Hopi: Songs of the Fourth World is a compelling study of the Hopi that captures their deep spirituality and reveals their integration of art and daily life.
Initially, (Pat) Ferrero planned a film about Hopi women because their culture passes along with ceremonial roles and land use through the mother's line. As Ferrero worked, however, the film became a documentary on the function of art in Hopi culture and of religion in everyday life. The focus is on the symbolic planting and growing cycle of corn, which inspires every Hopi art form. The dazzling colors of the blue, yellow and red corn gives the film immediate appeal, and the care lavished on the crop conveys a mysticism that even a novice home gardener can appreciate. Ferrero conveys no sense of a dilemma or conflict between Hopi tradition and contemporary Western civilization. In the film, Hopi women are shown making traditional baskets in a kitchen equipped with an electric rotisserie. Television soap operas are popular, Ferrero said, and they fit very well into storytelling traditions. "The incongruity does not bother them," she said. Hopi have survived because they are adaptive. From the Spanish they borrowed metal planting sticks. Now they drive cars and wear Western cloches. There is, however, a debate about electricity and running water. They see it as a trend toward government control, since it forces them to be dependent on outside sources. They want their autonomy." In the film, one man says that tradition and culture give young people a solid base for involvement in the "outside" world. "The idea is not that they will assimilate, but learn to live in two different worlds," Ferrero said. "They are bilingual and bicultural. I think there's tremendous richness in diversity -- and that's what makes ours a truly democratic culture. Also, you have to keep in mind that the Hopi were here first."
Hopi: Songs of the Fourth World is a compelling study of the Hopi that captures their deep spirituality and reveals their integration of art and daily life. Amidst the beautiful images of Hopi land and life, a variety of Hopi--a farmer, religious elder, grandmother, painter, potter and weaver--speak about the preservation of the Hopi way.
Quite simply put, this is the finest documentary I have yet seen on a North American Indian people or subject.
Filmmaker Pat Ferrero made the beautiful documentary Quilts in Women's Lives, which won the Emily award at the 1981 American Film Festival. Since then the film has garnered many other major awards. Ms. Ferrero's newest effort is an equally impressive documentary, an examination of the integration of spiritual and human values with art in the lives of the Hopi Indians, America's oldest surviving culture. The Hopis have lived on the mesas of Arizona for more than a thousand years. They see themselves as caretakers of the land and guardians of their sacred food, the corn. The cycle of the seasonal growth of the corn is interwoven with the lives of the people so that the interrelatedness of nature and spiritual values is illuminated. As the Indians tell their stories, the viewer becomes aware of how belief in their traditional values has helped them to survive in a precarious environment in a rapidly-changing world. Hopi: Songs of the Fourth World is a poignant, sensitive film offering an understanding of a way of life unknown to most of us. Since so many high school students find it difficult to accept any culture other than their own, it has to be a positive experience for them to see a way of life where the people are at one with nature, their gods, and each other. History, sociology, anthropology, arts and crafts, ecology, and women's studies classes will enjoy and utilize the film profitably. It also would be a valuable addition to the public library's film collection. The film is a lovely work.
Hopi took 4 1/2 years to finish -- incorporating six production trips and a dozen research trips. Apart from finances, Ferrero's biggest challenge was winning the trust of the Hopi people, and then correctly interpreting their culture for the Anglo audience. To tell her story, Pat Ferrero enlisted "a network of friendships" -- Hopi families and individuals she met over a long period of time. "I only worked at places and with people who wanted to cooperate, who wanted this film to be made," Ferrero said. "It took tremendous commitment from them, just to explain to their neighbors what a film crew was doing in their home." The reluctance that she occasionally confronted, Ferrero said, stems from the early years of this century, when Hopi land was inundated by visitors. "In looking at historical photographs," she said, "you can see that outsiders outnumbered the Hopi -- that small, ceremonial plazas were overrun with photographers with tripods." Once she had established a working rapport. Ferrero faced the problem of finding individuals who would speak on Hopi history and folklore. "Hopi is organized as a series of villages," Ferrero said, "and each Village has autonomy." Even though there's a shared culture Ferrero found that "no single Hopi would presume to be a spokesperson for Hopi." Initially, Ferrero set out to make a film about women's roles. Since land use, ceremonial roles and clan membership are passed through the mother's family line, Hopi women have economic security and unusually strong social status. Eventually, though, (through the encouragement of both men and women) Ferrero chose to look at both roles, and at the importance of corn in Hopi culture. It's through corn, Ferrero said, that the Hopi maintain their strongest symbolic link to the past; and it's through the planting of corn that Hopi values are best illustrated. When the farmer plants corn, "it's seen metaphorically: The Hopi see corn as female, as a seed that's capable of regeneration. Planting is an act of faith. "Even though it's not needed for survival any longer," Ferrero added, "the Hopi still choose to plant corn, because it represents their identity. People say, 'We are corn.' I wondered how this tradition had stood up under the pressure to acculturate." Hopi ritual has survived the onslaught of Western civilization, Ferrero said, "primarily because of their isolation." The 13 Hopi villages (including the oldest continually inhabited settlements in the northern hemisphere) are built on three adjacent mesas close to the painted desert of northeast Arizona. The Grand Canyon is an hour's drive to the west. According to Ferrero, "Carbon dating shows that they've been there since the 10th century, though they say they've been there longer." I'd say the Hopi are the most intact native American group." Still, since all native American children attend Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, the Hopi frequently struggle between the need to preserve their own ways, and the wish to explore technology and newer fashionable Anglo ways. "They have TVs, cars and jobs," Ferrero said. "There's a wide range of sophistication among the Hopi." The "fourth world" referred to in Ferrero's title derives from the Hopi belief that the world has been destroyed three times by mankind's greed and corruption. The Hopi believe that they re-emerged from the earth -- just like corn -- at the beginning of the current cycle. The reference to songs is also important, Ferrero said, "since singing is really their way of storytelling. There is no written history." The soundtrack for her film, in fact, is dominated by two elements: The sound of the wind and the recorded voices of Hopi chants and songs. "I feel that our culture is at a time of great disillusionment -- almost a paralysis," Ferrero said, "and we seem to have few tools with which to cope with change. Hopi has always dealt with change in an immediate, personal way: this is a lesson that native cultures can teach us."