Like Lumholtz, Müller also extensively documented Huichol lifeways, but he stuck to the camera. After filming the Hikuri Neixa ceremony in 1973, Müller produced and helped produce four more film projects totaling 43,590 feet of film (approximately 20 hours).[i] The Huichol ceremonies of Las Pachitas, the Peyote Pilgrimage, and the
Indeed, one key difference between the film project Müller led in Mexico and the film projects he had led in Europe or the South Pacific, was that the former was conceived and produced as a scientific project. The project was itself part of a broader research agenda to use film as a research method.
According to E. Richard Sorenson, Müller’s supervisor for this project and one of the proponents of the film research agenda:
because the light sensitive emulsion of film produces an objective chemical facsimile of the pattern of light falling on it, it preserves a phenomenological record of the pattern of light received. The data does not have to be screened by the cognitive organization of a human observer before it can be preserved. Because of this, film preserves information not just of what has been “seen” and “selected” by the culturally programmed mind of the filmer but also what he has not.[iii]
|Huichol social interaction at the Fiesta de las Pachitas, Summer 1974 [iv]|
Frame grab from HSFA 1989.3.1-3A
In practice, however, the research film method as Müller applied translated into long and mostly static takes without an explicit narrative arc or angle, and indeed most of the 46 film rolls that make up this collection were made this way. The other, and perhaps more important component of the Huichol project as a scientific enterprise, was the annotations to the films themselves. Dozens of synchronized and non-synchronized, Spanish and English annotations accompany the films Müller made. These annotations, drafted in collaboration with Eliseo Castro Villa (Müller’s main indigenous informant/collaborator in San Andres) and Rocio Echaverría (a government nurse who had worked in San Andres for many years prior to Müller’s arrival and who would marry him in 1973), added a rich layer of detail on the specific names and processes for the people, ceremonies, plants and other things filmed.
|Photo by Kalmun Müller, 1975|
[ii] There is dark back story to the main proponents of this research film method, visual anthropologist E. Richard Sorenson (1939 – 2015) and his mentor medical researcher Carleton Gajdusek (1923 – 2008), interest in childhood development, which I will not address here as it is complex and not the focus of this essay. Suffice it to say that Gajdusek was charged with child molestation in April 1996. For more information about this watch the excellent documentary The Genius and the Boys by Bosse Lindquist (2009) or read: Spark, Ceridwen. 2009. “Carleton’s Kids: The Papua New Guinean Children of D. Carleton Gajdusek.” The Journal of Pacific History 44 (1): 1–19.
[iii] Quote drawn from The Huichol Film Project, Unfinished Draft of the Huichol Enculturation: a Preliminary Report. Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian NMNH.
[iv] The Huichols celebrate the Fiesta de las Pachitas around the time of Ash Wednesday. This ceremony mixes Mesoamerican, Mexican, and Catholic symbolism and rituals to commemorate the early attempts by Catholic missionaries to convert the Huichol people into Christianity. For this festival the Huichol participants are divided into two main bands, the Jews and the Toros, while the rest of the community watches, as the film roll 89.3.1-3A suggests, often in jest. The Jews represent the Huichol ancestors. The Huichol represent the Jews by painting their faces black, some men dressing as women, all of whom try to escape the Toros. Huichols representing the Toros carry red flags and bull horns with which they run after the Jews. One interesting historical relationship this festival, and in particular the depiction of Christian missionaries as Toros, may speak to is the connection between the arrival of Christianity and the development of cattle agriculture in northwest Mexico. For more information on this complex ceremony read: Jáuregui, Jesús. "Las Pachitas en la Mesa del Nayar (Yaujque’e)." Dimensión antropológica 34 (2009).