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HISTORY

Hiawatha was the first film by the Independent Motion Picture Company (IMP), which three years later would join with other film companies to form Universal Pictures. In a full-page advertisement that ran in several publications, including the 30 Oct 1909 The Moving Picture World, IMP president Carl Laemmle, wrote that the film was shot “at the Falls of Minnehaha in the Land of the Dacotahs." (More likely, since the movie was shot just north of Fort Lee, NJ, the director filmed the famous waterfall in Passaic, NJ, or used stock footage.) Laemmle continued: “And you can bet it is classy, or I wouldn't make it my first release. The title explains the nature of the picture. It is taken from Longfellow’s masterpiece of poesy and it is a gem of photography and acting. Following this I will release some more pictorial corkers and some screamingly funny stuff, bearing the true stamp of American humor. Get ‘Hiawatha’ and see if you don’t agree that it starts a brand new era in American motion pictures.”
       In a full-page announcement touting the first release of the new company, the 23 Oct 1910 Moving Picture World stated: “The producer has handled this subject with considerable adroitness. He has split it up into a number of scenes, the stories of which are told in brief extracts from the poem, which are thrown on the screen; so that you get a connected narrative of the chief doings of ‘Hiawatha’ from his first appearance to the poetical moment when he leads his bride away from the tent. We have nothing but praise for the way in which the scenes ...

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Hiawatha was the first film by the Independent Motion Picture Company (IMP), which three years later would join with other film companies to form Universal Pictures. In a full-page advertisement that ran in several publications, including the 30 Oct 1909 The Moving Picture World, IMP president Carl Laemmle, wrote that the film was shot “at the Falls of Minnehaha in the Land of the Dacotahs." (More likely, since the movie was shot just north of Fort Lee, NJ, the director filmed the famous waterfall in Passaic, NJ, or used stock footage.) Laemmle continued: “And you can bet it is classy, or I wouldn't make it my first release. The title explains the nature of the picture. It is taken from Longfellow’s masterpiece of poesy and it is a gem of photography and acting. Following this I will release some more pictorial corkers and some screamingly funny stuff, bearing the true stamp of American humor. Get ‘Hiawatha’ and see if you don’t agree that it starts a brand new era in American motion pictures.”
       In a full-page announcement touting the first release of the new company, the 23 Oct 1910 Moving Picture World stated: “The producer has handled this subject with considerable adroitness. He has split it up into a number of scenes, the stories of which are told in brief extracts from the poem, which are thrown on the screen; so that you get a connected narrative of the chief doings of ‘Hiawatha’ from his first appearance to the poetical moment when he leads his bride away from the tent. We have nothing but praise for the way in which the scenes have been chosen, with the historic Minnehaha Falls as a background.”
       The 6 Nov 1909 The Moving Picture World gave the following review: “If the Imp films are all as good as the first one released, a pictorial rendition of Longfellow's great poem, something worth while has been added to the beauty and attractiveness of the motion picture world, something which could not now be discontinued without leaving a sense of loss that would be difficult to replace. This picture was made at the Falls of Minnehaha, in the land of the Dakotahs, and represents some unusually attractive pictorial worth. The actors who did the posing clearly reproduced the scenes so graphically described in the poem, and interpreted the spirit of the lines in a manner which leaves comparatively little to be desired. The achievement is all the more striking when it is remembered what a difficult piece of work it must be to reproduce a poem like this, so subtle in its meaning, and so full of psychological suggestions. Yet the "Imp" players have accomplished this, and probably every person who has seen the new film has left the theater with a new sense of appreciation of the marvels and beauties of the motion picture in interpreting even the masterpieces of poetry and fiction.”
       According to the 30 Oct 1910 Variety, “The first release of the Carl Laemmle new plant is shown in New York at the Fifth Avenue this week. It is of Hiawatha, Longfellow’s famous poem of the Indian. The Laemmle concern selected an excellent subject in this familiar name, not alone through the title itself, but the matter, which must of necessity deal with out-door scenes since it follows the theme of the poem. Also it deals with Indians only, and of the earliest period, causing the scenes to be wild ones, of special scenic beauty. Where the pictures were taken is problematic. Perhaps around Lake Michigan, but they might have found, excepting the waterfall, near any undeveloped ground surrounding a large body of water. There are five characters in Hiawatha as shown, the picture ending with the marriage of Hiawatha to Minnehaha. The actors, both men and women, seemingly cannot secure the wild natural abandon of the Indians. Each acts, and collectively this makes the film almost dramatic, one of the very things which essentially should have been avoided. Minnehaha in her Indian costume reminded one of a ‘Salome’ dancer who had been ordered to ‘cover up,’ while Hiawatha must have enjoyed great pleasure in his near-nudity, with nothing but that about him that an auditor could see that should attract Minnehaha. The landscapes are quite pretty, but when taken in foliage the figures are nearly lost at times. There has been much padding to send the picture to the thousand-foot length, and it might be said that action is rather light for the length of the reel, but on the other hand, considering this is a ‘first release’ of a new concern, Hiawatha is a tribute at once to Laemmle, in its inception and execution.”
       This was the second of four films titled Hiawatha. The others were made in 1905, 1913, and 1952 (see entries).
       Four months later, IMP released a sequel, The Death of Minnehaha (1910, see entry).
       For more information about IMP, see The Awakening of Bess (1909).

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Motion Picture News
21 Oct 1916
Section 2, p. 129
Moving Picture World
23 Oct 1909
p. 563ar, 586tl
Moving Picture World
30 Oct 1909
p. 594ta, 605ar
Moving Picture World
6 Nov 1909
p. 645r
NFAC3
p. 172
NYDM
6 Nov 1909
p. 14r
Treasures from the Film Archives
p. 257
Variety
30 Oct 1909
p. 11
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCER
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the poem "The Song of Hiawatha" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1855).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
25 October 1909
Production Date:

Physical Properties:
Silent
Black and White
Length(in feet):
988
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Noble and brave Native American chief Hiawatha courts and marries the beautiful maiden ...

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Noble and brave Native American chief Hiawatha courts and marries the beautiful maiden Minnehaha.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.