Screen Media Commentary: Six Generations


This article (and film clip) appeared in the LA Times today. The headline is problematic, since Harrington’s  handling of his fieldnotes meant that the information only came back to the Chumash through the hard work of many who searched out the fieldnotes and deciphered them rather than through some generosity of spirit on Harrington’s part.  I found it very interesting because of my past involvement with  Chumash area archaeology and anthropology, and teaching about the Chumash and about J. P. Harrington  himself as well as having run several fieldschools  where we engaged with aspects of Chumash history and with Harrington’s own story too.  I have a very high regard for the work of  Dr. John Johnson at the Sant Barbara Museum, and I think that the reported  research and Ernestine De Soto’s contributions are very worthwhile, but the background to the newspaper story is the exploration of what lay behind a television documentary that appeared last fall.   Paul Goldsmith made this program called “Six Generations” which  goes much  further into the story touched on the the paper. (Goldsmith posted some of his own notes regarding the production on the web as well  –

He is an accomplished cinematographer with past work in documentary, advertising and fiction films. In this television documentary, done over a period of years,   he directs as well as doing the camera work. Johnson acted as executive producer as well as being one of the subjects of the film, in the sense that it explores his own research along with De Soto’s life, family history and experience with Harrington, both in her own life, and in her work with his papers.

The clip from the film is quite substantial, and I would like to see the whole thing soon, but let’s consider the clip for a moment since this will probably reach a much wider audience than the whole film.  Documentaries, even short pieces like this have conventions which change over time. In this one we begin in the center of things, introduced to Ernestine  as she looks at a museum exhibit  on her people, and she starts by explaining her  personal sense of  Chumash identity, with its roots in personal experience, in  recent genetic research and in deep engagement with collaborative  documentary research over a period of years.

Goldsmith talks about the challenges of structuring the film so that the audience takes away some depth and complexity of information, and not just a general impression that Ernestine is an interesting and attractive woman whose family has suvived through some generations of tough times.  It would be good to hear him expand on this further. He mentions that he tried earlier versions of the film on audiences for several years before arriving at the edit that was broadcast in the end.  He does not yet have anything posted on the reaction to the broadcast, but I think this is likely to be an excellent teaching film for many purposes.