By Charlotte Harding

At the time “Living with Boko Haram” was filmed, the terrorist organisation was the deadliest in the world.

The militant group’s ideology of extremism has seen ensuing atrocities across ethnically and religiously divided Nigeria, spilling over into neighbouring Northern Cameroon, where Boko Haram’s fight to carve out an Islamic state inflicts a brutal toll. With regular suicide bombings and thousands of men disappearing, either recruited or killed; documenting such a dangerous situation was by no mean feat for anthropologists Trond Waage and Mouzamou Ahmadou.

“We just felt we needed to do something,” says Waage on the growing violent insurgency. “I just realised I had to document what was going on, and Mouzamou and I agreed that that was the most obvious thing we could do.”

Filmed over 6 months, the documentary follows the disappearance of Benjamin, his older brother Vakote and mother Antoinette’s desperate search for news of his whereabouts. Waage followed Vakote, living in Norway, whilst Ahmadou documented the events unfurling around Antoinette in his own homeland of Cameroon.

Speaking of the challenges they faced, Waage acknowledges the complexities of his protagonist’s lives, both at home and abroad. “Of course in Cameroon, it was risky, and because of the insecurity Mouzamou couldn’t travel much, he had to be home protecting his family,” he explains; “I have known Vakote for 20 years, and he represents one of the fastest growing social categories in Western Europe, migrants who come here and realise terrible things happen to their loved ones back at home. That is a very emotional thing, constantly afraid for what is happening with your mother an and your brother, so it was difficult in many ways.”

For Waage, although the messages of loneliness, fear and longing are important, what he hopes shines through in the film is the strength and love of the family bond. He also hopes to show that the conflict is not as simple as it is often portrayed. “We have this tendency to talk about Boko Haram as an evil ideological creation, but what we have seen in Cameroon is a young population who are more and more marginalised, upset by the way the nation is governed;
so, the ideology of Boko Haram has less to do with Islam, and more to do with luring in these impoverished, frustrated and disillusioned populations to join Boko Haram.”

LIVING WITH BOKO HARAM is screening at the RAI FILM FESTIVAL on Wednesday 29 March, 3:40 PM
Information and tickets here



By Shosha Adie

Liivo Niglas is a filmmaker and ethnologist who grew up near the small town of Jogeva (Estonia), against what he calls the “bizarre” political backdrop of the Soviet Union.

Though he has documented many experiences, he describes “The Journey to the Maggot Feeder” as particularly special, as it resonates with his upbringing under the restrictive USSR and with his Estonian blood – blood shared with shaman ancestors in Western Siberia.

The other element which characterises this project is that it was not his idea. The documentary is built around the charismatic Estonian animator Priit Tender, who acts as the protagonist and who began as a stranger to Niglas. Tender had first brought the ‘The Maggot Feeder’ fable to Western audiences in 2012, by animating the characters into a short film, but soon realised that those storyboards only touched the surface of the story.

The origins of this fable are in Chukotka, situated on the easternmost tip of Russia, next to the Bering Sea. It tells us about a seal hunter who lives happily on the permafrost with his wife, but then one day plots to murder her since she cannot give him a child. Whilst the wife sits at home awaiting the hunter’s return, he builds a tower and raises giant maggots inside it that he intends to feed her to.

The narrative caused confusion with audiences back home, since it did not conform to preconceptions about what a fairy tale should be, and Tender was advised to take it to psychoanalysts in London since “it is too crazy to not have a meaning”. He did this, inviting Niglas to come with him to document what these meanings were. What he did not know at that point was that this journey of discovery would have them venture all the way from Tallinn, in Estonia, to weightlifting champions in St Petersburg— before finally reaching the people of Chukotka. A feat that would take both filmmakers far from home. I asked Niglas why  he agreed to go along and, from a friend’s trailer in North Dakota where he is shooting for his next film, he told me:

“I had never been to Chukotka, but I am always ready for another adventure… especially if it involves filmmaking!”

For Niglas, the footage shown only captures the surface of his experience working with Tender, who had allowed him to see film in a way he’d “never thought to see things before”.

Despite a tough beginning, the film unfolded exactly how they’d expected, with revelations along the way, “as if in a fairy-tale”. As Niglas had predicted, the further they delved into the mystery of the Chukchi Legend, the more the story became mixed up with their reality. On asking what lasting impression he wanted his film to leave, I was told that he wants the viewers to witness how many different ways it is possible to experience a story in order to “…leave the cinema with an idea that this Chukchi fairy-tale is almost as complex as a Shakespearean play”.

JOURNEY TO THE MAGGOT FEEDER is screening at the RAI FILM FESTIVAL on Friday 31 March, 3:45 PM
Information and tickets here

David Shankland

Dr David Shankland is the Director of the Royal Anthropological Institute. He trained in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, then moved down to Cambridge for his doctoral studies, during the course of which he conducted fieldwork in Anatolia, looking in particular at questions of social change, politics and religion. In 1995, David took up a lectureship in the University of Wales Lampeter, thereafter moving to the University of Bristol in 2003. He has played a leading role in many anthropological institutions, being the co-organiser of the European Association of Social Anthropologists conference at Bristol, the Chair of the ASA conference Anthropological and Archaeological Imaginations: past, present and future, and in 2009 the President of the Anthropology and Archaeology Section of the British Science Association.

Stephen Hughes

Stephen earned his BA in Anthropology (Hon) and Philosophy at Bates College, Lewiston, Maine, US and went on to complete an MA and PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology at The University of Chicago. Over the course of the last thirty years his work has focused on Tamil speaking south India. He has worked on various research projects relating to the history and ethnography of media including Tamil cinema, film exhibition, drama, music, gramophone, radio, popular publishing, election campaigns and the emergence of satellite TV. Since joining SOAS in 1997 his teaching has focused on the Anthropology of Media, ethnographic and documentary film, social theory and South Asia. This year Steve is also the Chair of the Judges at the festival.

Judith Aston

Judith Aston is a Senior Lecturer in Film-making and Creative Media at UWE Bristol, and a co-director of i-Docs – the web-hub and international symposium for discussion and debate on the rapidly evolving genre of interactive documentary. As a creative producer with an academic background in visual anthropology and interaction design, she first began working in this field with the BBC Interactive Television and Apple Computing over twenty years ago and has retained her involvement in this area ever since.

Christopher Morris

Christopher Morris is an award winning documentary filmmaker. His work in radio and television encompasses documentary, drama, commercials and party political broadcasts. Recurring themes include childhood, religion and marginalised communities. He has won three BAFTA awards, a Royal Television Society Award, The Premios Ondas and prizes at the Celtic, Berlin and Chicago film festivals. Since leaving the BBC in 2003, Chris has been working as a freelance documentary director/producer and a story consultant. Recent projects include Fog of Sex, a Lottery funded drama/documentary about student sex workers and ‘Mametz’, a Lottery funded WW1 site-specific play with Owen Sheers & National Theatre Wales. From 2003-2014, Chris ran the documentary film course at Newport Film School. In 2011 he was made a Professor of Documentary Practice. He is currently the Director of the School of Film & Television at Falmouth University.

Peter Symes

Peter Symes joined the BBC in 1970, where he had a long career as a director, producer and executive producer until 2000.  Now freelance, he works as educator and executive producer. In 1994 he helped found the Sheffield International Documentary Festival, and was a trustee of the Grierson Trust. He has worked with many different training initiatives, including the Documentary Campus in Germany, which he ran from 2005-9.

Lorenzo Ferrarini

Lorenzo Ferrarini is a filmmaker, photographer and sound recordist based at the University of Manchester, where he teaches Ethnographic Documentary at the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology. Before moving to Britain he studied anthropology and ethnomusicology in Italy, where he collaborates with the LEAV – Ethnomusicology and Visual Anthropology Laboratory at the University of Milan. He works on environment, embodiment and perception among initiated hunters in Burkina Faso using collaborative methods and sensory ethnography. Among his documentaries are Kalanda – The Knowledge of the Bush (2014) and Living the Weather (2016).

Teri Brewer

Teri Brewer is an independent filmmaker of ethnographic, archaeological and folk-life films. A former subject leader for Anthropology at the University of Glamorgan, she has also been a visiting Fellow and Acting Postgraduate Course Tutor at the University of Bristol. Trained at UCLA,The University of Chicago and Bristol University, her film work in recent years has included projects in the UK, Nevada, California, Mexico and Costa Rica. She is currently filmmaker/ethnographer for the Kumeyaay Land and Values Project in California and is working on a film linking climate, environment and material culture commissioned for the Nevada  Arts Councils Folklife Program.

John Baily

John Baily is Emeritus Professor of Ethnomusicology and Head of the Afghanistan Music Unit at Goldsmiths (University of London). Baily has held teaching positions in Queen’s University Belfast, Columbia University, and Goldsmiths. From 1984 to 1986 he was an RAI Documentary Film Training Fellow at the National Film and Television School, during which time he directed Amir: an Afghan Refugee Musician’s Life in Peshawar, Afghanistan and Lessons from Gulam: Asian Music in Bradford. He strongly encouraged ethnographic film making as part of the MMus in Ethnomusicology at Goldsmiths. Most of his eleven finished films concern the music of Afghanistan.