News & Events

We’re hiring!

We are seeking a part-time Outreach Manager to join DER’s small, friendly, creative team! The Outreach Manager will be responsible for creating and implementing outreach and marketing strategies for DER’s new films, with specific focus on outreach to colleges and universities. This is an ideal position for a creative, energetic, self-starter with experience organizing outreach campaigns and/or working with university groups.

The Outreach Manager offers direction to, and works closely with the Sales & Programs Associate, and reports to the Executive Director and Director of Design & Media. This is a 3 day/week position to start, with the possibility for growth.

Major areas of responsibility:

  • Watch and discuss new films to identify outreach/marketing opportunities
  • Create quarterly outreach/marketing plan and budget with Executive Director
  • Promote new films through outreach to university faculty, student groups, campus cinematheques, and museums; submitting films to journals, film festivals, and conferences
  • Create and organize mailing campaigns
  • Create outreach materials using templates in Word, InDesign, and Photoshop
  • Work one-on-one with filmmakers to promote their films
  • Track outreach activity and create reports correlating to film sales
  • Manage social media


The ideal candidate will have a background in Communications and/or Marketing, and a strong interest in the non-profit arts sector. S/he will take initiative, be goal-oriented, and comfortable working independently. S/he must have strong written and verbal communications skills, and be comfortable working in Microsoft Office Suite, especially Word and Excel. Must be familiar with InDesign and Photoshop, or be willing to learn. Interest in anthropology and/or documentary media a plus!

Interested candidates should send a cover letter and resume to .

Posted on April 18th, 2017 in News |

DER Awarded NEH Grant for Cinepedia Ethnographica

DER Receives $50K NEH Grant for Cinepedia Ethnographica

We are excited to announce that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded DER a $50,000 planning grant for the development of Cinepedia Ethnographica, a first-of-its-kind open access catalog of ethnographic film. DER has a longstanding history of innovation in ethnographic filmmaking, and we are honored to now be shaping the future of the field with this new initiative. Cinepedia Ethnographica is co-directed by Dr. Alice Apley, DER’s Executive Director, and Dr. Jennifer Cool, Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Southern California.

Born out of the “Roundtable on Ethnographic Film Archiving” convened by DER in 2013, Cinepedia Ethnographica will be a collaborative, expert- and user-generated online resource for the ongoing archiving of new and existing ethnographic and folklore film. The project aims to make this body of films discoverable, searchable, and shareable in new ways and by new publics. As such, the project will powerfully enable new opportunities for research, creation, curation, and education, and for understanding the history of cinematic documentation across space and time. By making these materials easily discoverable, the project also serves to decolonize an historical body of films to allow for their re-use and re-signification by contemporary media makers and audiences.

The NEH grant will fund activities over an 18-month period aimed at creating a foundation for the implementation of the online catalog. Issues to be addressed include development of a metadata schema and cataloging guide, institutional partnerships, and a governance structure for ensuring sustainability of this pioneering resource.

We are grateful for NEH’s support and honored to be among the projects recognized for their contributions to preserving cultural heritage. This grant is an important step in making the extraordinary visual record of global cultures accessible to new audiences around the world. We can’t wait to get started!


“We view this path-breaking initiative as an essential project in this rapidly changing technological world that will generate dialogue and discussion about all facets of ethnographic film.” — Jake Homiak, Director of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution


NEH logo

About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at:

Posted on March 30th, 2017 in News |

Bringing “Elephant’s Dream” back to the Congo: An Interview with Filmmaker Kristof Bilsen

Elephant's Dream in DRC

We knew Kristof Bilsen had been looking forward to bringing his film, Elephant’s Dream, to screen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where it was made.  He finally had the opportunity to do so this summer. We caught up with him to learn how the screening went.

DER: Could you set the scene for us? When and where was the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) screening? Who hosted? And who from your team attended?

KB: In July 2016, Elephant’s Dream was invited to screen as opening film at the Congo International Film Festival in Goma, East-Congo. Congo International Film Festival is organised by Yolé Africa, an initiative to support and nurture arts in the region of Goma. The festival had its 11th edition and programmed a wide selection of national and international premieres of documentary and short and feature length fiction films.

Not only was I able to attend, but we managed to bring one of the leading characters of the film, Henriette (the post-office clerk), and flew her over from Kinshasa. My sound-recordist with whom I worked during the 4 years of making of the film was there as well. Not only was it the first opportunity to bring the film back to the Congolese community, it was also a premiere for Henriette to share her story with a big audience there in Goma.

DER: Who was in the audience and how was the film received?

KB: There were well over 600 audience members, both expats (but a minority) as well as Congolese filmmakers and locals. It was pretty impressive to be able to screen the film and have such a wonderful turnout. We screened in open-air on a courtyard of a hotel in the city centre and were invited for an elaborate Q&A afterwards. The biggest compliment? “Ahhh, vous êtes Congolais, vraiment, Papa!” In other words, we were praised for not going into the pitfall of portraying DRC as a country of war and turmoil. The audience really appreciated the poetry and the languidity of the film and the room for them to make up their own minds after watching the film. Several questions came from the audience, ranging from the contemporary issues of politics (in this 2016, one is still unsure if the long awaited elections in November will eventually take place, as Kabila is trying to cling on to power in various ways) to the hardship of the daily lives of state-workers.

People really appreciated the presence of musical heroes such as Tabu Ley Rochereau in the soundtrack and were intrigued by the way we managed to observe quite thoroughly the reality without interfering and still being able to “catch” underlying and universal issues of the Congolese reality, not being caught up in a Western gaze.

Elephant's Dream DR Congo

DER: Were the characters in the film present for the screening? And if so, (or if you have shown them the film in another context) how do they feel about the film and the representations of themselves? Did they see themselves or their nation differently as a result of viewing the film?

KB: We managed to get Henriette over from Kinshasa, and she was very proud and confident to show the film with us for a big audience. We did, however, show her the film at the same time as the world premiere in Fall 2014. Back then, our friend in Kinshasa met up with her and organized a private screening with her and simultaneously we were in touch via WhatsApp. Henriette was then able to respond to questions from the audience in DOK Leipzig. Her response was this: I do hope that a Western audience enjoys the qualities of the film, its pace and poetry, but also will be able to feel at least for a couple of minutes what we feel almost every day: being stuck in a harsh reality where one is obliged to take it on oneself to carry on, to instigate change, even if little. Henriette assured us that our approach of being aware of that problematic Western (even imperialistic) gaze proved successful: she praises the film and sees it as a huge force for introspection and hope. It’s a story that to her embodies the strength of the Congolese civil servants (and with them the Congolese people) and that within despair and frustration, there is a huge potential for empowerment by sharing these less sexy (read: warstruck) stories, too. In terms of representation, she also feels that the fact the film was able to travel widely on the festival circuit, it goes beyond the clichés of portraying Kinshasa and DRC as a war-torn country without any hope. Their resilience shows the contrary. The film made her and the audience much more aware of the scope of stories to be told about Congo. It made us realize how often we underestimate their insight in the medium.

DER: Do the audiences in DRC see the film as optimistic or pessimistic about the future of DRC?

KB: I feel it’s either one or the other: they see it as a genuine portrayal of DRC and specifically of the State. For once they see a film that carefully developed a language on its own, a way to get insight into the daily lives without focusing too much on the Kafkaian or tragic, without being lost in anecdotes of hardship. The different responses were positive and grateful. But as we speak, there is a wider conscience of the influence of the State and the oppression it embodies by not allowing change in depth. On a superficial level, they do see changes (new roads, airports, business deals and opportunities) but on a deeper level, they hunger for a mental change and consciousness to finally respect the need for fair elections and representation. And with that, they do realize that the decade-long influence of foreign powers (be it in the past by the troubled Belgian Colonial Rule and the contemporary Rule of dealings with multinationals, the UN and so on) needs to be redefined and there is a huge will to take the future into their own hands. New youth initiatives of peaceful protest such as LUCHA and FILIMBI are exemplary for a new (and hopefully successful) wave of consciousness that doesn’t just accept the decade long rule of foreign and national power. They are ready and keen to shift the tables. But I would hope it will not need any bloodshed.

Also we have been teaching in the context of the festival, through Yolé Africa, where we met countless young filmmakers who are more than ready to take on these alternative stories and share them through festivals, new and online media and who are keen to form alliances with peers worldwide.

DER: How would you describe the status of independent filmmaking and viewing in the DRC? Is there a filmmaking community?  What is the interest in and/or access to independent film?

KB: There absolutely is a network of filmmakers and this is in docs and animation and narrative. Sadly (as anywhere in the world these days) the funding for independent films is scarce and due to the government, there really is not a healthy public funding or screening network in place for cinema. However, the resilience of the new generation shows a need and an increasing energy to make change happen. Yolé Africa initiative is but one example, the various little film festivals in Kinshasa another, but generally one should really keep an eye on what is happening in DRC in terms of independent cinema.

Posted on January 12th, 2017 in News |

Alice Apley named one of the “40 for 40” at Margaret Mead Film Festival

Margaret Mead Film Festival's "40 for 40"
photo: American Museum of Natural History

The Margaret Mead Film Festival is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and DER is thrilled to be participating! We are proud to announce that our Executive Director, Alice Apley, has been selected to participate in the festival’s special anniversary program, “40 for 40”:

“We asked 40 extraordinary women to join us in celebrating the 40th annual Margaret Mead Film Festival. These leaders signed on to help us highlight Margaret Mead’s legacy of boldness, humanity and innovation.”  — Margaret Mead Film Festival

Alice will be introducing films and sharing words of wisdom alongside a spectacular group of women who have contributed to the festival and to arts and culture over the past 40 years. Check out the Mead site for the full list of 40 for 40 speakers.

Congratulations to the Margaret Mead Film Festival and cheers to many more years!

Posted on October 13th, 2016 in News |

Spotlight On DER’s Summer Interns

Here at DER, we were lucky to have a fantastic group of talented and dedicated interns with us this summer! To honor this passionate group of cinephiles and acknowledge their hard work, we’ve asked them to share a bit about themselves and their favorite films from a documentary intensive summer at DER.

Mary Grace

Mary Grace Cronin

About: Mary Grace is currently an English major at Amherst College, and has spent the summer working on marketing and social media projects at DER. Although she considers herself relatively new to ethnographic film, her interest comes from a longtime love of watching documentaries and making short videos. She has seen every episode of The Office at least twice and feels satisfied with this accomplishment.

DER Film Pick: Sailing a Sinking Sea
dir. Olivia Wyatt, color, 65 min, 2015

Sailing a Sinking Sea explores the lives of the Moken people of Thailand and Burma, whose survival rests on an instinctive and intimate relationship with the sea. With vibrant and often unpredictable kaleidoscope-like views, this documentary allows access to the unique Moken folklore and culture. It offers a sparkling glimpse at the tempestuous beauty and power of the sea, and those who find life in its uncertainty. 


I-Lin Liu

About: I-Lin graduated from National Taiwan University, Taiwan with an M.A. in Anthropology. While at NTU, he became interested in ethnographic films and documentary. After he graduated, he worked as the international and screening coordinator for Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival. He is now studying film and television at Boston University. He enjoys strolling around different used bookstores in Boston.

DER Film Pick: The Collective: Fifteen Years Later
dir. Richard Broadman, b&w, 60 min, 1985

There’s a line in Godard’s Le Petit Soldat, “The time for action is over…The time for reflection is beginning.” The Collective shows us how this kind of reflection could be done. On the surface, this film is an oral history of the radical movement in Massachusetts during the seventies. What differentiates this film from other documentaries is that we see these people encountering their own failures. They are all trying to answer the question, “We have failed in the past, what shall we do in the future? ” And we can all benefit from their answers. 

sarahnewSarah Lawson

About: Sarah earned her B.A. in Linguistics from Boston University this past spring. Hailing from the DC Metro area, she has long cultivated a passion for the arts and other forms of expression, becoming involved in Boston’s local music scene and independent cinema whenever possible. She enjoys hiking, discovering new subject matters to explore, and hopes to turn her artistic interests into a profession someday.

DER Film Pick: Jakub
dir. Jana Ševčíková, b&w, 65 min, 1992

Jakub, directed by Czech filmmaker Jana Ševčíková, takes its name from a man never seen nor heard throughout this film’s visually poetic course. The narrative depicts recollections from a group of Ruthenian peasants living in modern-day Romania, having been incorporated into a national framework practically overnight. Their way of life is a rural one, beset by a harsh landscape. Through fragmented storytelling, Jakub highlights the conflicting nature of both individual and collective memory. At the same time as Jakub’s legacy is shrouded in doubt, the Ruthenians’ overall legacy is revealed to be in a state of constant, yet somewhat muted, threat from totalitarian regimes, and they emerge as a curious feat of human survival.

mateonewMateo Gómez Pinto

About: Mateo is from Bogotá, Colombia. He is a student of Fine Arts at Los Andes University and currently finishing his Anthropology degree as an intern at DER. For some time now, he has been very curious about the intersections between ethnography, video and the arts. His interests jump from side to side in deliberate ways, but he really enjoys painting, making video, and lately ceramics. His soft spot is a good music store.

DER Film Pick: The Cumana Devil (El Diablo de Cumaná)
dir. John Dickinson, color, 30 min, 1984

A blur between the person and the character, between reality and representation, The Devil of Cumana is a biographical portrait of a man and a tradition tying a pact. Through intimate access to The Black Devil, also known as Luis del Valle Hurtado, this short film serves as a sample of the popular celebrations and carnivals in Cumaná, Venezuela. Furthermore, this is the story of a man jealously guarding a tradition that underlies his own identity. ALERT: THE MERE SIMULATIONS, RITES AND/OR THEATRICAL PERFORMANCES COULD BE MORE DANGEROUS THAN THEY SEEM TO BE!!!

Posted on September 26th, 2016 in Film Reviews, News |

Collaborative Ethnography: An Interview with Filmmaker Paul Wolffram

Interview with Stori Tumbuna director Paul Wolffram

Recently, I took the time to re-connect with DER filmmaker Paul Wolffram to learn more about the collaborative process behind his film, Stori TumbunaStori Tumbuna is about the Lak people in Papua New Guinea and their experience of myths. Rather than being told what myth means to the Lak, viewers–through their own experience of the film–come to experience the myth firsthand, parallel to that of the Lak. This is achieved through a unique collaboration between filmmaker and subjects that sets Stori Tumbuna apart from many other ethnographic documentaries. — Alice Apley, DER Executive Director

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t yet seen Stori Tumbuna and don’t want certain elements to be revealed, hold off on reading this interview!

A: How did the idea for Stori Tumbuna come about? Were you studying myths or did the topic come up in the context of another inquiry?

P: The first few months of my fieldwork in the Lak region were spent learning children’s songs and stories, oral histories and of course mythologies. These songs, stories and mythologies formed the basis of my understanding of the culture and society of the Lak region in Southern New Ireland. During that period, I was largely treated like an awkward overgrown child. My facility with the language of the Lak people and their social practices was at a very rudimentary level. I collected many mythologies about the origins of clan groups, the nature of animals in the rainforest, and the many different mythical and non-mythical creatures that resided in the uninhabited mountains.

I understood the stories I collected as just that, stories and mythologies. I was coming from a western academic background that encouraged me to see mythologies as providing an insight into the cultural metaphor and social structures of a people. This is not how the Lak people understand these oral literatures. Some of the stories are understood as having taken place in an historical past but many of these are understood as occurring in an historical present. That is, a time that is contemporary and re-occurring.

I took a video camera into the field because I understood that music and dance are intimately related in Melanesia and I wanted to approach these cultural practices as the people of the region think about them. Many of my Lak friends saw the potential of the video camera as a storytelling device. After 12 months living in the community I asked my friends what sort of story we should tell with the camera. The story of the Song came up in this way. We began to plan how we would tell the story. It took me some time to understand that my interlocutors wanted to tell the story as if it was happening now, in the present rather than recounting it as an historical mythology. Once I understood that they intended the story to be told as if it were contemporary I began to explore ways to weave my own narrative and presence in the film. It became obvious that documenting my own presence and work among the Lak could be effectively woven with the recounting of the Song mythology.  

A: It’s clear from the film that the community members participate as actors and facilitate the shooting of the film. What’s less clear is the behind the scenes collaboration.  Can you talk about the nature of the collaboration between you and the community? What roles did they play and were there specific individuals involved in the conceptualization of the film, developing the story, staging the shot, editing, etc.  

P: Once we had decided on the Song narrative I began to talk to my collaborators in Siar and Rei communities about how we might realize the story. There are actually a few scenes in the film that appear to be us discussing the disappearance of a man from the community but they were actually production meetings in which I was discussing how we would tell the story. Patrick Torabusai and his brothers Christian, Lenny and Nerus helped me develop the story and suggested scenes. The hamlet in Siar, Kapokpok where I was hosted by Patrick and his wider family all participated in the grass cutting scene in which Bar returns from the forest to tell people that he’d discovered a basket in the forest.   

Many of the other scenes in the film are real events that were woven into the story. There was a small group of young men led by Lenny and Christian Torabusai along with Toru and Bar who feature in scenes where we were discussing the Song. Most of the tracking to the song valley scenes are shot 15mins outside of the hamlet in the rainforest just beyond the gardens. The natural storytelling skills of these young men worked well. I would often just describe what I thought should happen in the scene and then let the camera run. I can’t recall ever doing a second take. For example, we were walking to the song valley and Bar said we should rest. I set up the camera and Bar improvised the telling of the story of the Song. Similarly with the scene on Lenny¹s porch where the difference in understanding and acceptance just ran without rehearsal or much discussion. The young men were already in place and I said I’d like to film a discussion about the reality of the Song. What arose was a genuine discussion about their relationship with mythology and my own ability or inability to understand their ethos.

A: How familiar were your collaborators with film as a storytelling medium and how did this influence the process of making the film?  

P: Most people in Lak have seen films at one time or another. My host father Paul Totili would tell me how, as a young man he worked on coastal shipping in the 60s and 70s out of Rabaul. He’d spend his paychecks on the Western films that were popular at the time and played at the Rabaul cinema. Most young people in the region have seen action and particularly kung fu films that are popular in the island region. The stories are easy to follow without comprehension of the dialogue. So most of my Lak collaborators had a reasonable understanding of how films work and manipulate reality. They could see the potential of the story we were telling to trick Western audiences and were excited at the prospect of playing with audience expectations.  

The Lak see themselves as being isolated and forgotten. They often describe their region as the “last corner” of New Ireland. Many people in the Northern Region of New Ireland are afraid of people from the Lak region because of their strong relationship with traditional practices and sorcery. The idea that the film would show them as clever and sophisticated enough to pull the wool over the eyes of outsiders made the idea of the film particularly attractive.  

A: For western audiences, the film works as a sort of horror film. How did your Lak collaborators understand the storytelling? What was their response to the finished film?

Interview with Stori Tumbuna director Paul WolfframP: I think thriller is perhaps a more accurate description of how the film works. At first my Lak collaborators were keen on showing the Song in more detail but I knew that we simply didn’t have the resources to pull off special effects or costume effects that would appear convincing to a Western audience. We did spend some time making long fingers and hair from bamboo and river weeds to give the Song an extraordinary appearance but I was careful to always obscure the Song with darkness and distance. Most effective thrillers rely on the audience’s imagination and this is what we sought to achieve.   

I took the film back to the Lak region in early 2011 when it was at the rough cut stage. I screened it for all of the communities who participated (sometimes 60 people around the Laptop) and held discussion after the screenings. Some minor changes were made as a result but by and large the film seemed to conform with our shared understanding of what both they and I envisioned while we were making it.

A: This hardly seems like the kind of film you make as a new researcher to the community. How much time had you already spent in the community?  

P: When I set out to undertake ethnography in the Lak region I planned to go for 12 months but I ended up staying for about a year and a half. It was my first fieldwork experience and after 8 months I realised I would have to be there longer to achieve my ethnographic aims. I didn’t film anything for the first three months because I wanted to be careful about how I engaged with the people. I wanted to have some basis of cultural understanding and social skills so as not to offend people by thrusting a camera into their world. When I did eventually start to film cultural events I was encouraged to film and people would often tell me what to film. We started working together on Stori Tumbuna after I’d spent about 12 months in the area. By this stage people knew me well and I had a strong relationship of trust.  

When I returned home to New Zealand my priority was to work on my thesis. I returned to the region again in 2004-5 for a further 8 months to complete the thesis. This return trip really opened my eyes to the importance of having continuing a relationship with my Lak hosts. People really opened up to me and treated me like a community member. I always told people that I would come back but no one took me seriously until I actually returned in 2004.  It took me another 5 years to complete the film. I had to learn how to edit and find the resources to make the film. As I mentioned I took the film back almost ten years later to show the community in 2010 before it was completed and screened for the first time.  

A: Did the process of making the film further change your understanding of Lak experience of myths or their ideas about oral traditions more broadly? And if so, how?  

P: As I mentioned, what we call mythology and oral traditions in the Western World are understood in a different way by communities that sustain these practices. These mythologies are understood through the lens of relationships. Who tells you the stories and what they mean are interwoven. They describe the world as it was and as it continues to exist. There is a spirituality that it particularly difficult to describe to outsiders that underlies these stories. They are in part just that, stories, but they are also essential understandings that describe the world as it was and as it continues to be.

A: What else do you think it is important for audiences to know about the making of Stori Tumbuna?

P: My Lak friends and collaborator’s saw Stori Tumbuna as a way to describe to the world who they are and how they live. As I mentioned, at times they feel their geographic isolation acutely. 16 years after I first travelled to the region little has changed. There are still no roads through the area, no power or running water. Cell tower coverage has spread throughout Papua New Guinea but in 2015 the Lak region remains without coverage. Many people hoped that the film would encourage visitors and tourists. The Lak are incredibly warm hosts and welcome visitors but unfortunately the lack of roads into the region means that only the most intrepid venture that far south.

A: Do you continue to stay in touch with your Lak friends, or have you been back again since 2011?

P: I made a commitment to return at least one time every five years so that I can continue to participate in a small way with the communities that hosted me and with the families that supported me. My intention is to continue this relationship for the rest of my life.

A: Have the Lak expressed interest in collaborating on another project? Are you interested?

P: In January and February 2015 I returned to Siar community to undergo an initiation into a shamanic/sorcery cult know in the region as ‘Buai’. Buai is a form of creative sorcery that gives the initiate the power to communicate with spiritual entities in order to enhance creative abilities. I have been interested in the Buai sorcery for many years but I was always hesitant about undergoing the arduous initiation process. In 2015 I returned to the Lak region with the intention of completing the initiation. I sought permission from the my host community in Siar and was taken to the most senior practitioner in the Weitin valley just south of Siar. The initiation involved 5 days and nights mostly alone in the rainforest with no food and no water. The story of the initiation is told in a soon to be released documentary “What Lies That Way” (2016).

Posted on April 22nd, 2016 in News |

Support Documentary Film – Donate to DER

Give to DER - Support our work and mission in 2016

We hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know DER! Now we are asking for you help, so we can continue to support and advance the best ethnographic and documentary works being made.

DER’s program highlights from 2015 include:

Curation & Distribution: Released 15 new films; sponsored 50+ free screenings
Production & Production Support: Fiscally Sponsored 50+ projects, 11 of which were completed
Collection Management & Preservation: Inventoried over 1,000 16mm film prints

You can learn about all our 2015 programs and achievements on our website, or by getting in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

DER is a 501(c)(3) non-profit aiming to foster community, challenge preconceptions, and safeguard our diverse cultural memory through media. Without an endowment or foundation behind us, we rely on support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and from individuals like you to make our critical work happen.

Support DER with a tax-deductible donation today, so we can do even more for the documentary community in 2016. We are so grateful for your support!

Happy New Year from all of us at DER!


Alice Apley, Executive Director

Posted on December 23rd, 2015 in News |

Get to know DER: Spotlight on Collection Management & Preservation


Welcome to our Spotlight on Collection Management & Preservation, part three in our series to help you get to know DER better this December!

Did you know DER is home to some of the most significant visual records of 20th century cultures? Through our Collection Management & Preservation programs we’re committed to preserving these original film, video, and photographic media assets, and releasing remastered or previously unreleased titles.

Some highlights from 2015:

– We completed a 3-year effort to inventory our collection of 16mm film materials and transferred them into the care of the Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and Harvard Film Archive. Other materials were returned to their makers or donated to local film schools and artist collectives. Films now in archival care include:

  • Pittsburgh Police Series, dir. John Marshall, 1971-1973
  • Yanomamo pre-print materials, dir. Tim Asch & Napoleon Chagnon, 1968-1971
  • Odyssey Series, pre-print materials and distribution prints, produced by Michael Ambrosino, 1980-1981
  • Vermont Kids original and pre-print materials, dir. John Marshall, 1975
  • If It Fits original and pre-print materials, dir. John Marshall, 1978
  • Original film footage, audio recordings, and documentation (.e.g. field notes, etc.) of 1976 Folklife Festival, shot by John Marshall and crew

– We worked closely with producer Norman Miller to retransfer 20 films from the landmark Faces of Change collection. We are thrilled to have completed this huge project, and we will be making the films available in the New Year!

– We built up our in house capacity to digitally preserve, up-res, and update our collection of tape masters. With these new initiatives, we’re making our classic films more accessible and easy to find, watch, and share via on demand streaming. Let us know which titles you’d like to see!

“The 2015 Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival invited Alice Apley to introduce the Argentinian ethnographic filmmaker Jorge Preloran’s films to the Taiwanese audience, who enjoyed and appreciated the screenings and discussions very much. Through their collaboration with the Smithsonian, DER plays an invaluable role in making these older works accessible and provides wonderful service to popularize these important works. – Hu Tai-Li, President, Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival

Your tax-deductible donation enables us to continue safeguarding these important cultural works, and make them even more accessible to people around the globe.

Thank you for your support!

Posted on December 18th, 2015 in News |

Opening and Closing the DER Vault – 1968-2015

Opening and Closing the DER Vault

In the late 1960s, Lorna Marshall opened an account at a well known storage warehouse in Cambridge, Massachusetts to house the Marshall family’s materials from their Kalahari trips. In the following 40 years, “the vault” (as it became known) also provided a secure location for original film elements, distribution prints, and other materials related to the work of DER founders, filmmakers, and friends. However, as safe and convenient as the space was, a dusty warehouse lacking any kind of control over temperature or humidity does not make an ideal environment for long term film storage.

When I was a new member of the DER staff, I had helped with re-canning elements from John Marshall’s Pittsburgh Police series of films, which was my introduction to the vault and its contents. By then, the original camera negatives and edited film masters of Marshall’s !Kung films had been transferred to the Human Studies Film Archives at the Smithsonian Institution – see their excellent online exhibit for more information about that collection. However, much of the other film remaining in the vault was aging and facing risk of deterioration, and some were already developing vinegar syndrome, so it was crucial that we move these materials into proper archival storage.

In 2012, we began to inventory the vault’s contents in preparation for relocating them – a process which would take several years to complete. Fortunately, many cans and boxes were labeled with recognizable titles, many of them still part of the DER catalog, but others were mysteries: unreleased titles by Marshall or Timothy Asch, or works by their colleagues which had been entrusted to DER’s care. Additionally, there were artifacts related to Marshall’s research – boxes of books on South African history, ethnographies, field guides, and popular novels of the time.

Over the course of several months and numerous vault visits, I identified the various discrete collections contained in the vault. Then, with help from DER board member Karma Foley and former DER staff member Brittany Gravely, I sketched out a plan for relocating the films into appropriate archives including the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the Human Studies Film Archives, and Harvard Film Archive.

Many prints in the Documentary Educational Resources Collection at Harvard Film Archive are available to rent for exhibition. Please contact us if you are interested in showing one of our films on 16mm!

Materials from the vault that are now safely archived:

  • Pittsburgh Police series – dir. John Marshall, 1971-1973
  • Faces of Change collection -pre-print materials, by multiple filmmakers, produced by Norman Miller, 1979-1983
  • Odyssey series – pre-print materials, by multiple filmmakers, produced by Michael Ambrosino, 1980-1981
  • Yanomamo series – pre-print materials, dir. Tim Asch & Napoleon Chagnon, 1968-1971
  • Vermont Kids – original and pre-print materials, dir. John Marshall, 1975
  • If It Fits – original and pre-print materials, dir. John Marshall, 1978
  • Original film footage, audio recordings, and documentation (e.g. field notes, etc.) of 1976 Folklife Festival, shot by John Marshall and crew

Previously unreleased works discovered in the vault:

  • You Are The Problem, Wallace Rally, and Study of Violence – by John Marshall, believed to focus on black power and the civil rights movement. Paperwork suggests that these films were supported by the Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence at Brandeis University, which later sponsored the Pittsburgh Police series.
  • One Day of Many – by Tim Asch, a documentary look at a day in the life of the McDonalds, a family of farmers from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
  • Gary – by John Marshall, unknown.
  • Morning Flowers, made as part of the Yanomamo series.

We hope to raise funds to digitize these unreleased works and make them available for research.

In addition, we found masters and print materials of several other films which we’ve returned to their makers. For instance, the color reversal intermediate (CRI) of the Academy Award-nominated Ben’s Mill was returned to John Karol, so it could be preserved by the Academy. We also donated a large amount of workprint to local film schools to aid in teaching the fundamentals of 16mm film editing, and to the newly formed local film collective AgX, for use in filmic experimentation.

Emptying the vault marked the end of an era for DER, as we handed over the keys and closed the door forever. But in one door’s place we have opened new doors toward preservation and access: the materials once housed in the vault are now safe in archives for future generations, and we can shift from caring for these analog materials to securing digital access to them for people around the world.

I’d like to thank the many DER staff, interns, friends, and colleagues who contributed to this effort – Karma Foley, Brittany Gravely, Pam Wintle, Jeff Place, Dan Sheehy, Liz Coffey, Kevin Sweet, Nic Brynolfson, Alijah Case, Alice Apley, Michael Hutcherson, Harris Khan, and Tianna DiMare.

– Frank Aveni, Director of Design & Media

P.S. – The materials that weren’t moved to archives or donated have come back to DER headquarters, where we’ve been busy working on identifying them. If you stored anything at the DER vault or have a vault story to share, please email us!

Posted on December 16th, 2015 in News |

Get to know DER: Spotlight on Production & Production Support

Get to Know DER: Part 2
Welcome to our Spotlight on Production & Production Support, part two in our series to help you get to know DER better this December!

Through our Production & Production Support programs, DER serves as fiscal sponsors, consultants, and executive producers on important projects being made in the Boston area and beyond; and we initiate activities to bring awareness to new ethnographic and documentary media achievements. With your help, we can expand our programs and better support documentary filmmaking in 2016!

In 2015 DER:

– initiated a new Executive Producing program! Available to select projects that meet our mission, we play an active role as creative producers and decision makers. DER’s 2015 Executive Production projects in the works include:

– Techung: Bone of the Heart, dir. Marilyn Pennell. A one hour documentary film following the complex artistic and cultural negotiations of legendary Tibetan refugee musician, Tashi Dhondup Sharzur (Techung).

– Headhunt Revisited: With Brush, Canvas And Camera, dir. Michele Westmorland. A feature-length documentary about artist Caroline Mytinger that explores the role of art in documenting cultures and complexities of ethical cultural representation.

“I was in search of a fiscal sponsor who would be engaged with my film Headhunt Revisited – and then I discovered DER. I think the best part of becoming one of DER’s projects was the their ability to collaborate and provide support in grant applications, distribution outlets and guidance in bringing the film out to the right audiences. The entire team at DER, especially Alice Apley, has been a key ingredient to the momentum in completing this production. I look forward to our continued relationship.” – Michele Westmorland, director, Headhunt Revisited

– supported the following fiscal sponsorship projects through to completion:

Circus Without Borders, dir. Susan Gray
Exit Zero, dir. Chris Walley & Chris Boebel
Our Mockingbird, dir. Sandy Jaffe
Harry and Snowman, dir. Ron Davis

Congratulations to all our fiscal sponsorees!

– Served as consultants on new works, providing assistance regarding fundraising, production and/or distribution. Our 2015 production consulting includes Daughters of Anatolia, dir. Hale Sofia Schatz.

– participated in panels and workshops at major documentary industry and visual anthropology events:
Camden International Film Festival – “Being There” panel; introduced films in “Being There” program
Hot Docs – One-on-one filmmaker consultations for “Distribution Rendezvous” program
RIDM – One-on-one filmmaker consultations for “Face-à-face de la relève” program
Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival – Presentation on the works of Jorge Preloran
American Anthropology Association/Society for Visual Anthropology – “Past as Prologue” Panel

– launched the John Marshall Award for Contemporary Ethnographic Media! We presented the award to Anna Roussillon’s film I AM THE PEOPLE at the Camden International Film Festival in September, and are pleased to announce DER will be releasing the film in 2016!

“DER has been a longstanding supporter of the Camden International Film Festival and Points North Documentary Forum, playing a critical role in the development of our Points North Pitch Award for early-career filmmakers. This year we had the wonderful pleasure of expanding our partnership, as we introduced the first annual John Marshall Award for Contemporary Ethnographic Media. DER’s legacy of championing ethnographic film, and their vision of where the form is going make them a wonderful partner for this award, and we’re honored to partner to highlight new voices in ethnographic documentary media.” – Ben Fowlie, Founder & Executive Director, Camden International Film Festival

Help us expand our programs and better support ethnographic and documentary filmmakers in 2016! Your tax deductible donation means so much to us and the independent filmmaking community. We are so grateful for your support!

Posted on December 9th, 2015 in News |

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