A true translation: Updates on Matto Grosso (1931), and The Hoax (1932)

January 4, 2012

A little boy holding a slate or chip chart to identify a scene ( # 27414)

Regular readers of the Penn Museum blog may recall a post about an exciting film re-identification and discovery, in which we realized that the film that we thought was The Kid was really called The Hoax (1932) and that a copy was in the collections of the Smithsonian.

By way of University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Greg Urban this year we made contact with an anthropologist in Brazil, Dr. Sylvia Caiuby Novaes, who had worked over many years with São Lourenço Bororo people in the area proximate to where both The Hoax and Matto Grosso, the Great Brazilian Wilderness (1931), were made.

We were hoping to take the films back to the area to get true translations of the Bororo language (Boe Wadáru) to Portuguese and English, and to see what people felt was interesting or useful about the films. Just a few weeks ago, we received copies from Dr. Novaes, with the new subtitles burned in. It is thrilling to see the Portuguese and Boe Wadaru directly translated to English, giving a more direct experience to what the people in the films are saying.

To our knowledge, this film was and remained the only documentary film in which non- European people speak, from the advent of sound recording for film until about 1965. Our scholarship on this will be published in an article in 2012, together with an article about the experience of returning the films, to be published by Dr. Novaes after a conference presentation in Brazil in 2012.

Dr. Novaes reports that the people of the Tadarimana village were delighted to watch the films and asked for copies, she was able to leave ten copies there. We appreciate the work of Dr. Novaes and her Bororo partner, Beatriz in getting the films translated. In all of this it seems ends of a larger circle come together.