'Meet the World' at the 14th RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film at the Watershed in Bristol

The Royal Anthropological Institute’s (RAI) 14th International Festival of Ethnographic Film will for the first time be held in Bristol. Under the motto ‘Meet the World’, this biennial internationally renowned and well-loved festival will celebrate it’s 30 anniversary at the Watershed, bringing together global, ‘cutting edge’ ethnographic documentary filmmakers. This Festival is one of the longest-established, leading global gathering in its field. It has been both a forerunner and a catalyst in discussions about documentary making, and the relationships between film, anthropology, visual culture, and advocating cultural diversity by fostering an intercultural dialogue through film.

Open to everyone, the RAI Film Fest will showcase more than 70 award-winning films from around the world made by ethnographic filmmakers, including Kim Longinotto, Joshua Oppenheimer, David MacDougall, and Phil Agland.  Ethnography, put simply, is the study of human cultures through a long-term immersion in the lives of others. The ethnographic filmmakers featured here have produced thought-provoking films on topics as diverse as life after genocide in Rwanda, the struggle of artists in Kashmir, the art of mud-building masons in Mali, to the experiences of a young dance troupe in a South African slum. They focus on the lives of a wide range of people including Swiss Yodellers, Capoeira dancers, World of Warcraft gamers and the last travelling shepherd in Milan. The festival also includes several collaborative film-making experiments such as Eleven in Delwara, with Douglas MacDougall, which presents the work of eleven year old filmmakers in an Indian village and Out of Focus about everyday life in a Mexican prison for minors made by the inmates. But what all the filmmakers in this unique festival have in common is a passionate commitment to understanding and revealing the perspectives of others through nuanced, ethical and in-depth filmmaking.  Come and meet the world at the Watershed in June!

Tickets can be reserved through the festival’s website: where you can buy week or day passes. Tickets for individual screening sessions can also be purchased on the door on the day, subject to availability.

More info about the festival

This is the 14th RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film. This year it is hosted jointly with The Watershed Cinema in Bristol, The Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at University of Bristol and The Center for Visual Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, Dornsife College, University of Southern California, LA, California. Submissions are made under several competition categories including the RAI & Basil Wright Film Prizes and the Material Culture and Archaeology prizes. More information about ethnographic film and visual anthropology can be found here.

Prof. André Singer, President of the RAI and Festival director says: “At a time when ‘exotic adventures’ are again becoming a staple diet on national TV, questions about the ethics of film-making in remote communities should provoke a lively debate, and we hope to involve broadcasters, academics, filmmakers and the local audience in these discussions.”

During the 4 days of the festival, there will be various opportunities to meet film-makers, critics and theoreticians, and it will be an ideal place for meetings between the regional cultural industries, universities and different local communities. 

A lifetime achievement will be awarded to filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Lydall. She researched and made films among the Hamar in Southern Ethiopia since the 1980s, and three of her films were broadcast as part of the BBC series, Under the Sun (with Joanna Head in 1990). Two Girls Go Hunting will be screened at the festival and discussed in conjunction with the Channel 4’ forthcoming  Reality TV programme ‘The Tribe’ on the Hamar.

The Watershed Cinema will complement the RAI Festival programme with partnership screenings and discussions on The Look of Silence, Boyhood and Salt of Earth.

More about the films

Whether you are interested in world art and music, human rights, the environment or stories of inspirational women there is something for everyone in this diverse international documentary festival. Most of the films screened here are not on general release and several of the filmmakers will be on hand to answer your questions after the screening. Many of the films have been shown at prestigious festivals around the world and we are lucky to count our opening film The Look of Silence, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Venice Film Festival, among the offerings.

More on The Look of Silence

Watch the trailer here:
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Venice Film Festival
19:00, Tuesday 16th June, Cinema 1 and Waterside 3


The Look of Silence is Joshua Oppenheimer’s powerful companion piece to the Oscar®-nominatedThe Act of Killing. Through Oppenheimer’s footage of perpetrators of the 1965 Indonesian genocide, a family of survivors discovers how their son was murdered, as well as the identities of the killers. The documentary focuses on the youngest son, an optometrist named Adi, who decides to break the suffocating spell of submission and terror by doing something unimaginable in a society where the murderers remain in power: he confronts the men who killed his brother and, while testing their eyesight, asks them to accept responsibility for their actions. This unprecedented film initiates and bears witness to the collapse of fifty years of silence.

Director's Notes

The Act of Killing exposed the consequences for all of us when we build our everyday reality on terror and lies. The Look of Silence explores what it is like to be a survivor in such a reality. Making any film about survivors of genocide is to walk into a minefield of clichés, most of which serve to create a heroic (if not saintly) protagonist with whom we can identify, thereby offering the false reassurance that, in the moral catastrophe of atrocity, we are nothing like perpetrators. But presenting survivors as saintly in order to reassure ourselves that we are good is to use survivors to deceive ourselves. It is an insult to survivors’ experience, and does nothing to help us understand what it means to survive atrocity, what it means to live a life shattered by mass violence, and to be silenced by terror. To navigate this minefield of clichés, we have had to explore silence itself.
The result, The Look of Silence, is, I hope, a poem about a silence borne of terror – a poem about the necessity of breaking that silence, but also about the trauma that comes when silence is broken. Maybe the film is a monument to silence – a reminder that although we want to move on, look away and think of other things, nothing will make whole what has been broken. Nothing will wake the dead. We must stop, acknowledge the lives destroyed, strain to listen to the silence that follows.

Review in The Guardian

Joshua Oppenheimer is back with another backstage take on the Indonesian Death Squads of the 1960s. The follow-up is more personal, more combative. But it’s just as much a must-see as its predecessor… Read more

Interested in art?

If you have a passion for world art the RAI Film Fest has many intriguing films for you, including Sculpting the Spirits, about the magical world of the Bijagós people (Guinea-Bissau) who express their belief that man, nature and spirits are equal and interdependent through sculpture. Kashmir Art Culture and the Struggle for Azadi takes a different angle and explores the daily struggles of Kashmir artists to make sense of tragedy and reformulate a cultural identity against the legacies of a catastrophic insurgency and indefinite militarization by Indian security forces. Continuing on the theme of art and struggle, Echoes of the Mountain explores the life and works of Santos De La Torre, a great Huichol artist who, like his people, lives in oblivion, despite having made a great mural for the metro station Palais Royale at the Louvre. Watch the trailer here. Heading back into history and the realms of archaeology, Dance of the Maize Gods explores the world of the ancient Maya through the thousands of exquisitely painted vases they left behind. The filmmakers also explore the challenges question of studying looted art.

The festival includes a fascinating collection of films on the lives of artisans including the Masons of Djenné, a moving look at the art of mud building in a UNESCO World Heritage site in Mali. In a region plagued by drought, ethnic tension, Islamist insurrection, and political upheaval the masons speak about their town’s history, the building profession, and the changes and challenges they face. While in an entirely different part of the world, the Slovenian lace makers depicted in Connected by a Thread, are keeping alive the heritage of bobbin lacemaking and, through their memories, reviving stories from the past.

Interested in music?

Several of the RAI Film Fest films focus on the transformative power of music around the world. Messages by Music focuses on Awadi, a Western Africa rapper who uses the method of the more traditional griots to fight to change today’s society. In a complete change of pace Swiss Yodelling offers a look at the biography of a 7 year old boy who forgoes rock music to form a yodelling group and keep alive the traditions of the past.

Interested in dance?

Life in Progress, winner of an Encomium Berner Film Award, is a beautiful exploration of the lives of a young dance troupe living in a South African slum. Body Games follows master Cobra Mansa and his friends in the search for the African roots of the Brazilian martial art Capoeira.

Concerned about environmental issues?

Several of the festival films explore pressing environmental issues and how communities around the world are coping with environmental changes. Shown together in one session The Future Okavango: Honey are a set of participatory films exploring sustainable land use and resource management in the Okavango Basin of Angola, Namibia and Botswana. In the same session Agave is Life takes us on a journey through the 10,000 year history of the symbiotic relationship between humans and the Agave plant, ending with a worrying look to the future.  Ecocide brings into sharp focus the voices of the residents of Grand Isle, the last inhabited barrier island off the coast of Louisiana, who thought they were living in paradise until the 2010 BP oil spill hit their shores. This film is part of a bigger narrative to make Ecocide the fifth International Crime against peace to stand alongside the crime of Genocide by amending the Rome Statute. Read more about it here.  Shown in the same evening doubebill as Ecocide – and with a chance to meet both directors - Nightfall on Gaia takes a different approach, in a speculative, imaginative film that depicts the lives and visions of human communities living in the Antarctic Peninsula. Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Antarctica, the film is an experimental meditation on the future of the Antarctic as a new extreme frontier for human inhabitation, the complexities of a fragile planet at the verge of ecological collapse, and the vicissitudes of an uncertain geopolitical future for the region.

Stories of inspirational women around the world

Sepideh – Reaching for the Stars is a beautiful and unusual visual narrative of the hopes and dreams of its protagonist, a young Iranian woman who wants to become an astronaut. Shown at the 2014 Sundance film festival to critical acclaim this is a moving story of self-empowerment. Read a review here. Kim Longinotto is renowned for her films that highlight female oppression, including Rough Aunties and Sister in Law. Dreamcatcher, which won the World Directing Award in the documentary category at the 2015 Sundance Festival, tells the story of strong, inspirational woman, former prostitute Brenda, who has defied her past to now rescue girls from the streets in inner-city Chicago. Read the Guardian review here. Eufrosina’s Revolution documents the journey of the determined Eufrosina, denied the chance to run for Mayor of her indigenous Mexican community because she was a woman, but who went on to become a vigorous campaigner for gender equality. Equally captivating is Lapan, the story of one of the first female magistrates in Papua New Guinea, and the unique village court system in which she works. Road’s End follows the life of Daina who lives alone in Eatern Latvia in a house with no electricity or running water. This poetic and existential film is about obstinacy, love and betrayal and how these feelings can affect the choices we make in life.

Modern life is rubbish

Many of the films across all categories of the festival deal with the challenges of modern life, the struggle to maintain traditions in an epoch of rapid change, the devastating effect of human conflict and the environmental crisis. Noteworthy among these treatise on modern life is The Last Shepherd, a captivating story of Renato Zucchelli, the last working shepherd living in the metropolis of Milan, who conquered the city with only his sheep and the power of fantasy. This touching documentary has been described as a contemporary fairy-tale, offering a vision of hope for the future. Watch the trailer here.The Auction House: A tale of Two Brothers, which was chosen as the Gala Film at the London Open City Film Festival in 2014 is an uplifting look at the trials and tribulations of two brothers to save the oldest antique auction house in India. Read the Hollywood Reporter review here.

Through the eyes of children

The festival is honoured to be able to include a special workshop session on filmmaker David MacDougall’s long term project on Childhood and Modernity. Director of the famous Doon School Chronicles, an intimate and ground-breaking study of India’s most prestigious boys boarding school, Under the Palace Wall and Eleven in Delwara continue the theme, but this time looking at life in village primary schools. In Eleven in Delwara, the children become the filmmakers giving us a unique glimpse into their perspective on everyday life.
Also of note is Boya Boya Shine Shine, a bittersweet look at the life of Syrian refugee, Mohammad, who at the age of 12 works as shoe shine boy in a Jordanian city to support his family.

Surviving genocide in Rwanda

The double-bill of A Place for Everyone and Rwanda, Life Goes On provides a haunting look at life after genocide.  Winner of the International Independent Film Awards Gold Award for Best Feature, Los Angeles, A Place for Everyone explores the human geography of a Rwandan village two decades after the genocide. Survivors and killers still live next to each other and a new generation of young Rwandans has grown up in a society undergoing a fragile reconciliation process. Filmed over the course of more than four years, A Place for Everyone portrays a generation of young Rwandans in their quest for love and hate, revenge and forgiveness. In Rwanda, Life Goes On we witness the stories of six Tutsi women raped during the genocide in 1994 and sentenced to a life of wandering and follow the lives of their children, now young adults.

Prison Experiences

A special evening triple-bill on life in and after prison kicks off with Out of Focus where the inmates are the filmmakers, producing a revealing look at life in a minors prison in Mexico city. This is followed by Manila Dreaming, which involves us in the lives of four young boys after release from prison.  Winner of a One World Media Student Award, Manila Dreaming, the jury said they were ‘blown away’ by this film combining ‘raw honesty’ with ‘glorious cinematography.’ Finally, we get an insight into the experiences of women in the predominantly male world of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison, which was the largest prison in Europe during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. We Were There uses a walk and talk approach to explore the impact of imprisonment on female relatives as well as the important contribution of the female education and probation staff on the emerging peace process.