Workshop (Catering for Aliens)

Catering for Aliens: Hospitality and the Social Life of Strangers

11:15-13:00 & 14:00-15:30, Friday 03rd July, Theatre C

(Non Competition Screening)

Shaman Tour by Laetitia Merli
The Auschwitz Dialogues by Marian Ehret.
Uncanny Strangers by David Picard

This session will include three ethnographic films that explore different social and symbolic strategies to deal with what could broadly be called ‘strangers’. The latter variably include the mysterious, usually uncertain and contested realms of spirits, pasts, touristic guests, Western modernity, and different imagined primordial worlds. The central question addressed in the session is how hospitality practices mediate the social life of these ‘strangers’ and variably mobilise them for political, economic and symbolic ends.

Laetitia Merli’s The Shaman Tour follows Enkhetuya and her family who, every summer set up their camp on the Huvsgul Lake shores in North Mongolia. They are Tsaatan, reindeer herders and she is a famous shaman. They live from tourism, asking money for pictures, souvenirs and special shamanic rituals for the tourists. But this year, other Tsaatan families have planned to move down from the taiga to the lake to get their part of the tourist business. The competition to be the first camp on the tourist road is getting harder and harder. The film explores the relationships between locals and tourists as well as the family’s strategies to survive in a globalised world. The anthropologist-filmmaker has been visiting North Mongolia for years and knows very well Enkhetuya’s family. Her close camera follows the shaman in her everyday life, taking the family’s point of view.
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Marian Ehret’s The Auschwitz Dialogues follows a team of young filmmakers who visit the concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz in Poland.  The team finds itself caught up in a complex conflict between Polish and Jewish interest groups and the inhabitants of the small Polish town of Oświęcim in which the camp is located, and their respective memories and forms of remembrance of the Holocaust. While the Jewish interest groups appear to defend their ‘right to memory’, most of the Poles claim that they ‘just want a normal life’. The unfolding of the conflict is documented through the multivocal debates around a local museum project (and its adjacent parking lot) and through the contestations related to two competing commemoration ceremonies. The film raises questions about the formulation and ownership of the past and thus points to issues of governance related to the construction of reality.
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David Picard’s Uncanny Strangers, filmed in a fishing village in the South-West of Madagascar, questions the relationships between the villagers and various human and non-human ‘strangers’ – ancestor and tromba spirits, Western NGO workers, ecotourists, fish collectors, cattle rustlers and the ethnographic filmmaker. Through a series of everyday life episodes, it provides insights into the ontology of these relationships and the strategies employed by the villagers to make them work for their economic and political purposes. Through its specific ethnographic focus, the film points towards more generic issues related to hospitality practice, frictions in the field of environmental action and transnational forms of collaboration.
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All films will be shown in slightly shortened versions. The session will run in parallel to the festival competition and include a discussion about epistemic and theoretical issues that emerge from the screenings.


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About this Festival

Sponsored by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain & Ireland (RAI) since 1985, it is an itinerant festival that moves biennially from one university host to another, in association with local community and cultural organisations.

The festival was held from Wednesday July 1st to Saturday July 4th 2009, and included over 50 hours of screenings of new films, a major international conference, and a targeted selection of events focusing on anthropological ethics in filmmaking, youth participatory film, and archiving ethnographic film.

Read more about the RAI 2009 festival

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