Sioux Chief Sitting Bull (played by Stoney Nakoda Chief Frank Kaquitts / Sitting Wind) is cast in a lead role in Buffalo Bill’s show, and the cast members then struggle to put aside their differences and work together to put on a specially requested performance for the President of the United States. The film is intended to poke fun at cultural differences, assumptions and miscommunication between members of the two cultures.

Character “Sitting Bull” (Stoney Nakoda Chief Frank Kaquitts / Sitting Wind) posing by portrait of Paul Newman as “Buffalo Bill” [1975 or 1976], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Bruno Engler fonds (V190/I/F/6/PA-3)

Buffalo Bill was shown at the Whyte Museum on February 21st as part of the Rockywood Reels Film Series taking place this spring. Members of the Stoney Nakoda community who took part in the production of Buffalo Bill were invited to speak about their experiences in filmmaking and how Indigenous cultures have been (and still are) represented in Western films. Buffalo Bill and the other films included in the Rockywood Reels Film Series serve not simply as entertainment, but also as an opportunity to start important conversations and to encourage audiences to consider whose narratives are being represented in film and which voices are left out.

The next showing in the Rockywood Reels Film Series will be Little Big Man (1970) starring Dustin Hoffman, which will be held on March 21st at 7 pm at the Whyte Museum. Reel Injun (2009), a National Film Board documentary by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond, will also be playing at the Whyte Museum on May 16th. Entry is $5 each or free for museum members.

For more information, see the events page on the Whyte Museum website.

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111 Bear Street, Banff, Alberta, T1L 1A3, Canada

T: 1 403 762 2291   

E: info [at] whyte.org

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The Whyte Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of The Peter and Catharine Whyte Foundation and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts

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