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Friday, April 8, 2011

John Moyer in India: Expect the Unexpected

Still frame from John Moyer's Footage of India, ca. 1965
“Hey there, you desk bound nine-to-fiver! Are you really an adventurer at heart? Would you gladly give up your two week vacation at Lake Wach-a-ma-callit for a rigorous but exciting three month trip to India?” The Smithsonian’s Human Studies Film Archives cannot send you to India, but you can certainly enjoy the beauty of the country through our footage from John Moyer’s India and Her People lecture series.

Moyer was the U.S. consul in Calcutta from 1951 to 1955 and had filmmaking experience going back to the late 1930s. In 1965 he decided to return to India to record motion picture footage for what would become a touring lecture series. The Human Studies Film Archives now holds the original 16mm footage he used in these tours, showing a fascinating and surprisingly well shot look at the country.

Brochure for "India and Her People"

During Moyer’s return to India he “filmed at Porbundar, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi; at Udaipur, the Venice of India; at Jaipur, the 'pink city'; at Chandigarh, the modern city built by the famous French architect, Le Corbusier.” All of this footage is silent, since Moyer would have projected it while lecturing to the audience live during his touring series. Moyer’s films show more of an emphasis on the people of India than the places, though, with highlights on cultural traditions such as regional dances.

John Moyer with film camera
Still frame from John Moyer's Footage of India, ca. 1965
The most famous person in Moyer’s footage is undoubtedly the Dalai Lama, who had started his exile in India six years earlier. While Moyer was allowed to shoot film outside of the Dalai Lama’s bungalow, he was only allowed to take still photos inside the dwelling during his interview. Moyer inserted these still photographs into the film to give spectators of his lecture tour a feel for the event. Moyer stated in the brochure for the lecture series that, “I explained at the outset that this interview was strictly personal, that I did not represent my government or any other organization. I told him that I would not ask questions about religion or politics since I am no expert in these areas.”

The Dalai Lama will be preparing for and conducting a Kalachakra for World Peace in Washington, DC, USA from July 6 to 16. This blog is the first in a series to highlight HSFA’s holdings on Tibet and Buddhism.

Brian Real
Intern, Human Studies Film Archives

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