News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 3, 2013

Learn about ‘The Pearl Fishers’ at library


News Release

TERRE HAUTE — “The Pearl Fishers,” a documentary film by Jens Lund and Dillon Bustin, will be shown from 12:10 to 1:10 p.m. on Oct. 10 in the lower-level meeting rooms of the Vigo County Public Library. It will be introduced by Nan McEntire, associate professor emerita of Indiana State University, who worked as a folklorist with the producers. The 1985 film is 28 minutes long.

The freshwater pearl industry once flourished along Indiana’s inland waterways. The Wabash, flowing south from Lafayette to join the Ohio at Mount Vernon, bustled with the shallow boats of fishermen. In the early decades of the 20th century, about 600 pearl fishers operated around Vincennes alone.

This film documents Barnett Bass as he fishes for freshwater mollusks in the White River in southern Indiana, seeking gem-quality pearls and the mother-of-pearl lining of the shells. It depicts the local jewelers, a pearl dealer and a shell exporter. The work explores issues of technological innovation, international trade and the resulting stresses on the environment. It also suggests the traditional symbolic meanings of pearls — immortality, purity, virtue and trust — as well as the role of romanticism in everyday life.

In 1986, “The Pearl Fishers” was given the “Best Ethnographic Film in the Americas” award of excellence from the Visual Anthropology Section of the American Anthropological Association.

The use of incidental music from Georges Bizet’s 1863 opera “Les pêcheurs de perles” (“The Pearl Fishers”) enhances the film’s most compelling images, including the fisherman on the river, a ballet of water spiders and the maneuvering of burdened poles from the quiet water.