Wayne Mitchell
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                       Filming in Afghanistan:    Yasuko, Kenji, and Wayne Mitchell                    

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View Wayne Mitchell's 1983 film Cuna Indians: Island Exiles

Born in Detroit, Michigan on 5 April, 1926, the young Mitchell had set his sights on becoming a park ranger, eventually becoming one in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park. Soon, he embarked on a career as a successful still photographer of wildlife and nature subjects. Eventually he pursued cinematic studies at the University of Southern California, which led to his first film National Park Rangers, which he made in 1955 while making training films for North American Aviation. In 1959, together with sound technician Sven Walnum, he followed candidate John F. Kennedy on the campaign trail, where his footage was used for election promotional spots. He also found work as a cinematographer in the Indo-Pakistani and Viet Nam wars, taught photography for two years at Miami University, and worked briefly in the feature film world. Beginning his educational film work in 1961, Mitchell specialized in international, ethnographic, arts, and economics films, made primarily in South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia. While in Japan, he married his Japanese interpreter, Yasuko Hanada, resulting in fourteen films on Japan, and two sons.  

Mitchell, an auteur who wrote his own narration, selected his own shots, and chose music and voiceovers, compiled an extensive library of ethnic music on ¼" reels, yet didn’t shirk from occasionally beating a drum, chanting, or playing an ocarina as musical accompaniment to his films. He eschewed strict anthropological interpretations of his subject matter, and thus, knowing that elementary schools were not about to adopt films containing images of bare-breasted women, he requested the Chocó women to cover up during filming (as they did when visiting a village).  He decried the impact of imported ideas, from technology to the dubious value of many of the missionaries plying their trade in developing nations:

"As technology brings new tools...and gadgets... their language (which carries much of their culture) gets lost. Worst of all in my view, the missionaries corrupt them in a lot of ways. As they steal away their culture, the young people are neither fish nor fowl. They see magazine & TV pictures of the outside world, but have no way and no idea of how to get that kind of technological life. They end up drinking away their frustrations. Eskimo are a good example. The first time I visited, they were more self-sufficient. Now they HAVE to be in the cash economy... snow-mobiles, etc."

Mitchell wrote five books, illustrated with his photos: The Umpteenth International Scarecrow Convention (young adults), Assignment Earth,  Vol.1  and Vol.2 (photo essays), The ByWAY is MyWAY (2010, essays from a lifetime of adventure), and From Out of The Past (Myths, Legends, and Tall Tales of the West). Mitchell, who won numerous festival awards, was one of the last educational filmmakers still working in 16mm, carrying a customized portable sound and editing unit to remote locations. Wayne Mitchell lived in a Japanese-inspired house he both designed and built, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, along with his wife and children.  Wayne Mitchell passed away peacefully in New Zealand on October 19th, 2022 at 96 years of age. He is survived by his wife, Yasuko, and their two children, Kenji and Masaki, as well as his daughter Yvonne Ivy Taylor, from a previous marriage

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Wayne made more than seventy films, several of which, in the “single concept” ethnographic series, were distributed in 8mm format, thus not listed here. We have included all of his 16mm films that we’ve been able to find in various catalogues. We've attempted to provide the year of original production, but as much of this information is from catalogues, some years listed may reflect a subsequent revision instead.  Several titles on this list are available in videotape and digital DVD from Phoenix Films, 800-221-1274.

Indian Boy of the Southwest, 1962, revised 1983 (Mitchell’s first educational film)
Archaeologists at Work, 1962
Food of Southeast Asia, 1966
Japanese Mountain Family, 1966
Africa: An Introduction, 1967 (also revision, 1981)
Boy of Southeast Asia, 1967
Natural Resources of Southeast Asia, 1967
Japan: An Introduction, 1968, revised 1981
Japanese Handcrafts, 1968, revised 1998
Arts and Crafts in West Africa, 1969

Anthropology: a Study of People, 1970
Biology: a Study of People (1970)
Asia: An Introduction, 1970, revised 1981
Economic Geography: Comparing Two Nations, 1971
Economic Geography: Three Families in Different Environments, 1971
Eskimos: a Changing Culture, 1971, revised 1992
Indians in the Americas, 1971, revised 1985
Man and His Environment I: Rain Forest Family, 1971
Man and His Environment II: Food From the Rain Forest, 1971
Different People --- Different Values, 1977
What Are Values?, 1977
Early Civilizations, 1979
Food Around the World, 1979
Shelter Around the World, 1979

Clothing Around the World, 1981
Bajao: Seagoing Nomads, 1982
Mexico: An Introduction, 1982
Cuna Indians: Island Exiles, 1983
Ethnic Dance Around the World, 1983
Slums in the Third World, 1983
Third World: An Introduction, 1983
Central America: An Introduction, 1985
Central America: History and Heritage, 1985
Eastern Europe: An Introduction, 1987
India: History and Heritage, 1987
Nile: Profile of a River, 1987
Soviet Union Part I: An Introduction , 1987
Soviet Union Part II: History and Heritage, 1987
Food, Shelter, and Clothing in Three Environments, 1989

South America I: The People and Their Culture, 1990
South America II: The Caribbean Coast, 1990
South America III: Brazil, 1990
South America IV: East of the Andes, 1990
South America V: West of the Andes, 1990
Amerindian Legacy, 1992
Capitalism, Socialism, Communism: An Introduction, 1992
Father Sun, Mother Earth, 1993
Legend of the Buffalo Clan, 1993
Japan - pt.1 - Feudal Past to Industrialization, 1998
Japan - pt.2 - Into The 21st Century, 1998
Japan - Its Arts, 1998
Navajo Family - The Runaway Horse, 2000

Art History: The Human Image (2009).

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As his brochure attests, Mitchell retained his National Park Ranger persona as he spun yarns in speaking engagements in the U.S. and New Zealand.






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