Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Andalusian children herding sheep
35mm slide - Jerome R. Mintz Papers, National Anthropological Archives

In the mid-1960s, anthropologist Jerome Mintz wandered into the Andalusian community of Casas Viejas to do research for a book on anarchy. After getting to know the locals, he decided to pursue an unexploited passion, filmmaking, to record the daily lives of the Spanish peasants he had befriended. Six films, currently at the Human Studies Film Archives, as well as nearly 25,000 feet of black-and-white 16mm outtakes (and an as-of-yet-unmeasured trove of color outtakes), were the result of two decades of his work.

Jerome Mintz "El Americano" on a Carnaval poster

This summer I had the pleasure of speaking with Carla Aviva Mintz Tavel, Mintz’s daughter. She has recently revisited Casas Viejas, and was able to provide insight on the importance of the film to the community. What she has discovered is an incredible story of recovery – through Mintz’s work, the town is healing old wounds.        

In 1933, three years before the Spanish Civil War, Casas Viejas was the site of an anarchist revolt against the state, the Catholic Church and the
latifundista landowners – but the revolt failed, and soldiers and police initiated a massacre of civilians. This left a rift in the community that nobody was eager to talk about. In order for Mintz to research his book on the subject, The Anarchists of Casas Viejas, he had to meet with informants in secret. Under Francisco Franco’s totalitarian regime, which governed Spain from 1936 to 1975, the town was cut off from most of the modern world. According to Tavel, even telephones were quite rare during the time her father was living and researching in the community. As a result of this, as recently as ten years ago, nobody had any copies of Mintz’s book or six edited films, and they were only vaguely aware of one film.

Then, in the early 2000s, Tavel received an email “out of the blue” from a history teacher, Salustiano Gutiérrez Baena. New to Casas Viejas, he had looked into the history of the town and found that they did not understand how important their own history was. He then went to the internet, and discovered Mintz’s work – the jackpot he could not have imagined.

Tavel recounted a serendiptious incident where an English-speaking traveler passed through a local bar with a copy of  Mintz’s book, The Anarchists of Casas Viejas, and despite not being able to read English, the owner of the bar asked to buy it. The visitor turned him down, but rather than go home dissuaded, the owner got the visitor drunk, and ultimately did procure the book which then passed to Gutiérrez.

In addition, Tavel sent copies of about 5000 35mm photographic negatives across the Atlantic, where they have been eagerly received. Gutiérrez has posted many of them on his Spanish-language blog.

Carnaval parade
35mm slide - Jerome R. Mintz Papers, National Anthropological Archives 

Gutiérrez’s discovery, and his contact with Tavel, have unleashed an explosion of enthusiasm in the community, for Mintz’s work specifically, and a general drive to forge a link with history. Much of the activity is centered on the local celebration of Carnaval, a ten-day festival featuring revelry in the street, gender-bending costumes and songs satirizing the events of the past year. Anything, from a national election to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, is fodder for the songwriters, as long as no names are mentioned. Carnaval celebrations were banned during the Franco administration, and Mintz’s 5” audio tapes are some of the only record of the festival in the 1960s and 1970s. It was reinstated in the 1980s, when Mintz shot Carnaval de Pueblo, his final edited film

excerpt from one of Mintz's audio recordings of Carnaval Songs  (sihsfa_mintz_sr_633)

Mintz wearing his signature hat, la gorra del
 jornalero, or the cap of a laborer
Photo - courtesy Aviva Tavel
These days Carnaval, celebrated annually, features an art show of Mintz’s repatriated photographs, each year focused on a particular theme. Past exhibitions have showcased photographs of women, and local bar life. This year the focus will be on the children. At least one year a traditional singing group performed wearing Jerome Mintz costumes, one of which Tavel had to don to open the festivities as the Pregonera, or town crier, during her last visit. A small organization, Los Amigos de Mintz (Friends of Mintz), consists of six men working hard to reintroduce the people of Casas Viejas to their history, and honor “El Americano,” the anthropologist who made it possible. Each year they award a community member who has worked to further their goals with a replica of Mintz’s characteristic hat.

In the struggle of the people of Casas Viejas to discover their cultural heritage, the 16mm film outtakes from Mintz' six edited films listed below, that are housed at the HSFA could be an incredible boon. From numerous audio tapes that Mintz recorded, the HSFA is having two valuable tapes of Carnaval songs from 1966 digitized and several rolls of film outtakes copied, to be made available to the community. In exchange for access we hope the people of Casas Viejas can provide us with more detailed information about the content of the film, and its historical and contemporary significance.

- by Amelia Raines, intern Human Studies Film Archives


The six edited films are distributed by
Documentary Educational Resources.  The titles are:

Pepe's Family (1978)

The Shoemaker (1978)

Romeria: Day of the Virgin (1986)

Carnaval de Pueblo (1987)

Perico the Bowlmaker (1989)

The Shepherd's Family (1989)

The papers of Jerome Mintz are housed at the National Anthropological Archives.

No comments:

Post a Comment