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Andrew HoweFollow

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In 1954, Darryl Zanuck commissioned Samuel Fuller to journey to the Amazon and shoot footage of the Karaja tribe, around which the director would construct a screenplay based upon the life of Sasha Siemel, a big game hunter of note. Zanuck had optioned Siemel’s best-selling autobiography, Tigrero. Although John Wayne and Ava Gardner were soon attached to the project, executives at Fox would not sanction a shoot in such a dangerous location. The project was set aside and forgotten.

Nearly 40 years after his visit to Brazil, Fuller would return to the Karaja tribe. Out of this experience came a documentary, Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made (1994), by Finnish director Mika Kaurismaki. The result is equal parts documentary and ethnography, serving as a time capsule for the Karaja–many of whom recognized long-deceased relatives in the footage shown to them–demonstrating just how much their culture had changed in four decades. This paper examines how the failed initial project eventually yielded a fascinating insight into the vicissitudes of Hollywood production as well as an accidental ethnographic study of the Karaja and their change over time.


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Lost & Found: Samuel Fuller’s Tigrero and Accidental Ethnography

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In 1954, Darryl Zanuck commissioned Samuel Fuller to journey to the Amazon and shoot footage of the Karaja tribe, around which the director would construct a screenplay based upon the life of Sasha Siemel, a big game hunter of note. Zanuck had optioned Siemel’s best-selling autobiography, Tigrero. Although John Wayne and Ava Gardner were soon attached to the project, executives at Fox would not sanction a shoot in such a dangerous location. The project was set aside and forgotten.

Nearly 40 years after his visit to Brazil, Fuller would return to the Karaja tribe. Out of this experience came a documentary, Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made (1994), by Finnish director Mika Kaurismaki. The result is equal parts documentary and ethnography, serving as a time capsule for the Karaja–many of whom recognized long-deceased relatives in the footage shown to them–demonstrating just how much their culture had changed in four decades. This paper examines how the failed initial project eventually yielded a fascinating insight into the vicissitudes of Hollywood production as well as an accidental ethnographic study of the Karaja and their change over time.