News & Resources

Rescuing Jorge Prelorán’s Films From Storage And Time


A recent article on 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

Flashback: DER in National Geographic’s “Bushmen of the Kalahari” (1974)

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

Robert Gardner and Peter Matthiessen Discuss 1961 New Guinea Expedition

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

Robert Gardner, filmmaker and author (1925 – 2014)

Filmmaker Robert Gardner (1925-2014)

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

DER Podcast: Jason Burlage on Mi Chacra (My Land)


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

Our New Cataloging System


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.

Laura writes:
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:

Film Subjects Topics Technique
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 Sign Language Vérité, Text description
Mallamall 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

DER Podcast: Margaret Mead Filmmaker Awardee Lalita Krishna on Mallamall


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

DER Podcast: Filmmaker Willem Timmers on Framing the Other


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

Free Film Screening: A Life Without Words – Thursday, December 5th


“The film, flowing with sublime images, is as poignant as it is captivating. ” — La Dépêche du Midi

“A masterpiece of aesthetic images and a plea for language as a fundamental human right.” — DOK.fest Munich

DER’s Fall Film Series comes to a close on December 5th with the intimate and aesthetically stunning documentary, A Life Without Words.

Hailed as one of the top five Latin American documentaries of 2012 by the Biarritz Latin American Film Festival, A Life Without Words portrays deaf siblings, Dulce María and Francisco, raised in rural Nicaragua who have lived their entire lives without any access to language — spoken, written, or signed — until a deaf sign-language teacher arrives determined to teach them their first words. As we enter their isolated world, we are presented with uncomfortable questions about what life would be like without language. This film, however, avoids hard and fast answers, and is a quiet exploration of the challenging questions it poses.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker, Adam Isenberg, and with the founder of the Nicaraguan Sign Language Projects, James Shepard-Kegl.

The film will be shown with subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, and an ASL interpreter will be present during the Q&A.

When: December 5th at 7pm
Where: The Bright Family Screening Room at Emerson’s Paramount Center, 4th floor
559 Washington St, Boston, Massachusetts 02111
Facebook event page

Admission is free and open to the public, so please spread the word to your friends, students, colleagues, and social media outlets! We hope to see you there!

DER’s Fall Film Series is sponsored in part by Emerson College and the United Nations Association of Boston.

unagb-logo emerson-logo

Posted on November 12th, 2013

DER’s ED on What Makes a Winning Pitch


2013 Points North Pitch. Photo by Ben Krebs, courtesy of CIFF.

At this year’s Points North Forum of the Camden International Film Festival, my fellow panelists and I decided the prize for best pitch would go to the film with the combination of best pitch and best project. Criteria related to the pitch had to do with the clarity of the presentation, how engaging the clips were, and whether the filmmakers were open to the panel’s questions and concerns.

Best project? This is perhaps more subjective, but some of the things that were raised during our discussion had to do with offering an untold story, having amazing access to your subjects, having done your research (e.g. what other films have been made on the topic? How is yours unique?), offering sufficient — or better yet — fabulous technical and artistic quality, and the potential of the filmmaking team to pull it off. The latter includes criteria
such as having a realistic understanding of the scale of the project, an appropriate budget, and the right team in place.

The Points North Pitch offered a mix of new and veteran filmmakers, with a wide range of subject matter and styles. The prize – including a $1000 cash prize from Documentary Educational Resources, 60 hours of sound mix or color correction services from Modulus Studios, worth approximately $10,000, a $3,000 tuition scholarship to the Maine Media Workshops and three consultations with the Tribeca Film Institute – went to Drew Xanthopoulos for The Sensitives.


Alice Apley of DER and Sean Flynn of Points North Forum present the Points North Pitch award to Drew Xanthoupolous. Photo by Ben Krebs, courtesy of CIFF.

As described on Drew’s website, “The Sensitives is a feature-length documentary about ordinary people swept out of the mainstream by mysterious and toxic reactions to everyday stimuli. Be it household soaps, cellphones or even sunlight, those afflicted have traveled endless trails of loss and suffering, managing to survive, and some even recover, on the outskirts of society through a combination of reinvention and the will to live. Through several character groups scattered throughout the US at various stages of illness and recovery, The Sensitives will illustrate how a complicated and misunderstood phenomenon has radically changed the course of life for those afflicted.”

What made Drew’s project stand out? For me, it was that he took us on a journey into the lives of his subjects. Before we saw a single frame of footage, we were already caught up in the physical and emotional isolation of this group of people, whose poorly understood sensitivities to a plethora of everyday materials has left them struggling to survive and alienated from family and friends. Whatever else Drew does, I know that he is going to stay close to his subjects, their concerns, their world; and rather than go down the familiar path of whether these are psychosomatic illnesses or can be blamed on pollutants, he offers a universal story — one that has resonance with the experiences of people with chronic pain or a whole host of reasons why we can become detached from society — and it is sure to be moving.

All that in seven minutes.

— Alice Apley

Posted on October 18th, 2013

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