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Silent no more



 It’s amazing that it was ever made in the first place.

The film, rediscovered by the Oklahoma Historical Society, tells a four-way love story but also shows the lost way of life of its actors — about 300 Kiowas and Comanches. Those traditions were discouraged when the film was shot in July 1920 in the Wichita Mountains of southwest Oklahoma.

“The government was really trying to squash anything to do with the tribes. They didn’t want them to dance. They didn’t want them to use their language,” said Bill Moore, project coordinator at the Oklahoma History Center. “This is a glimpse from the past. They were able to show what it was like to live then. Everything in the film is real.”

Jeff Moore, project director at the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Oklahoma POP (pop culture) Museum, said the film has been scanned high resolution and it will “make a festival run this winter and next spring.” A DVD also will be released after that, he said.

Those in the film could have faced repercussions for participating, this, not only as an art form but also as a historical document.”

first public look at the unfinished film was June 2012 at deadCENTER
Film Festival, with a new score by Comanche composer David Yeagley,
performed by the Oklahoma City University Orchestra.

deadCENTER showing brought calls from other festivals, silent film
enthusiasts and actors’ ancestors, who will be featured in a documentary
that is expected to accompany the film’s DVD release.

was waiting seven years for that moment,” said Brian Hearn, Oklahoma
City Museum of Art film curator. “People are going to study this film
for decades.”

Historians knew about the film because of a 1920 announcement of a sneak preview in Motion Picture News and found the movie’s story through its script in the Library of Congress.

said Matt Reed,
curator of American Indian collections. The Indian agent in Anadarko
often withheld food and money from families caught participating in
traditional activities as part of the government’s efforts to Anglicize
tribal members.

was the atmosphere that these people were living with. What these people
were doing was essentially illegal,” Reed said. “There are things in
the film that we’ll never see again.”

irreplaceable history depicted in the film makes it even more of a
treasure, said Bob Blackburn, Oklahoma Historical Society executive

He said only
about 5 percent of silent movies have survived because the silver
nitrate films, which are highly flammable, often decompose over time.
The fact that The Daughter of Dawn was a private film makes its survival more improbable.

“This is a window into a lost way of life,” Blackburn said. “We want people to appreciate what we have in

say never when it comes to lost films. None of us ever thought we’d see
it again. Then, one day, it showed up,” Bill Moore said.

received the first call from a man wanting to sell the film. The man, a
private investigator, had received the film as payment for a case. The
museum didn’t have a place for the film, so Hearn called the historical
society. At first, the price was too high, but in 2007, the historical
society purchased the film for about $7,000, using donations from the
Lawton Community Foundation and the McMahon Foundation.

said it will likely take another six months to finish restoring the
text portions of the film. Then it can be released, hopefully in a
global film festival like Sundance.

restoration work continues, employees are preparing a traveling exhibit
featuring a tepee from the film that was unearthed in the museum’s
collection and continue to learn more from the ancestors of the actors.

“It’s just a story that keeps growing. It has multiple layers of history,” Reed said.

Learn more about the movie at

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