Digital restoration of The Drums Of Winter deepens colors, brings light to shadows

Cecelia Martz (left) and Len Kamerling (right) discuss the film The Drums of Winter after a screening of the digitally restored documentary at the Bethel Cultural Center on May 12, 2017. Cecelia Martz is a retired UAF Kuskokwim University Campus professor of Anthropology, Alaska Native Studies, and Cross Cultural Studies. Len Kamerling co-directed and co-produced the film. He teaches at the UAF Museum of the North.
(Dean Swope / KYUK Public Media)

One of the most significant films about Yup’ik culture has been digitally restored. The Drums of Winter is an award-winning documentary shot in Emmonak 40 years ago that tells the story of Yup’ik dancing and potlatching between Emmonak and Alakanuk. After three years of restoration work, it’s now being shown around the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta.

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Four decades after it was made, The Drums of Winter is considered a significant contribution to American culture and has a home in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

But at the time it was produced, the film was an experiment.

“We set out to make films that we called ‘community collaborative films,’” Len Kamerling said. Kamerling, in 1977 along with Sarah Elder, wanted to make films in a new way: by involving the community in shaping the work. Elder, who had lived in Emmonak as a teacher, wanted to work with Kamerling to make a documentary with no narrator, no English voiceovers over the Yup’ik, no one interpreting the film for the audience.

It was considered a radical idea at the time. They’d show up with no script, no idea of the story. Just cameras and open eyes.

“And one door after another opened,” Kamerling said. “And we were brought into that world of the qasiq and the dance.”

The qasiq is the men’s house in traditional Yup’ik villages.

What they captured in the film is considered authentic and relevant, even 40 years later. Retired University of Alaska Fairbanks, Kuskokwim Campus professor Cecelia…

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