News & Events

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!

Sincerely,

Alice Apley, Executive Director

Posted on December 23rd, 2015 in News |

Get to know DER: Spotlight on Collection Management & Preservation

lady-wheel-gtk-der-pt-3

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 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 |

“I Am the People” Wins Inaugural John Marshall Award for Contemporary Ethnographic Media

John Marshall Award for Contemporary Ethnographic Media

If you haven’t heard our big news yet, DER was thrilled to present the first John Marshall Award for Contemporary Ethnographic Media at the Camden International Film Festival (CIFF) this fall! We initiated the award to reinvigorate the conversation around the genre’s rich history, and to foster dialogue about the past, present and future of works that seek to document culture or engage issues related to the efficacy of film and media as a means of doing so.

Named in honor of DER founder, John Marshall, this year’s award was presented to Anna Roussillon for her debut feature, I Am the People (Je suis le peuple), as it spoke directly to Marshall’s contributions to documentary filmmaking. In works such as N!ai: The Story of a !Kung Woman, Marshall was one of the first filmmakers to allow non-western characters to speak directly for themselves. Marshall skillfully illustrated the larger social, political and economic forces without losing focus on the lives and relationships at the center of the story.

In the spirit of Marshall’s work, I Am the People portrays a rural Egyptian community’s responses to the revolution in Tahrir Square and the political aftermath. Intimately shot over three years, the film provides a rural perspective on national events. We are shown how the community follows national politics – through communal television viewing, radio and newspaper – presenting an alternate experience of the revolution, one overlooked by mass media. What emerges is a story of the experiences of those in the periphery and a complex picture of the relevance of national politics for rural lives; Roussillon masterfully captures her subjects’ personalities, opinions, and relationships with one another, while showing the community’s ties to a national economy. True to the history of the genre, the film offers insight into lives often left out of mainstream media while affording them great dignity and humanity.

DER’s 2015 award jury sought to recognize a work that built on Marshall’s contributions to the genre, particularly the humanizing and respectful relationship of filmmaker to subjects; the integration of local dynamics within a larger socio-political framework; and the innovative presentation of social and cultural content. While we at DER are in the fortunate position to be viewing new works throughout the year, convening the jury and taking the time to identify an award-winner was a unique moment for reflecting on the state of independent filmmaking, and how filmmakers today are building on the early lessons of ethnographic filmmakers.

CIFF 2015 Panel - Being There

“Being There” panel at Points North Forum – photo courtesy of CIFF

And we couldn’t have asked for a better festival to premiere the award at than CIFF. Especially this year, as the festival featured “Being There,” a special program on foundational ethnographic and documentary works. Seven screenings were held during the program, featuring historical works from the cannon including titles from The Hunters to Cannibal Tours, and the works of filmmakers from Robert Gardner to Trin Minh Ha.

DER board member, filmmaker, and curator, Ilisa Barbash and I introduced these important works and fielded discussion. We also moderated a panel with contemporary filmmakers Olivia Wyatt, Dominic Gagnon, and Turner Ross, who are working in, or in dialogue with, the ethnographic film tradition. It was immensely gratifying to meet filmmakers and cineastes young and old who were excited for a chance to see these works again after many years, or for the first time.

It was an honor to be part of CIFF’s programming in this rich and new way. We look forward to continuing the dialogue about ethnographic and documentary filmmaking, and to next year’s award nominees and winners!

– Alice Apley, Executive Director

Posted on December 7th, 2015 in News |

Get to know DER better in December! Spotlight on Curation & Distribution


Get to Know DER: Part 1

You may know DER as a film distributor, but this December we’d like to show you that we’re so much more! DER is a 501(c)(3) non-profit aiming to foster community, challenge preconceptions, and safeguard our diverse cultural memory through media; 2015 has been our best year yet! This month, we’ll be spotlighting our new programs and achievements in Curation & Distribution, Production & Production Support, and Collection Management & Preservation. We hope learning more about the work we do will inspire you to make a tax-deductible donation so we can do even more in 2016!

Part I: Spotlight on Curation & Distribution
This and every year, we curate a selection of new films to add to our collection. We support films that prioritize underrepresented voices, explore contemporary cultural struggles and artistic traditions, and offer longitudinal views of changing communities, cultures, and identities. We’re committed to informing future filmmakers of the history of this work, and supporting productions for teaching cultural literacy to a new generation of global citizens.

In 2015 DER:

– released 14 new films, covering topics from Native American land rights in San Francisco to mental health in Danish Muslim communities.

– sponsored over 50 free community screenings around the world, from Romania to Alabama.

– helped coordinate screenings – in video, 16mm and 35mm formats – at museums such as the Freiburg Museum of Contemporary Art, art house theatres such as Anthology Film Archives, and festivals such as the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival.

– made important documentary works available in the US and over 70 countries to educators, students, researchers and curators through DVD and streaming options.

– brought Director Karim Haroun to Boston from Montreal for a free screening of his film Mystic Mass. The film has screened at festivals such as RIDM and Visions du Reel, and is an important contribution to the discussion of Islam in media. The screening was followed by a lively discussion between Karim, film and Middle East scholars, and the audience.

I first heard of DER after watching a clip of a Gardner film at the Musée du Quai Branly. I immediately knew my documentary Mystic Mass would be in good hands with them, and I wasn’t wrong. From the first meeting in Montreal to the DVD release in Boston, our relationship has been based on trust and friendship and this is all for the benefit of the film. — Karim Haroun

Hear more from Karim about his film and process on the DER podcast.

Your contribution helps us share even more films, like Karim’s, that spark important conversations and help us understand one another better.

Thank you for your support!

Posted on December 2nd, 2015 in News |

DER Podcast – Karim B Haroun on MYSTIC MASS

filmmaker Karim B Haroun

“I thought by going there and actually taking the time to watch and taking the time to film and taking the time to contemplate the complexity of what is happening, we might have a powerful tool. The film might be a powerful tool to initiate a dialogue between the different communities, to demystify, un-demonize something that is taking place and that people just don’t want to look at. And they don’t keep saying, ‘Ok, we cannot share the country with these people. There is no way we can be in the parliament, etc.’ So we hope the film will contribute to this dialogue.” — Karim B Haroun

Recently, I sat down with Karim Haroun in our office to talk about the making of MYSTIC MASS, his new film documenting the final day of the Ashura ceremony as it is practiced in Nabatiyyeh, Lebanon. Thousands of Shia Muslims convene to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein for this important religious event. Karim’s film focuses on the dynamics of the mass from its formation to its dissolution, sensitively portraying the community’s highly coordinated and heartfelt experience.

– Alice Apley, DER Executive Director

Posted on October 25th, 2015 in News |

DER Partners with Oxford University Press

Many know DER for our core collection of classic films, which are truly special holdings, but both our history and film collection are rich and evolving. If you’ve kept up with our recent activity, you know that we are ushering in a new era of greater digital access to all DER films. Like our classics, our contemporary films align with our mission and core values: they are strong in ethics and aesthetics, privilege underrepresented voices, and offer cross-cultural access.

In this spirit, we partnered with Oxford University Press for a new textbook, Cultural Anthropology: Asking Questions About Humanity. Each chapter of the textbook has a digital component featuring a corresponding DER film clip, all streamable online by students in the course. It’s exciting to see and share our films in new contexts like this, and it speaks to the lasting value of the films we represent.

I was in undergraduate anthropology courses myself a few years back, and I can’t help thinking of my own exposure to anthropological films in relation to the path I’m on today. My anthropology courses were where I first learned of John Marshall’s work and watched N!ai, Afflictions, and Ongka’s Big Moka (along with some of my non-DER favorites, like Les Blank’s Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers). These experiences shaped me. We’re proud of this latest collaboration, and hope it inspires a new generation of cross-cultural thinkers, media makers, students, and advocates.

While working with Oxford University Press we created a short video to give them and their users a broader sense of DER’s collection and the work we do. We hope you enjoy the piece!

– Alijah Case

Posted on May 18th, 2015 in News |

DER Podcast – Jeff Silva on BALKAN RHAPSODIES

filmmaker Jeff Silva
photo by Miguel Bueno

“That first time I went there was really heavy. It was emotionally heavy and I felt so confused, and I did feel like I had to do something, but I wasn’t able to process it all very quickly. I wasn’t mature enough as a filmmaker to deal with it, and I wasn’t mature enough as a person I don’t think… so I kept going back.”

— Jeff Silva

On one of Boston’s first beautiful spring days of 2015, I had the opportunity to meet with artist, filmmaker, and my former professor, Jeff Silva, to discuss his film, Balkan Rhapsodies: 78 Measures of War. Jeff had been working on his latest project in a dark edit room all day, and my visit was a good excuse for a breath of fresh air. We ventured to a park near his house to talk, so please forgive noises from the outside world!

Having studied under Jeff, I know his style of critique and have heard his thoughts about others’ films. We’ve had terrific and thoughtful discussions in class, but this was my chance to pick his brain about one of his own films, and one that had a strong impact on me. Jeff began filming Balkan Rhapsodies in 1999 and finished in 2008, and after nearly a decade of filming in the Balkans during a time of conflict and uncertainty, I was eager to hear about his experiences.

— Harris Khan, DER intern

Posted on April 12th, 2015 in News |

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