Join us at the RAI as we present a selection of the best films that screened at the most recent editions of Europe’s ethnographic film festivals.
Eurorama is an initiative led by Museo degli Usi e Costumi della Gente Trentina in collaboration with Trento Film Festival and Royal Anthropological Institute. Each spring, Eurorama showcases the best films that screened at various ethnographic film festivals across Europe. We are delighted to present a selection of the Eurorama programme here in London.
Venue: Royal Anthropological Institute, 50 Fitzroy Street, London W1T 5BT
The screenings will be introduced by Giovanni Kezich, Eurorama programmer and Director of Museo degli Usi e Costuma della Gente Trentino/Folklife Museum (Italy). He will be joined by Eurorama co-programmer Caterina Sartori.
The programme will be as follows:
11:10 The Lake
Dir. Daria Blokhina, 2017, Russia, 30 min Ethnocineca 2018, Vienna | International Shorts Award The Filippovy family live north in Russia, far away from modern civilization. They live in strong connection with their surrounding nature, a way of life that demands hard work and dedication.
Dir. Claudiu Mitcu, 2017, Romania, 54 min Astra Film Festival 2018, Sibiu | Award for Best Director Ioan Colţea, who is turning 91, lives in a quiet village in the mountains. Surrounded by his extended family, always serene and detached, he is now looking at his kids, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with kindness, warmth and resignation in his eyes. The family gets together for an entire week not only to celebrate grandpa, but also to agree on building him a new grave and cross, all under Ioan Colţea’s strict observation.
Dirs. Loukas Koubouris, Nickolas Papadimitrios, 2017, Greece, 30 min Nordic Anthropological Film Association (NAFA) Film Festival 2018, Cluj (Romania) | Featured Over the centuries, local communities around the Messolonghi lagoon in Greece have developed a variety of fishing techniques to support their livelihoods. One of them is the creation of natural fish farms (ivaria), still based on traditional knowledge, by using barrier traps to capture ﬁsh during their migration to the open sea. The film observes the daily routine of the fishermen working and living in one ivari as it takes place in the fishing period from spring to winter.
Dirs. Arjang Omrani, Asif Rezaei, 2018, Greece, 64 min Tartu World Film Festival 2018, Tartu (Estonia) | Featured Asif, an Afghan refugee with an eyesight deficiency, has tried several times to find his way to Western Europe from Greece. The film is composed of his 8-month mobile phone video diaries, in which he talks about the everyday life at the camps, as well as his dreams of a better life. He takes us to a tour of the spaces he hides in, including an abandoned wood factory, where refugees find shelter while waiting for their chance to hide under a truck that crosses the Adriatic to Italy.
16:00 Together Apart
Dir. Maren Wickwire, 2018, Cyprus, USA, 57 min International Festival of Ethnological Film Belgrade 2018, Belgrade | Student Competition Prize When Guil Ann arrives on the Mediterranean island Cyprus from the Philippines to join her mother Carren as a domestic worker, the women reunite for the first time in over a decade. Carren spent most of her adult life apart from her children. Only months later, unexpected events lead to Carren’s deportation and challenge both women to confront their precarious dreams for togetherness and a better future.
Two “sensory ethnographies” drew us into the darkness at this year’s RAI Film Festival. Festival Reporter Ozy Coombes-Cowell spoke to the directors of NIISHII丨Night Worlds and Guardians of the Night to trace the techniques that underpin these sensuous engagements with nocturnal life.
we wanted to think about the night from a sensorial perspective – and not primarily through our eyes – we wanted to sense darkness, breeze, smell, and more specifically the sounds that are so present when our eyes can’t see very well. Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier and Eleonora Diamanti Directors, Guardians of the Night
a very important responsibility and challenge of visual anthropology, other than creating a sensory experience beyond what can be encapsulated in a text, is to engage wider audiences. Saranya Nayak Director, NIISHII丨Night Worlds
After the founding of The Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab in 2006, interest in “sensory ethnography” has boomed. Films like Leviathan (Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, 2013) have had a particularly high profile. But the practices of sensory ethnography are still evolving, and the field is shifting. Definitions are up for grabs. In short, we could say that sensory ethnography concerns itself with the embodied, multi-sensory experience of a given setting and those that inhabit it. On one level, films made in this mode can provide a pleasingly vivid impression of the sensations that a community habitually feel. But the form can also – at its best – illuminate the productive nature of the sensoria, and the social values and meanings associated with them.
Much is to be learned from close examination of films that claim the label of “sensory ethnography”. This year’s RAI Film Festival showcases two new entries into the sensory ethnography canon: NIISHII│Night Worlds (Saranya Nayak / UK / 22 mins) and Guardians of the Night (Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier, Eleonora Diamanti / Cuba, Canada / 17 mins). Each film takes us on an evocative tour of the night-time hours; NIISHII through the town of Dubrajpur (West Bengal, India), Guardians through Guantánamo, Cuba. Both utilise a range of affective methods to communicate the ‘feel’ of the night (from trance-inducing drums, to moist rice eaten with fingers), whilst also investigating what the feelings mean and do, as well as the prominence and significance of the different senses in different cultural contexts.
So, how do these sensory ethnographies work?
Both films take inspiration from Robert Gardner’s Forest of Bliss (1986), a renowned work of visual anthropology that explores India’s most holy city, Banares, in which the funeral industry is the main occupation. Gardner eschews voiceover and subtitles, in favour of an intricate, sensual montage of the everyday acts of craftsmanship that the deeply spiritual funeral ceremonies entail. Whilst the film seems to document roughly 24 hours, it was in fact shot over a few weeks, then edited to resemble a single day, from one sunrise to the next. Both Guardians and NIISHII were assembled in a similar fashion; shot over numerous nights, then later cut in such a way that suggests a journey that progresses over a single night, ending at dawn.
Furthermore – although NIISHII does include some scenes with subtitled dialogue – a great deal of both films involve wordless observational shots of townsfolk engaging in physical tasks. As such, we are invited to fixate on these activities, to contemplate the significance of an action or sensation – be it professional, recreational, personal, social, or spiritual. Take, for instance, a sequence in Guardians in which a ballerina stretches by tying her ankle to a railing above her head. The film invites us to ask: what does this represent? The way this body can be moved, shaped, and bound? And pain and discomfort endured? Well, this striking sequence alerts us to the presence of “body techniques” (as Marcel Mauss called the repertoire of embodied skills and knowledge) which we might not expect to encounter here. It draws attention to the diversity of contemporary Cuban dance culture – bodies don’t just move to salsa or reggaetón music in Cuba, the filmmakers show us. We see the ballerina use her smartphone as she exercises. Again, we ponder the sensuous world this girl inhabits. Earlier we saw words being penned into a notebook; the behaviour of this Cuban ballerina exemplifies a global shift where, increasingly, we communicate not by putting pen to paper, but rather through sliding fingers across the glassy texture of a glowing phone screen.
In lieu of dialogue, the audio of each film features a wealth of keenly recorded diegetic sounds. These soundtracks serve to create nuanced impressions of place, and encourage us to appreciate the far reaching ways that sound may be used to contextualise and enliven images (microphones, of course, are generally not subject to the same directional limits as cameras).
In both cases, the vibrant – or sometimes very still – off-screen spaces that surround the images are communicated through prevalent ambient noises. The faint buzz of electric lights and surrounding insects, the hubbub of busy spaces, and the rumbles, honks and screeches of passing traffic all contribute massively to the immersive atmospheres that the films cultivate. As the directors of Guardians emphasise, the film ‘needs to be listened at… The audience really needs to pay attention to the soundtrack first to fully appreciate the experience of the film’.
The opening images of both NIISHII and Guardians are accompanied by sudden, loud noises that prime the ears for the detailed soundscapes that follow. In NIISHII, a time lapse of nightfall is set the sound of a ‘Shankha’ being blown, a type of conch shell which, as Nayak tells me, ‘during the evening ritual has associations with victory, auspiciousness, warding off evil, beginnings and endings.’ Guardians, on the other hand, opens with a close up of the rotating gears of a bicycle, accompanied by the sound of a squealing mechanical brake, a noise which the filmmakers classify as ‘dark and metallic, even cold, a little bit like the ambience / atmosphere of the film itself.’ In addition, they note how this opening introduces a pattern of ‘the continuous and cyclic aspect of nocturnal rhythms. Rhythms that repeat endlessly, in a 24 hour cycle, similar but never exactly the same.’
These openings begin to indicate some formal differences that emerge between the two films. Guardians often toys with diegetic sounds, subtly blending and reorganising noises from different locations, and a sparse keyboard score frequently surfaces to complement the rhythmic and tonal progression of the piece. The filmmakers credit Guantánamo based composer Zevil Strix for ‘the poetic aspect of the soundtrack’, remarking once again on ‘cyclic rhythms’, and explaining that ‘environmental sounds blend with electronic compositions creating an estranging effect on the audience’. (Notably, two other Guantánamo based artists contributed to the film; choreographer Yoel Gonzalez Rodriguez served as producer, and graphic designer Joel Aguilar Fuentes produced the poster. The directors wish to emphasise that ‘the collaboration with local artists was essential for our project’.)
The lyricism of Guardians’ soundtrack – which was composed before the footage was edited – is reflected in the imagery. Largely, the film is a rich montage of tight close-ups, and shots from different scenes are often inter-cut based on thematic, graphic or sensory connections rather than on physical or temporal proximity. Take, for example, a sequence in which one woman having her nails filed and carefully painted by another is interspersed with shots of a mother and daughter curled up together in a ‘small and cramped, but also very tidy and clean’ home, ‘sharing that tiny space in a very loving and intimate way’.
The directors describe the close-up aesthetic as ‘very intimate and focused’, whilst highlighting that ‘there is a lot that is left outside – out of the frame, that we don’t know is there – and that speaks to the anthropological project in general.’ Recurrent lens flares and shifts in and out of focus afford the film a delicate visual splendour, whilst also creating an impression of the glare of bright electric lights at night, and a feeling of seeing through bleary, fatigued eyes. Both of these techniques impair vision, encouraging greater reliance on the ‘alertness of other senses, especially hearing’.
Although Nayak acknowledges a ‘definite inclination towards creating a mood, ambience or affect’, she characterises NIISHII as ‘more observational than poetic’. Having initially considered setting her film in one of two mega-cities where she’d lived – Delhi or Kolkata – Nayak opted to locate the fieldwork in the small town Dubrajpur because it ‘offered a chance to explore a landscape in transition, a semi-urban space in between a village and a city’. She explains that this ‘presented an opportunity to trace the evolution and co-existence of lightscapes and soundscapes at night while traces of the past still lingered in occasional practice and in popular memory’. Throughout the film, close ups of warmly glowing lanterns and candles are juxtaposed with shots of cool, fluorescent, electric light sources. Nayak reports that ‘the lighting of different kinds of lamps representing dying lightscapes in an increasingly electrically powered world were easily the most compelling images for me’.
NIISHII incorporates various passages of dialogue that offer interesting suggestions of the ways that light and sight figure into the locals’ lives. Reports range from the difficulty of affording electricity, to a rumoured ‘light ghost’ which concerned people enough that they used rags to seal the cracks in their doors at night, to a couple discussing the judgement that women face if leaving the house alone, to a woozy father explaining that, ‘in drinking dens, darkness is best’. These and other verbal vignettes paint an intriguing picture of the town’s attitudes to exposure. Nayak observes that ‘the fieldwork points to the presence of a common desire to control the light and visibility around oneself. However, the power dynamics around this control have shifted dramatically with the explosion of state sponsored electrically powered sources lighting up more and more spaces as days go by’. And on the topic of ghosts, she had this to say: ‘Everyone I met in the town had a ghost story to tell, and many were eyewitnesses or had experienced some kind of ghostly presence in person. Higher visibility and brighter nights as a result of urbanisation has drastically reduced such experiences, which in my opinion is a fundamental change to how people see what they are able to see at night.’
Guardians of the Night and NIISHII丨Night Worlds each employ a variety of techniques to create potent multi-modal perceptions of the towns which they explore. By striving to engage the whole sensoria – via detailed sound design as much as through visual material – the films offer absorbing and memorable tours of the night-time hours in their respective towns. Through carefully considered cinematography and editing, and in the case of NIISHII, verbal testimonies, the filmmakers reveal interesting aspects of the relationships that various demographics have to the senses in different cultural contexts. Just as the films shift perspectives away from the dominance of the visual in present culture by examining the darker side of our 24 hour life cycle, so too do they illuminate the fact that ever growing electrification is resulting in the increasing encroachment of the visual on night-time life in urban environments. Both films are intricate, accomplished contributions to the field of sensory ethnography, and valuable case studies of practices that may be employed when working at this exciting frontier of ethnographic film.
Awarded biennially since 1986 this prize is for a film in the ethnographic tradition that takes advantage of the evocative faculty of film as a means of furthering a concern for humanity and for communicating that concern to others. The value of the prize is £500.
This award has been offered by the Film Festival Committee since 1990 and is for the best film about the social use and cultural significance of material objects, be it at the present time or any previous period in human history. The value of the prize is £250
Awarded for the first time in 1990, and since 2005 sponsored by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, this prize is given to the most outstanding film in the ethnographic tradition made by a student enrolled in a recognized educational institution. The value of the prize is £250.
The following Awards were announced prior to the Festival:
Assigned by the Film Festival Committee to a film of truly exceptional merit that addresses issues of great contemporary importance and concern in anthropology or archaeology. This film may take the form of either fiction or fact-based documentary, and need not necessarily belong to any conventional ethnographic genre.
Funded since 2011 by Richard Werbner, this award is given to a film that is made by an anthropologist – preferably as part of a doctoral or post-doctoral research project – based upon extensive fieldwork. The value of the prize is £250.
We are delighted that dozens of filmmakers and world-leading thinkers will attend our biannual celebration of ethnographic film in Bristol 27-30 March. Here is who you can expect to meet at the Festival.
From the Andean highlands to the Amazon basin and down to Chile, there is a particular rich selection of films from Latin America this year’s RAI Film Festival. Festival Reporter Kamila Kordys discovers that filmmakers in the region are pioneering collaborative approaches that put participants’ voices at the heart of their work, and recommends four to watch.
What’s it about? Thinking Like a Mountain takes us on a journey through the forest and the ice of Colombia’s highest peak, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, home to the indigenous Arhuacos. This community draws a singular spirituality from this spectacular environment, in which they have purposely isolated themselves. Balance and order is central to their culture. Yet, as we see in this mesmerising portrait of a place and people, traditional ways of life are threatened by prolonged civil conflict, mining operations, and climate change.
Who made it? German-born filmmaker Alexander Hick, who gained unparalleled and unprecedented access to this community to make this film. Thinking Like a Mountain builds on Hick’s previous visual essays that also consider how places and their peoples – in Atl Tlachinolli (2015) he cast his eye on Mexico City, and San Agustín: Marea baja en el mar del plástico (2012) on a farming community in Andalucía.
What’s special about it? Thinking Like a Mountain is a visually dazzling film with sophisticated things to say about a singular environment and community. Hick illuminates Arhuaco cosmology and their beautiful landscapes, but also the shifting political contexts on the borders of their lands. Whilst this community does not seem to have changed for centuries, we learn the survival of its traditional way of life has been hard won.
What’s it about? In Chile, people living with HIV are stigmatised, and they often conceal their condition and remain silent about what they are going through. In This is My Face, several men open up about their experiences. It follows a creative process whereby these men produce photographic portraits that represent their (often painful) memories and feelings, a process which helps them challenge years of silence, shame, and misrepresentation.
Who made it? Whilst Angélica Cabezas Pino is credited as director, This is My Face is the result of path-breaking collaboration between the filmmaker/researcher and the men we meet in the film. With a background in both visual art and anthropology, Cabezas Pino works at the intersection between the disciplines, using visual communication and expression as a means for illuminating her research areas. This is My Face emerged out of her practice-based PhD in Anthropology, Media and Performance at the University of Manchester.
What’s special about it? This is My Face demonstrates the power and possibility of collaborative storytelling. HIV-related stigma is one of the major barriers to fighting HIV in Latin America and it often prevents people from accessing testing and treatment. Cabezas Pino’s approach reveals an internal and hidden dialogue, revealing a hitherto obscured lifeworld. We see the profound effects of the project written on the faces of the men in her film as they reveal themselves, with pride and determination.
This is My Face screens on Thu 28 march at 11:15 at Watershed, as part of Student Programme 4. Buy your tickets here.
What’s it about? Horror in the Andes is a film about three friends making a horror movie in Ayacucho in the Peruvian Andes.
Who made it? Anthropologist Martha-Cecilia Dietrich, who utilises participatory and collaborative filmmaking methods as part of her work. Currently teaching at University of Bern, her previous research has examined ways of remembering the internal conflict in Peru and generated the documentary Between Memories (2015) (distributed by the RAI)
What’s special about it? Balancing insight with warm humour, Horror in the Andes shows how indigenous filmmakers can appropriate foreign genres to tell their own stories. The filmmakers we meet use horror as a means to interrogate contemporary social issues, and confront the legacies of colonial violence. Furthermore, Horror in the Andes shows how translating foreign modes into local terms can articulate notions of Andean identity with defiant confidence.
What’s it about? Amazonimations is a compilation of three animated films written, voiced and illustrated by the Matses people of the Amazon rainforest, on the Peru-Brazil border. They tell of their expert use of poisonous frogs, young adults’ experiences of moving to the city, and children’s observations of the animals that they share the forest with.
Who made it? Anthropologist Camilla Morelli and animator Sophie Marsh collaborated with different generations of Matses people to create Amazonimations. Based at University of Bristol, Morelli has worked with Matses people since 2010, specifically with children and young people. Her research uses visual methods to examine social change. Sophie is a professional animator and film producer; a part of this project, she has been teaching stop-motion animation to Matses children in the rainforest.
What’s special about it? These films are small gems bursting with insight, rendered with charming visuals. Most importantly, they let the true voice sof the Matses people sing out to the wider world. Amazonimations demonstrates how collaborative visual methods can help us understand radical processes of social change that are affecting people in Amazonia and beyond, to create a space where young Amazonians can discuss their everyday lives. The project promotes inclusion, and participants are involved as active agents in the production of knowledge.
Amazonimations screens on Saturday 30 March as part of Shorts Programme 2. Public tickets are sold out for this screening, but you can get in by getting a Festival Pass.
In addition to these Latin gems, don’t miss: After the Silence (dir. Natalie Cubides Brady) about the impact forced disappearances in Colombia, Fire Mouth (dir. Luciano Pérez Fernández), a striking portrait of a football match in scorching Brazil, Pasajuego (Daniel Oliveras de Ita), a study of the ballgame Pelota Mixteca as played amongst the Oaxacan diaspora, and our Queer Brazil! programme.
You can see all these riches from Latin America, as well as all other screenings, events and conference sessions, with our great value Festival Passes.
These aren’t quite romcoms, but thoughtful and sensitive explorations of the diversity of love and kinship in different cultures across the world, and the forces that frustrate its pursuit. Festival Reporter Sophie Haxworth picks three to see.
Kazu and Fumi are partners at their law firm, but also in life. (They are only “married” in inverted commas, as same-sex marriage is not yet permitted in Japan). Their status as an openly gay couple attracts a range of attention that affects their work and personal life. On one hand, as a minority themselves, they draw out the silenced minorities hiding just beneath the surface of quiet compliance to tradition in Japanese society. But on the other, they feel alienated from society. Their love is not recognised as legitimate. They daydream of expanding their family, but their wistful tone indicates this will remain a dream in today’s Japan.
The film is divided into chapters built around a series of legal cases taken on by Kazu and Fumi. These include a feminist artist fighting charges of obscenity (for using vaginal imagery), and a schoolteacher fighting her dismissal for refusing to stand during the national anthem. In another case, we learn that children born outside of traditional family structures in Japan simply do not exist in the eyes of the law. This case in particular reflects back on Kazu and Fumi’s own desire for their love and their family to be recognised.
Whilst legal cases about civil liberties structure the film, it is film is really a love story. With incredibly intimate access to the daily life of Kazu and Fumi, we feel their dedication to each other, and how cultural norms and archaic laws impact upon the emotional lives and dreams of a nation’s citizens.
“Love is a strange thing. It hits you when you least expect it.”
Heartbound examines the marriages that have brought over 900 Thai women halfway across the world to a windswept town in Denmark. Over ten years, it follows four couples, and profiles Sommai – the ex sex worker who pioneered this network of Thai-Danish marriages (which allow women not only to build new lives, but to support their families back home).
In this messy and morally ambiguous world, visual anthropologists Metz and Plambech (who are married themselves) expose a human yearning for love that crosses an economic, cultural and geographical divide. Amongst shots of the two countries’ contrasting landscapes, the film asks what love means for partners with drastically different backgrounds, presented with a frank yet never judgemental style. The film places the women’s multifaceted experience at its forefront, compassionately painting their humour, their hopes, and their dignity in a world that has offered them very little.
This film will break your heart and encourage you examine its pieces before carefully, true to its title, binding them together again into something at once more fragile and more knowing.
Heartbound is the recipient of the Richard Werbner Award for Visual Ethnography 2019. Director Sine Plambech will attend the screening for a discussion chaired by anthropologist Gabriel Dattreyan, who judged the Award this year.
“Everyone should experience love. The world will be dry and lifeless without it.”
In the conservative landscape of contemporary India, one Hindu priest insists that love must win out. Hirabhai Juguji, a priest with a remarkably temperate and transparent outlook on life, runs the only Hanuman Temple that performs marriages. He is known for marrying couples rejected by other parts of society, be they same-sex, transgender, or eloping due to family disagreements.
The film paints an understated portrait of the necessity of love, staged alongside the ordinary and seemingly mundane tasks of Juguji’s day-to-day life. We hear him speak of couples completing each other as we watch him laying tiles outside the temple; these words and actions complement each other, demonstrating how marriage between partners in love can be as straightforward as these honest tasks. He lays the groundwork of the religious site just as his marriages aim to lay the groundwork for couples’ happy lives. Welcome Valentine 2017 voices Juguji’s conviction that love has the power to strip back the complexities of tradition, politics, family and duty.
Welcome Valentine 2017 screens on Thursday 28 March at 15:30. It is part of Student Programme 4, which showcases the outstanding work being made by today’s emerging visual anthropologists. Buy your tickets to this screening here.
On International Women’s Day, we take a moment to celebrate the strong female presence at this year’s upcoming RAI Film Festival (27 – 30 March). The programme overflows with women’s stories, illuminating an incredible diversity of experience across the globe. And, we are proud to say, over half of the films in this year’s RAI Film Festival have a woman director. Festival Reporter Ella Broad recommends three to watch.
Zahida is a documentary following the life of Zahida Kazmi, Pakistan’s first female taxi driver. We join her on her daily duties and learn what it means for her to work in this role. She speaks of the dangers she faces as a women, the inequality in Pakistan and of her responsibility as a twice widowed mother of six to her children and to their futures. This elegant and insightful short film articulates Zahida’s story in a patient and dignified way.
Who made it?
Karachi-born and London-based filmmaker and producer. Her rich portfolio includes documentary, animation, and art installations. Gul has an eye for stories about identity, particularly female identity, and the place of individuals in a political context.
What’s special about it?
This is an intimate portrait of one woman which has big things to say about the position of women in contemporary Pakistani society. We feel Zahida’s sorrow as she reflects on her lot. But the film is also infused with hope, and is a testament to Zahida’s strength, drive and resilience, and that of women like her.
Mossane focuses on the life of teenage girl who is greatly admired and loved by all in her village in Senegal. The film follows her daily interactions – speaking with her mother about her fast approaching marriage to a rich man, helping her sick brother who has left university due to a politically charged strike, and exploring a burgeoning romance with an old friend, Fara. The drama pivots on the clash between her responsibilities to her family and her own youthful desires.
Who made it?
Pioneering filmmaker and ethnologist Safi Faye, whose work we celebrate at this year’s Festival with our Special Focus. Whilst she first became known for appearing in Jean Rouch’s Petit à Petit (1970), she soon went on to work as a director herself. Her first feature length film, Kaddu Beykat (1975, aka La Lettre Paisanne / Letter from the Village) was the first feature by a sub-Saharan African woman to be commercially distributed. Alongside filmmaking, she gained a doctorate in ethnology in 1979, with a thesis on Serer religions. Faye’s films draw on her research, focusing on rural and farming communities, and often exploring oral history traditions, the lives of women, spirituality, everyday village life and access to land. She works with both documentary and fictional modes and often uses devices that explore the intersection between the two.
What’s special about it?
This is a film from an ambitious and powerful female storyteller, that combines ethnographic insight with sophisticated artistry. It is rarely screened, it deserves to be better known.
Mossane screens on Friday 29 March at 19:30 at Arnolfini. The screening will be followed by a discussion of Faye’s work and her legacy. Buy tickets here.
A Very Dai Girl is a short documentary which sketches the daily life of Xiao Yue, a 22 year old woman from Yunnan province in the south of China. We see Xiao Yue cook, care for her grandmother, sew, and farm – but also visit an amusement arcade with friends, and talk with her boyfriend on her smartphone. As a young woman of the Dai ethnic group, Xiao Yue is caught between the traditions of her people, and the modernising China surrounding her. She reflects on what is expected of her as a woman in the Dai culture and how she longs for the greater gender equality that she perceives in China’s dominant Han culture .
Who made it?
MengHua Zhang recently graduated from the prestigious and innovative MA Visual Anthropology programme at Goldsmiths. She is one of the exciting new voices in ethnographic film that we showcase in our Student Programme. With A Very Dai Girl, MengHua Zhang shows she can discuss culture, gender and relationships in modern China with a subtle and mature voice.
What’s special about it?
This is a quiet and patient film that demonstrates sophisticated sensitivity. The sense of intimacy we feel is startling, and it a pleasure to spend time with the striking woman at the heart of this film.
A Very Dai Girl screens on Thursday 28 March at 15:30 at Watershed (as part of Student Programme 4). Buy your tickets here.
You can access to these films, as well as all other screenings, events and conference sessions at the RAI Film Festival with a Festival Pass. Buy yours today!
Oral storytelling traditions – whether manifesting through speech or song, through myth, folk tales, ballads, chants, prose or verse – can be a rich resource for filmmakers. Several films at this year’s RAI Film Festival demonstrate the powerful result when oral traditions and cinema interact. Festival Reporter Kathryn Case recommends three to watch.
The Haida reside on an archipelago off the coast of western Canada and Alaska. Edge of the Knife is based on Haida oral storytelling and mythology, and told in the Haida language. Set in the 19th century, in a seasonal fishing camp, it revolves around the tumultuous relationship between two noblemen, Adiits’ii and his best friend Kwa, as by grief and a thirst for revenge pits them against each other.
Who made it?
The film is co-directed by First Nations filmmakers Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown. Edenshaw used his personal experiences being raised on Haida Gwaii to weave together the story, in collaboration with Tsilhqot’in filmmaker Haig-Brown. This is Edenshaw’s first film (before now he has received acclaim as artist and jewellery make), whilst Haig-Brown has a number of filmmaking credits under her belt.
What’s special about it?
Edge of the Knife is the first feature film in the endangered Haida language – there are only a handful of native speakers left. Having survived decades of hardship and cultural genocide, Haida today are reclaiming their language with hard work and dedication – and this film is part of thriving cultural and language revitalisation programme. The directors consulted with fluent speakers who carefully translated the script into three Haida dialects, and trained the fully-Haida cast to memorize, pronounce, and express their lines authentically.
In the UN Year of Indigenous languages, we are delighted that Edge of the Knife is our Opening Night Film. It is also the recipient of the 2019 Presidents Medal.
Opening Night screening of Edge of the Knife will take place Wednesday 27 March at 18:00 at Watershed, Bristol. Buy tickets here.
Director Arjun Chavah explores Burrakatha, a storytelling art form in the Telangana and Andhra regions of India that emerged in the context of the Indian independence movement.
What’s special about it? Emerging in the 1940s, amidst the struggle against feudal oppression and the Indian freedom movement, Burrakatha was a medium for dissent. It continued to be used to speak about other social issues after independence, but eventually diminished.
Chavah uses Burrakatha as a narrator to fill in pieces of Telangana’s history, and to celebrate the power of art as a means of dissent. Whilst Burrakatha may have fallen out of favour, it carries on a vibrant tradition that still resonates in contemporary India. This film celebrates the lively and comedic spirit of Burrakatha.
Resonating Burra screens in a double bill with Sakhisona on Friday 29th March at 13:15 at Watershed. Buy tickets here.
Sakhisona records the stories that are sung around a mound in near Mogulmari in West Bengal. The mound, known locally as Sakhisona, has served as an object of mythology and storytelling for centuries. Stories about it are interwoven with myth and still sung by local musicians.
Who made it?
Prantik Basu is an alumnus of Film Directing at the Film and Television Institute of India and has gone on to direct several short films which have been screened at various international film festivals. He has already been awarded a Tiger Award for Short Films at IFFR 2017 for Sakhisona. His interest in creating Sakhisona spawned from a love of storytelling, as he worked as an illustrator in a Bengali children’s magazine before moving on to filmmaking.
What’s special about it?
According to Basu, the importance of storytelling and mythology is vital: “It is an access to the anecdotal history, and in turn, the ethos of a community. For me, the tale of Sakhisona, though primitive, seemed extremely contemporary and progressive in nature.” This highly evocative film re-enacts the folklore of the place in fragments woven around the archaeology and objects unearthed. In this film, we see Basu’s stylistic flair emerge with skilful use of black and white cinematography.
Sakhisona screens in a double bill with Resonating Burra on Friday 29th March at 13:15 at Watershed. Buy tickets here.
You can access to these films, as well as all other screenings, events and conference sessions at the RAI Film Festival with a Festival Pass. Buy yours today!
The film documents the massive peaceful resistance led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to the Dakota Access Pipeline through their land and underneath the Missouri River, a water source for over 18 million people. The ‘water protectors’ are faced with police brutality, mass arrests, unwarranted seizures of possessions and extreme criminal charges.
Who made it?
The film is a collaboration between Oscar nominated environmental filmmakers: Josh Fox and James Spione; and indigenous filmmakers: Director Myron Dewey and Executive Producer Doug Good Feather. Fox, Spione and Dewey each direct one of the film’s three parts.
What’s special about it?
The film is both an evocative visual poem – with accompanying passages of lyrical narration by native activist Floris White Bull that describe an urgent spiritual awakening – and an instructional piece on the principles and practicalities that such movements can be built upon.
Awake, A Dream From Standing Rock screens 28 March at 13:15 at Watershed. Buy tickets here.
The film follows Kisilu Musya, a Kenyan farmer, as he tries to provide for his family amid the havoc wreaked on his home and livelihood by worsening droughts and floods. Kisilu recognises that climate change is responsible for the increasingly extreme weather, so sets about inspiring his community to ‘leave a legacy by planting trees’. His impressive commitment to this voluntary task earns him the opportunity to share his story at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015.
Who made it?
Up and coming Norwegian filmmaker Julia Dahr and Kisilu Musya share the credit for this film, as much of the footage is filmed by Kisilu himself. Using a small camcorder, Kisilu records and reflects on his everyday life and his efforts to have an impact in the fight for the climate.
What’s special about it?
Kisilu’s devotion to expanding his community’s attempts to combat climate change, despite the fact that it puts him under even more financial strain, is incredibly admirable. So, too, is his refusal to leave the village like many of his peers in search of work, instead aiming to take up taxi driving on top of his farm work so he can continue to live with his family. The grainy home footage that Kisilu shoots is intimate and endearing, capturing warm laughs and sombre reflections, whilst the contrast with Dahr’s brilliantly shot Kenyan landscapes mirrors the film’s exploration of the vastly varying scales at play in the international community. Kisilu’s musings on what makes a good father, and reports of the influence that his own troubled upbringing has had on his kind nature and firm moral ethos, root notions of duty to the younger generation in deeply personal subject matter.
The film’s name is a term coined by highly influential 20th century environmentalist Aldo Leopold, referring to a holistic view of where one stands in relation to the interconnected elements of the ecosystem. The Arhuacos people are guardians of the Colombia’s highest mountain, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and through self imposed isolationism they strive to preserve this environment and the profound, ecocentric spirituality they draw from it. Director Alexander Hick is given unprecedented access to their most remote communities, journeying through the mountain range with a young spiritual leader and learning of the colonisation, industrialisation, climate change and armed conflicts that threaten The Arhuacos’ sacred land and way of life.
Who made it?
Alexander Hick (San Agustin: Low Tide in The Plastic Sea, Atl Tiachinolli) founded Flipping The Coin Films, a production company that produces ‘independent documentary films that engage the question of cinematic authorship’, creating ‘works of art that escape clichéd categorizations and predictable market trends.’
What’s special about it?
Meditative montages of mountains, storms, caves and lagoons are accompanied by eerie woodwinds and smatterings of melodic percussion that blend with sounds of wind, water and deep creaking to evoke the thrum and jumbled harmony of the landscape. The film traces the Arhuacos’ history of resilience, from their encounter with the first colonising whites, to the homecoming of an Arhuaco guerrillero following the laying-down of arms by the FARC. Solemn stories of forced religious conversions, of a people drawn into conflict by the unexplained assassinations of their leaders, and a land contaminated by mass graves are intercut with breathtaking images of the mountain range and passages describing the Arhuacos’ passionate dedication to preserving it. The pride that the Arhuacos take in their unique cosmogony and integral relationship to the natural environment is palpable, and a stark contrast to the reporters and tourists that briefly peer at their culture through smartphones and cameras. A powerful rumination on ‘that which soon will no longer exist, but whose gravity penetrates all.’