Miracle on the Mesa (1954)

A summary of Hopi pottery and piki bread making, and agricultural and livestock-keeping practices in the Keams Canyon and First Mesa areas of the Hopi reservation. Story follows John Ovayama through various scenarios reflecting Hopi life and customs..

Opening titles over a color illustration of a pack of Old Gold cigarettes “The P. Lorillard Company, Established 1760, Makers of Old Gold Cigarettes, Presents, Miracle on the Mesa, Edited by… Ann Busch, Production assistant: Sandy Goodman, Narrated by House Jameson, Photographed by Toge Fujihira, Written and Directed by Alan Shilin; In gratitude to the people who gave tobacco to the world, the P. Lorillard Company presents this film, one in a series on the American Indian as a public service. We wish to acknowledge our debt to the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs and to the U.S. National Park Service for their complete cooperation in the production of this film.”

Over an illustration of a kachina/katsina (tithu/tihu) doll: “The Hopi people have never until now permitted photography of their way of life. They have made this exception, believing that through this film the American people may come to understand their need for a water development program.” The kachina doll is superimposed and dissolves over a sky and clouds; wide view of the Grand Canyon (?), large piñon tree in foreground; other panning shots of the Painted Desert; a pointed, triangular rock formation (of Blue Canyon?) with sky behind; steep canyon walls (Keams Canyon/Pongsikya/Pongsikvi?); triangular rock formation from another angle, cacti in foreground; back to Painted Desert; “Mexican Hat” rock formation (?); Window Rock (the rock); close-ups of ants moving about frantically, then a butterfly landing on a thistle, a rattlesnake’s (?) head, then the whole body moving off camera, then an eagle’s head/torso; shot of the sky then panning down to close view of the village of Walpi on First Mesa, then the mesa from a distance; closer view of the front of a pueblo dwelling; interior of a pueblo where two Hopi children and an adult Hopi male seated at a table, a Hopi woman cooking nearby; close-up of the woman’s face as she cooks; kachina doll on the wall behind her, then of the man (identified as John Ovayama) with a saddle and rope handing behind him on the wall; back to the kachina on a shelf on the wall, then a close-up; the children seated, drinking from white enamel cups at the table, side-by-side; close-up of the man’s hand placing a white enamel cup on the table next to a white enamel coffee percolator; back to his face smiling at the children and then getting up to grab his hat from the wall, leaves; Ovayama stepping out onto the balcony and looks around at the landscape; view of the desert floor, agricultural field below; Ovayama standing in his field, then camera pans to the foreground where another man’s hand picking up a handfuls of sand; close view from below of Ovayama looking out at the landscape, big sky behind him; a man working in his field, mesa in the background; hands of a Ovayama keeling, digging in the dry earth with a pointed rod, small can next to him from which he grabs seeds to place in the hole; close-up of his hands pushing the dirt back into the hole; man hoeing the field; close-up of he hoe head digging, then of his head and torso as he concentrates; a collection of sun-bleached bones arrayed on the ground; a scarecrow, with sky behind; close-up of a hand picking up a bottomless can from around a seedling, then patting the dirt in around it; back to Ovayama standing up and looking around, up at the sun, mesas and trees behind, he walks off; closer view of Ovayama looking up at the sun, followed by another older Hopi man in a blue shirt with a hoe, looking down at the ground; close-up of a seedling; back to the older man looking up at the sun; wide shot of the landscape and big sky full of clouds; back to Ovayama on his balcony looking out at the sky, the children come out the door and join him; Ovayama walking down the road on First Mesa, walking a donkey upon which rides his son, the girl walks alongside, Walpi buildings behind; close-up of the donkey’s hooves and girl’s feet walking; the Ovayamas and donkey walking, big sky and landscape behind; desert landscape with a couple of trees, sage brush, First Mesa in background; close view of a flock of sheep (kaneelo) grouped closely together; Ovayama on his white horse, then his boy on a black one; irrigation pump/spicket emptying water through a pipe into a cement trough; close view of sheep drinking from the through; close-up of pipe pouring water; back to overhead of sheep drinking; close-ups of sheep; Ovayama sitting on horse pulling out an Old Gold cigarette and lights it, takes a drag; close-up of sheep resting next to the trough, then close-up of Ovayama smoking; Ovayama dismounts his horse next to a pond/hole; closer view of him pulling of silt in handfuls of water, then closer shot of him looking up at the sky; a Hopi woman walks through a village breezeway carrying a bucket over to a rug by a short wall and stairs and sits pulling smaller bowls out of the bucket; closer view of her pulling a ball of wet clay from the bucket and working it with her hands, then close-up of her face, then back to her smoothing with a flat shell the inside of a small bowls she’s shaped; close-up of her hands as she pinches a clay handle onto the flat bowl to make a ladle; overhead shot of her working; close-up of her dipping her hands into a bowl of slip; then her on the rug rubbing and smoothing the bottom of a larger baked flat bowl; close-up of same, then from the other side as she paints a design on the inside; close-up of the design she’s painting with a tiny applicator; overhead view of her inspecting a finished piece, then closer view of the another ladle that’s been painted; close-up of a painted flat bowl, then of the woman’s hands as she inspects a painted jar; wide shot of the scene with the pueblo buildings behind her, two women walk past with bundles tied to their backs; closer view of the two women walking towards the camera, then wide again as they walk down the dirt street between buildings, another woman carrying a bundle joins them; the three women fill the image each carrying a small ladle or bowl also; wide shot of them walking down rock steps going down the cliff, desert landscape beyond; shot from below as they climb down; wide shot of the landscape that pans down to the three women at a watering hole, then closer view of one pulling out her ladle, then close-up of her hand ladling in water from the hole; holding the ladle cup she pours the water through the handle into a jug wrapped in the fabric they all used to carry the jar; camera panning down from rocky hillside and down to a dry stream bed where laundry is laid out to dry over shrubs and rocks (Keams Canyon?) and the women are working; close-up of one woman’s hands grinding plants over a flat rock, a large bowl of water nearby; different view of same; larger view of the four scrubbing their laundry; closer view of one woman standing up and looking around, sky and rock face behind her; wide shot from above of a school yard and buildings (Polacca Day School?); interior of classroom with students at their desk, the (non-Hopi it seems) teacher and a boy at an easel; close-ups of a girl reading a book at a desk; closer view of the teacher with the boy drawing a car on the easel, then close-up of her face as she instructs, then of the boy drawing clouds; close view of a girl seated and feeding a bottle to a baby doll, then looking up and smiling; close-ups of a boy writing at his desk and back to the boy drawing at the easel, then from behind as he draws a sun; two women side by side in a room grinding corn with a mano and metate in a slanted wooden trough, then a close-up of hands grinding; different view as one woman sits up and brushes her hands over her face, then returns to her work; close-ups of a different bundles of dried corn hanging on a wall; back to the two women grinding corn, then a large bucket of ground white corn, flat basket and dish with blue corn behind; a door opens to reveal a woman wetting a large flat stone over an open but contained flame; close-up of the bowl, and closer view of her wetting, and then she places a thin sheet of blue corn Piki bread dough onto the hot stone, then folds it over, flips it and rolls it into long tube, continuing to brown it; she then removes it and adds it to a flat basket alongside others; camera pans down into the Walpi courtyard to alternating shots of a group of men chanting and one drumming as two (Kwaatu) performing the Eagle Dance with closer shots of one dancer and drummer, and then of the chanters; close-up of a hand shaking two eagle feathers; close-up of a dancer raising his arm up and down, then of his feet dancing; then back to the group; alternating close-up shots of individual faces; the group from behind and above, then of the dancers; shot from below of an eagle (or more likely a hawk) resting atop a a pueblo cloudy sky behind; Ovayama rides his horse across cliffside ridge, clouds behind; camera driving past a dry field with little visible vegetation; hillside beyond; dried muddy watering hole; closer view of him on his horse looking up at the sky; three birds (hawks or vultures?) flying far up in a cloudy sky; a dead donkey laying dead on the ground in a corral; closer shot of Ovayama looking down and removing his hat, shaking his head; another closer view of the donkey; Ovayama riding his horse down a dirt road through Keams Canyon, then camera rolls up to reveal the Hopi Agency in the distance, then back to an overhead shot of him riding down the road; orange wooden sign with “Entering Keams Canyon, Watch Out For School Children, Speed Limit 15 M.P.H., Strictly Enforced”; then the sign from across the dirt road down which Ovayama is riding and passing through a gate; orange metal sign on a post reads, “Hopi Villages 12, Pinon Jct. 25, Oraibi 36, Tuba City 78” and an arrow pointing left; Ovayama rides past a building; close-up of a toddler girl smiling and watching from over the top of a playpen wall; wider view of her in the playpen in a yard; Ovayama rides by a rocky hillside waving; wider shot of him passing by low-slung stone walls and steps; stone sign reading, “Office, Hopi Indian Agency”; Ovayama dismounts and ties his horse’s lead to a pole outside the agency and enteres the building; Ovayama walks in and shakes hands with a white (?) Agency Superintendent (James D. Crawford) seated at a desk, another Hopi man sitting across form him looks up and smiles; closer view of them shaking hands and talking; close-up of a kachina doll on his desk; closer view of the Hopi man seated across from the agent, as he shakes his head, the kachina before him; side view of him and Ovayama seated next to each other at the desk, Hopi-made flat baskets on the wall; close up of Crawford picking up and speaking into a telephone handset, then speaking to them, then close-ups of Ovayama and the other Hopi man smiling and responding; all three seated while a white woman comes and places a binder on the desk before Crawford; they two open unfold an inspect a large piece of white paper, they nod and speak, and she leaves; he then flips it around on the desk so the two Hopi men can look at it; Ovayama pulls a pack of Old Gold cigarettes from his breast shirt pocket and gives one to the Hopi man, they then each place one in their mouths; extreme close-up of a box of Diamond brand wooden matches and a pack of Old Golds on top of the map they’re looking at which reads at the top, “Plate 1. Map of Keams Canyon Area, Hopi Indian Reservation, Navajo County, Arizona, Showing Geology and Locations of Wells and Springs, Explanation, Formations, Water-Bearing Properties…”; shot of same, but farther back with the two men in silhouette looking at the map; Ovayama strikes a match and lights the other man’s cigarette then his own, they take puffs; back to front side view of same; back to close-up of the kachina; overhead view of four men performing the Buffalo Dance (mosayurtikive), men chanting; close-up of a dancer’s torso as they turn; close-up of a drumstick hitting a drum; closer view of the dancers and chanters; close-up of an older chanter’s smiling face, and then that of a buffalo dancer and his feet; closer view of the chanters shaking a rattle, then another shaking sheaves of wheat; back to the dancers, pueblo wall behind; close up of a dancer; shot from overhead of the group, then closer views; close-up of an older Hopi woman’s face looking down and working, then looking up at the sky, then another older man doing the same, then Ovayama, and another younger woman; close-up of a Buffalo Dancer’s arm shaking a carved wooden lightning symbol in his hand; wide shot of a large tree with a herd of sheep below, hill and sky behind; close-up of sheep huddled together; a tree branch with leaves blowing in the wind, sky above; small planted corn stalks blowing; back to the dancer hopping with lightning stick; close-up of the kachina in Ovayama’s home; wide shot of the desert floor with small shrubs then the camera pans up to show the mesa and a dark raincloud overhead; dry clay ground getting rained on, then a small corn plant, and back to the sky filled with dark clouds; tree tops blowing in the wind; a horse’s head and torso, wind blowing its mane; the saddle on the horse’s back and mid-section; extreme close-up of raindrops falling hard into a body of water, then into the watering trough and muddy ground nearby; close-up of the rain falling onto Ovayama’s son’s head, then different shots of the ground running and puddling with rain water, including a wide shot of raining falling on (Keams?) canyon walls and the floor running with water; a wide shot of a drenched canyon landscape, mesa in background; close-up of a kachina doll in silhouette before a window being splattered by rain; wide shot of the corn field under a few inches of water, mesa and blue sky in the background; close-up of a corn plant’s leaves dappled with raindrops, then wider shots of the field, wind blowing their leaves; dried desert floor and plants; a cactus’s arm with red flowers in the foreground, then the camera pans up to the sky. End credits: “The End, An Alan Shilin Production” over an illustration of a pack of Old Gold cigarettes.     

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