From 1931-1940, social philanthropist Adelaide Pearson traveled throughout the world documenting quotidian activities, directing her keen eye to ritual, dress, and craft.Whether atop a donkey in the Italian countryside, with camel caravan in the deserts of the Sahara, or driving across Mexico in her automobile, Pearson’s travels—and filmmaking—consistently pushed the gender and cultural boundaries of her era.
Integrating poignant intertitles,Pearson’s 16mm films provide an unparalleled perspective of the everyday lives of those living in remote communities in nations as diverse as Algeria, Palestine,Guatemala, Siam, and Ceylon. Wealth and social status granted Pearson and her partner Laura Paddock access to such influential figures as Mahatma Gandhi, whom Pearson captured on (what is believed to be) the first color footage of Gandhi in rural India in 1936.
Considering the genre of amateur travel film, and the fact that amateur filmmakers were often male, this presentation will discuss the production and exhibition of Pearson’s 16mm films, as well as the historical and cultural significance of these works. A wealth of primary documents, including Pearson’s original journals, photo albums, scrapbooks, and travel lecture notes, not only illuminate Pearson’s intentions while making her films, but also provide us with incredible insight on the character of the unique travel talks she gave upon return.
The films of Adelaide Pearson Film are held at Northeast Historic Film. “Elwins to Calcutta”—the reel containing the Gandhi footage —was preserved with funds from the National Film Preservation Foundation and the Women’s Film Preservation Fund in 2001. An additional 800 feet of the Adelaide Pearson Collection is currently being preserved with funds from the National Film Preservation Foundation.