Incorporating the RAI biennial Film Prize and the University of Kent
Ethnographic Film Festival
Friday 8th - Sunday 10th November 1996
Contemporary interest in migration and migrant identities forms part of a wider project encourages by the EU and the ESRC and is reflected in much current research. A number of the films submitted in 1996 explore the theme of migration, migrant experiences and the relationship between home and away. The films in this session also raise a number of issues concerning the use of documentary and fiction to represent migrant experiences. When does a film about migrant become a political statement? And whose point of view does the film represent? Migration is inevitably a political issue in the 1990s, what potential does ethnographic film have for this rather controversial domain?
We begin in the United States with Oaxa California, the story of a Mexican family living in California which focuses on the experience of cross-cultural life. Taxi to Timbuktu again being in the US, in New York where it explores the experiences and standpoints of African taxi drivers, cut with footage from their home villages that the film later visits. Urban immigrants remain central to this session as we move to Europe where Bintou in Paris uses fiction to high light gender issues represented through a family dispute over female circumcision amongst African immigrants. In Flight a rather different type of migration unfolds as Khanty children are taken from their isolated rural families to a larger settlement where they will learn a new culture and life-style. Finally, The Sami Reindeer Herders, a film of outstanding quality, draws our attention to a life-style to which seasonal migration is integral. Whilst the subsistence strategies of these 'migrants' are very different from those of the urban migrants we meet in the earlier films they are equally political for their own special reasons. Of particular related interest is A Sheepherder's Homecoming, one of the films selected for the RAI Prize Screenings on Friday afternoon when it can be seen in 16mm. This film is also available in the video library.
The set of films selected for this session can be viewed from a variety of different perspectives. Death and funerary ritual has long since been a significant focus of anthropological attention and the entries for the 1996 prize competition reflected the strength of a continuing interest in this field. On the one hand these films represent anthropological approaches to the study of death,, attention is paid to the details of mortuary ritual and material practice of dealing with death. Simultaneously contemporary stress on subjectivity is represented when in some of these films the potential of the media to represent personal and quite intimate representations of experience is exploited to offer an insight into individual standpoints on death and bereavement. These films which also inevitably raise a whole series of ethnical and moral issues explore both the public and enclosed domains in which death is made meaningful in a range of different cultures. Dialogue between visual anthropology and the anthropology of death and bereavement clearly holds much potential and it is hoped that this session will inspire a lasting discourse
Ethnographic film allows an important opportunity both for people to perform their music and song to a camera as well as for filmmakers to takes these fascinating art forms as the central narratives of their own work. The three films selected for this session feature a significant and enjoyable footage of song and music from three different cultures. In Let our Songs Live we see how below the surface the old culture and religion of the Siriono of the Bolivian Lowlands is still alive beneath the veneer of a North American Missionary culture. Ou Les Accordeons Chantent explores Vallentato music and the life of its musicians in Northern Columbia.
Keepers of the Faith offers an intriguing and sensitive perspective on the daily lives and narratives of Burmese Buddhist nuns. This film provides an insight into Buddhists models and experiences of femininity both inside and outside this religious context Finally, Bear and Shaman focuses on another different experience of religious life by exploring the life and activities of Ulchis Michael Duvan, a 94 year old Shaman.
In addition to these a large number of films of related interest are to be screened in other sessions and over 100 videos will be available for viewing in the Festival Video Library during the three days of the Event.
This session focuses on the relationship between those who visit other cultures and those who act as their hosts. Anthropologist, tourist and traveller are modern categories of uncertain autonomy. Each of the films screened in this session represents and comments on the experiences of people who are identified with these categories in one way or another. The visual imagery, interviews and voiceover of these films constitute representations of experience of/with 'other cultures': Into the Longhouse follows the visit of a group of Dutch tourists to the Iban of Sarawak; in Sweet Sorghum, Kaira Streckner reflects on her experience of life with the Hamar as the daughter of anthropologists Jean Lydall and Ivo Streckner; in Ella's Journal, anthropologists Ella Wiswell returns, 50 years after her original fieldwork to a rural Japanese celebration; and in Wayana Travel Diary an Hungarian anthropologist hosts and represents the visit of his Wayana informant to Budapest.
In addition to representing a range of contemporary travel experiences which are in themselves of anthropological interest, as documents these films also raise some important issues: to what extent do western filmic documents represent a 'western' version of inter-cultural contact? is it even possible to step beyond such western or anthropological frames to consider, for example, the way(s) Iban make tourism meaningful? whose is the Wayana Travel Diary? how does Kaira Streckner's account of learning to live with/like Hamar combine a loyalty to the expression of experience with descriptions of Hamar practice to produce a valuable anthropological document? Other tourist experiences are represented in Sunday's JVC Professional Student Film Prize screenings: in Looking for Man of Aran an investigation centred on the vintage anthropological film leads us to a contemporary context where if forms part of the local packaging of tourism. Similarly, in Saturday's Special Screenings, Stonehenge, a high profile location which is woven into tourist experience is also the site of dispute in Set in Stone.
Updated 20-8-96 Steve Wilson