Dead Birds is a film about the Dani, a people dwelling in the Grand Valley of the Baliem high in the mountains of West Papua. When I shot the film in 1961, the Dani had a classic Neolithic culture. They were exceptional in the way they dedicated themselves to an elaborate system of ritual warfare. Neighboring groups, separated by uncultivated strips of no man’s land, engaged in frequent battles. When a warrior was killed in battle or died from a wound and even when a woman or a child lost their life in an enemy raid, the victors celebrated and the victims mourned. Because each death needed to be avenged, the balance was continually adjusted by taking life. There was no thought of wars ever ending, unless it rained or became dark. Wars were the best way they knew to keep a terrible harmony in a life that would be, without them, much drearier and unimaginable.
Robert Gardner was the Director of the Film Study Center at Harvard University from 1957 to 1997. He is known for his work in the field of non fiction film. He is an internationally renowned filmmaker and author whose works have entered the permanent canon of non-fiction filmmaking. In the 1970s Gardner produced and hosted Screening Room, a series of more than one hundred 90-minute programs on independent and experimental filmmaking. Robert Gardner received Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Harvard University. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His latest book, Making Dead Birds-Chronicle of a Film, will be published in October/November of 2007.