In October, I had the pleasure of participating in the International Intangible Heritage Film Festival (IIHFF) and Conference, held in Jeonju, South Korea. The festival launched the opening of the National Intangible Heritage Center, an elegant complex of buildings and outdoor spaces designed for creation, performance and preservation of various forms of Intangible Heritage, marking South Korea’s commitment to its own cultural heritage, as well as the heritage of others.
Gods and Kings, Unity Through Culture, Returning Souls, and Summer Pasture were some of the DER titles screened as part of the thoughtfully curated program that explored diverse modes for documenting intangible heritage, indigenous preservation and revitalization efforts, and the complex relationship between tangible and intangible cultural forms. A special program celebrated Robert Gardner’s poetic visual anthropology works.
The inaugural IIHFF conference brought together academics, archivists, and film festival organizers to focus on “Audiovisual Augmentation of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.” Other international guests included Hu Tai-Li from the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival, Ariane Jevaco from the Jean Rouch International Film Festival in Paris, and anthropologist and filmmaker Itushi Kawase from the National Museum of Ethnology in Japan. Building on the festival’s theme of a living heritage, I made a case for viewing the films as “living resources” and offered examples of the repatriation and indigenous use and re-use of anthropological films and photographs. See here for the slides and text of my presentation on The Work of Archiving in the Era of Digital Reproduction: Notes from an Emerging Archive.
Jeonju – known for the richness of its culinary and crafts traditions, from the origins of bibimbop to the refinement of papermaking – was the perfect setting for this stimulating investigation of Intangible Heritage and its relationship to ethnographic film. I look forward to seeing how the Center and the Film Festival develop and to greater international collaboration and scholarship.
– Alice Apley
Posted on January 16th, 2015
“People can make a difference. By working together from the grassroots, as a collective community, we can make a change. Even though my films deal with a variety of different issues the common theme in all of them is grassroots empowerment – that we as citizens, if we come together in a collective way, can make a difference. And so, I’m really trying to, I guess, inspire people to be engaged citizens.”
— Robbie Leppzer
Recently, Executive Director Alice Apley sat down here at the DER office with filmmaker Robbie Leppzer to discuss the Turning Tide Collection. Released as six individual DVDs, this collection spans thirty years of Leppzer’s work documenting social activism at home and abroad.
Posted on December 28th, 2014
A recent article on Smithsonian.com details the Human Studies Film Archives work to restore and preserve Argentine filmmaker Jorge Prelorán’s Valle Fértil (1972), which shows for the first time in the United States on December 4 at the Society for Visual Anthropology Film Festival in Washington, D.C. Read more.
Posted on December 5th, 2014
Here is an excerpt from the National Geographic Society television special Bushmen of the Kalahari (1974), featuring John Marshall and associates at the old DER office in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Original air date: May 17th, 1974.
Fun fact: This special was narrated by Leslie Nielsen and written by a man named Bud Wiser.
More info on IMDB.
Posted on November 20th, 2014
In this 1996 interview, Robert Gardner and Peter Matthiessen discuss their 1961 trip to New Guinea, which resulted in Mr. Gardner’s film “Dead Birds” and Mr. Matthiessen’s book “Under the Mountain Wall.”
Interview filmed by Richard P. Rogers and Robert Fulton. Originally posted by New York Times, July 14th 2014.
Posted on July 16th, 2014
Photo by Ned Johnston
We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Robert Gardner, who passed away on Saturday, June 21st. Gardner was an internationally renowned filmmaker and author whose works, including Dead Birds, Forest of Bliss, and Rivers of Sand, have entered the permanent canon of non-fiction filmmaking.
John Marshall and Robert Gardner, 1958
Gardner’s own history has long been intertwined with DER and our founder, John Marshall’s. Invited to join one of the early Marshall expeditions to the Kalahari, Gardner went on to assist John Marshall with the editing of The Hunters. Although Gardner and Marshall parted ways in their pursuits of distinctly different styles of ethnographic filmmaking, Gardner honed a poetic approach to filmmaking, while Marshall turned towards a kind of filmmaking as advocacy, their films have been together under the roof and stewardship of DER for many years.
As Founding Director of the Film Study Center at Harvard University who served from 1957-1997, creator and host of Screening Room from 1972-1981, and founder of Studio7Arts, Robert Gardner was a force in the Boston community and beyond, and will be greatly missed. His legacy lives on in his own films and in the films of the countless others whose work he inspired and influenced.
Posted on June 27th, 2014
When I started, it seems like I should have thought about this, but I didn’t really think about the universality of that story — of Feliciano’s desire to leave the village and move to the city. But, during the making of it, I became more aware of how that story is happening everywhere… And, even at some point in the making of the film, I realized it was kind of my story, too, because I grew up in a town of a thousand people and never considered staying there. I can’t remember a time in my life when I thought, “Well, this is where I will live.” There was always something better. — Jason Burlage
When I was at Hot Docs last month, amidst all the chaos and excitement, I ran into DER filmmaker Jason Burlage. Jason directed Mi Chacra, a gem of a film that explores rural Peruvian life through the story of Feliciano, a Quechuan farmer. The film is beautiful and sensitive by any and all counts, but I particularly like how it offers a counter-point to typical narratives of tourism which begin with the cross-cultural encounter. It is only as the the film’s story progresses through the seasons — and we come to understand Feliciano’s history and his hopes for a better life for his son — that we learn Feliciano also works as a porter on the Inca Trail. Listen to the podcast to learn how Feliciano came to be the central character in Jason’s film — through equal parts hard work and good luck.
— Alice Apley
Download the transcript (PDF)
Posted on May 28th, 2014
As our collection grows, so does the importance of having effective tools for finding the right film for a class, screening, exhibition or research. To better help in those efforts, we are developing a new system for cataloging our films. We’ve talked with a number of archivists and advisors and are experimenting with a system that codes each film in terms of technique, subjects and topics. For instance, we’ve identified two groups of terms for describing the techniques used in a film, related to film elements and to narrative style. For film elements, we are describing films in terms of the different kinds of footage and explanatory strategies used, such as vérité, interviews, narration, re-enactments, text description, participatory, archival footage, animation and experimental; and for narrative style, we’ve been identifying films in terms of flashbacks, reflexive, autoethnographic and biographical. We’ll have a draft list of subject terms to share soon.
We’ve been fortunate to have Laura Alhach, an anthropology student at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, with us this semester. Laura has been working with a sample of our films and coding them in each of these areas. We are excited to implement the new search capabilities as part of our website redevelopment plan, the DER Online Initiative.
The knowledge of ethnographic media and film genre I have gained during the internship at DER — after watching more than 120 films and submerging myself in a new and wonderful world of documentary storytelling — has provided a substantial foundation to start creating a categorization system for DER’s collection. We’ve broken down 80 films in order to create a list of terminology using Bill Nichols’s Modes of Documentary, the American Folklore Society Ethnographic Thesaurus, and the Library of Congress Classification Outline, along with employing DER-specific headings and our own backgrounds in anthropology. The idea is to arrange a wide enough classification system for the films to fit general topics of interest, as well as detailed keyword tags to help make research as effective as possible. The work is still in progress: soon it will include search categories such as ethnic group and region! If you have any suggestions, please contact us with your feedback. We expect this to be an essential tool for everyone interested in exploring the expanding collection, so any contribution is welcome!
Here are some examples of the films we’ve analyzed:
|Gods and Kings
||Religion and Thought
||Religious Festivals, Rituals and Ceremonies, Folklore, Myths and Legends, Dance Rituals
||Vérité, Archival footage, Text description, Narration
|A Kalahari Family
||Economics, Social Life
||Development, Rural Development, Kinship, Social Change, Identity, Cultural Representation,
||Vérité, Reflexive, Archival footage, Text description, Narration, Interviews
|A Life Without Words
||Social Life, Language and Communication
||Vérité, Text description
||Business and Economics, Social Life
||Development, Rural Development, Material Culture and Consumption, Social Life
||Interviews, Vérité, Text description
|A Weave of Time
||Art and Craft, Business and Economics, Social Life, Methods and Practices
||Textile Art, Development, Rural Development, Trade and Commerce, Social Change, Identity, Fieldwork
||Vérité, Interviews, Narration, Archival footage, Text descriptions, Biographical
Posted on April 23rd, 2014
Who am I to say to people that you can’t have malls [in India]? I mean if that is what you want, if that’s what expats want, or if somebody else wants, why not? Who am I to say this is wrong or this is not the way progress is, or whatever. Am I being objective? And that’s why I felt conflicted and in many ways this film was a great way for me to deal with some of those questions that I had within myself. Is there a part two? …The fact is there could be a part two. Last year, all the vendors went on protest. They closed down all the shops. Completely. Can you imagine that? — Lalita Krishna
Director and Producer, Lalita Krishna, received an Honorable Mention Award at this year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival for her film, Mallamall. While the closing night party carried on upstairs, Lalita and I snuck down to the echo-y 77th Street lobby of the American Museum of Natural History to talk about the film.
Lalita spoke to me about Mallamall’s inception, and why this was an important project for her. The conversation illuminated her ability to offer a balanced perspective on the clash between Western-style malls and street vendors. Her own background — born and raised in India — shapes her feelings of sentimentality to an old India, yet she is influenced by the desires for progress expressed by friends and family. Listen to my entire interview with Lalita for more on how her identity as both a Westerner and Indian influenced the making of the film.
— Alice Apley
Posted on December 6th, 2013
A couple of days after Framing the Other screened at the Margaret Mead Film Festival — alongside Cannibal Tours, one of the inspirations for the film — the film’s director, Willem Timmers, and I took a walk on New York City’s Highline. We stopped to chat about the film, its NYC screening, and current and future plans for showing it in Ethiopia. Willem described the awkward feeling he had had working as a tour guide in Ethiopia, which led to him making the film; how he and his filmmaking partner gained trust in the community and went from “tourists” to “guests”; and how they found their main characters.
Listen to the complete interview for this and more on Willem’s experience making Framing The Other.
— Alice Apley
Posted on November 15th, 2013