Family Variations & New Vision 2005 Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival Press Conference

Time: 2005, September 6, Tuesday, 1:00pm
Venue: Spot Cinema, Film House
Address: 18, Sec. 2, Chungshan N. Road, Taipei
Tel: 02-2511-7786
Organizer: Taiwan Association of Visual Ethnography


Tai-li Hu, President, Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival (Fellow Researcher, Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica)
Wen-ling Lin, Festival Director, Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival (Professor, Department of Communication and Technology, National Chiao Tung University)
Sponsoring organizations:
Council for Cultural Affairs
Government Information Office
The Ministry of Education
Council of Indigenous Peoples
The Commission of Mongolian
and Tibetan Affairs
Joint Organizations:
Zhi-Peng Tsao, Director, Museum of Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica
Chinese Taipei Film Archive (CTFA)
French Institute
Canadian Trade Office in Taipei
Domestic Directors and Producers:
Tueng Chuen Qin (Taiwan Public Television Service, the producer of the Formosa Aboriginal News Magazine )
Watan & Oloh (The Solicitude for the Takasago Volunteer)
Halugo Watan & Kaleh Kalahe (Kimbo in a Flash)
Li-Fang Lin (Buddha’s Sons)
Mickey Chen (Scars on Memory)
Hung-Zhou Je (The Story of Wai San Din Alluvion)
Ping-Hai Wu (Shi-Ting and Her Song & They Came From Overseas to Make a Home)
Chun-Hsin Hung (Farmers in the City)
Ming-Chieh Sung (Hey Jimmy)
Baunay Waton (Trakis na bnkis)
Tai-Li Hu (Stone Dream)
Activity Content:


Speech presentation of Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival,
Sponsoring Organizations & Joint Organizations
2. Screening the 2005 TIEFF preview trailer
3. Brief Introduction of festival theme and selected films.
Founded in 2001, biennial TIEFF (Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival) is the first international ethnographic film festival in Asia. With the media of ethnographic films, TIEFF aims at improving the communication and understanding between different cultures and ethnic groups. With 37 selected domestic and International films, this year’s TIEFF will hold in Chen- Shan-Mei cinema in Taipei (Sept 30 to Oct 4).
The theme of 2005 TIEFF is “Family Variations.” 2005 TIEFF has organized two major programs – “Family Variations” and “New Vision.”Under the category of “Family Variations,” there are four sub-programs – one retrospective program respectively pays homage to David and Judith MacDougall and John Marshall, and three theme subprograms –“Other Families,” “Alternative Families” and “Diversity and Family.” Moreover, in “New Vision” category, we feature three subprograms – “Indigenous Perspective,” “The Human Right and Autonomy” as well as “The Migration and Settlement.”
The selected film list will be announced in the press conference (There are more than 250 domestic and international entries.) TIEFF will also introduce above-mentioned programs and present some of the best films.
4. Presentation of selected domestic films and entry certification

5. Presentation of TIEFF’s official website and posters as well as ticket sale points
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Review: Dialogue Among Tribes

Brian Hioe
Editor at New Bloom, where this review first appeared.

The documentary “Dialogue Among Tribes” provides a look at the lives of Taiwanese indigenous laborers. Composed of vignettes drawn from a series of indigenous men that grew up after the KMT came to Taiwan, including the father of director Pan Zhi-Wei, the fishermen Du-Ya, the documentary does not have any set focus, except for thematics which can be drawn from the lives of the indigenous laborers whose stories are featured within. The film is highly evocative nonetheless. As the title of the film implies, these are individuals from a number of indigenous tribes, including the Amis, Atayal, and Kavalan.

What emerges from the commonalities shared between the indigenous men featured within the film, then, is the use of indigenous as cheap labor in high-risk industries in urban areas after the KMT to Taiwan, in spite of that these industries are vital for Taiwan’s economy. Such industries include the construction industry, food processing, farming, factories, and the fishing industry.

The men focused upon within the film are all of the same generation and as a result of having grown up after the KMT came to Taiwan, speak fluent, if sometimes accented Mandarin. Nevertheless, unsurprisingly, indigenous workers faced poverty and discrimination.

But Pan also shows that his interview subjects managed to find happiness and begin families despite the hardships they went through. Many of his subjects seem to have come to look at their hardships nostalgically, likely because after having overcome such hardships, these have become pleasant memories.

It is suggested obliquely in the film that the cheap labor of Taiwanese indigenous constituted a crucial part of Taiwanese development in the postwar period, with one interview subject commenting on how indigenous construction workers built thousands of buildings in Taipei. Having relocated to the city or otherwise left their hometowns, pensive shots of urban backdrops, industrial machinery, or fishing boats on the high sea suggest that modern alienation was what Taiwanese indigenous faced during this period of time. Indeed, modern alienation would be one of the major themes undergirding the film, with perhaps greater focus upon modernist alienation as what confronted indigenous workers in urban areas in the postwar period rather than, say, Han colonization–although there is some suggestion in the film that it is ironic for Taiwanese indigenous to made to work for Han to build their homes and provide them with the food they eat on the lands that they once lived on.

Apart from themes of alienation, the destruction of the environment due to industrial development is also connected in the film with the destruction of tradition. Recurrent shots of harbor construction in Taitung is shown to not only disrupt the lives of fishermen today, but can be seen as more broadly emblematic of the destruction of traditional ways of life that took place following industrial development under the Japanese or KMT and the camera at times dwells elegiacally upon shots of mountains or the sea. Several, but not all of the subjects of the film discuss the loss of traditional knowledge regarding hunting or fishing because traditional forms of hunting or fishing were uprooted by modern means of obtaining food. Traditional knowledge about traditional hunting methods has been forgotten in some communities, even by elders, due to long periods of disuse.

To this, Pan’s solution seems the titular dialogue among tribes, something gestured towards obliquely in the film. Because many indigenous tribes share common roots or have been dispersed across Taiwan following Han settlement, traditional knowledge which has been lost in some communities and be recovered through dialogue with communities which have preserved the knowledge lost in other communities. And, as seen in the closing of the film, Pan suggests that it will be a historical tragedy if this knowledge becomes lost and there is no way to gather together a dispersed peoples.

One wonders, then, if Pan’s film is call to action for indigenous youth of his generation. Near the end of the film, Pan rather telling juxtaposes Du-Ya’s children, presumably Pan’s own siblings, to Du-Ya himself. This is seemingly to show that while there has been loss of traditional knowledge from the generation before Du-Ya to men and women of Du-Ya’s generation, children of the generation after Du-Ya are unable to perform the hard labor that Du-Ya routinely does. It remains to be seen as to what a “dialogue among tribes” for young indigenous today will consist of, then.

Watch the trailer for Dialogue Among Tribes.

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Review: Path of Destiny

Brian Hioe
Editor at New Bloom, where this review first appeared.

Yang Chun-Kai’s “Path of Destiny” (不得不上路) would be a deft evocation of the challenges facing preservation of indigenous tradition in Taiwan. Namely, even in those rare cases in which young people actively aim to participate in traditions which may soon be lost, the trend may be irreversible. And given inescapable social tensions between modernity and tradition, adherence to tradition demands great personal sacrifice.

The main focus of “Path of Destiny” is Panay Mulu, the youngest member of a group of Sikaway mediums who carry out ceremonies throughout the year to heal sickness and call upon the gods. The other members of this group are elderly, the much younger Panay having originally joined the group as part of scholarly research into Sikawasay tradition, and subsequently stayed with the group for over twenty years. Seeing as the group of Sikawasay the film focuses upon has already lost many of its members to age over the course of the twenty years Panay has been with the group, it is suggested in the film that Panay may ultimately be the last of this group of Sikawasay.

The challenges of preserving tradition, then, are many. It is not merely lack of interest from young people which leads to difficulties in carrying on Sikawasay traditions. Namely, the religious rites of the Sikawasay are highly demanding, requiring fasting, avoidance of certain foods and avoiding contact with members of the opposite sex during certain parts of the year. As Panay points out, it is very difficult to preserve such traditions in contemporary society, seeing as Sikawasay rites require Panay to spend significant time away from work and few outsiders understand such traditions. Accordingly, although Panay has gone out of her way to document Sikawasay song and religious rites, it seems that there are few who take interest in such matters to as in-depth a manner as Panay, who whose original interest in preserving Sikaway tradition has required a great deal of self-sacrifice.

Panay herself has to balance her teaching duties along with her responsibilities. And although Sikawasay were a quintessential part of traditional Amis religious practices, carrying out rites yearly, and performing ceremonies to heal the sick, Sikawasay rites are stigmatized by Amis who have converted to Christianity, referring to practitioners of Sikawasay rites as “witches.” Panay herself occupies a precarious position with members of her Christian family, who fear that Panay may suffer damnation through adherence to a non-Christian religious practices deemed to be witchcraft. Indeed, this would be a common phenomenon among indigenous young people that become interested in their cultural heritage, seeing as they may face being ostracized from parents who have converted to Christianity, as well as that indigenous who converted to Christianity have in some cases gone out of their way to destroy traces of indigenous tradition and religious practices as idolatry.

Likewise, apart from facing many of the practitioners of Sikaway are in poor health, something which may be exacerbated by their continuing to practice Sikawasay. Despite their age, healing the sick brings them into frequent contact with disease, and some of the religious ceremonies of the Sikawasay are highly physical taxing, particularly for the elderly. Sikawasay rites also require drinking large amounts of rice wine as a way to come into contact with the gods, and such frequent drinking no doubt wears at their health. The members of the Sikawasay group that Panay is part of all freely acknowledge that they have considered giving up Sikawasay many times, but have ultimately stuck with it for decades. Panay herself mentions that she has thought about giving up in order to lead a less physically taxing life. Nevertheless, it is clear from the film, that this shared struggle has also built strong ties between Panay and her fellow Sikawasay practitioners, despite the age difference. And many indigenous, both young and old, cite the importance of Sikawasay to the Amis and the need to support such traditions and ensure that they are not lost.

“Path of Destiny,” then, is able to skillfully balance the many-sided nature of what may otherwise seem like the simple and positive good of attempting to preserve tradition before it is lost. For while it may be the series of historical tragedies wrought by Han colonialism in Taiwan which led to the destruction of many indigenous traditions, it may demand further sacrifice in the present to preserve these traditions. And there is ultimately no easy answers to such quandaries facing those who seek to preserve tradition before it is lost.

Watch the trailer for Path of Destiny.

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Review: The Woods Dreams are Made of

DJ W. Hatfield

Associate Professor of History and Anthropology

Berklee College of Music

On Places of Public Dreaming: Claire Simon’s The Woods Dreams are Made of

In his 1983 novel Crystal Boys 《孽子》Pai Hsien-Yong 白先勇 described Taipei’s New Park as “our hidden kingdom in darkness” 「我們黑暗王國」— at night, with the gates shut, this real space behind walls somehow became a fantasy land of imagined freedoms that could not be entertained, let alone realized, in daylight. Claire Simon’s The Woods Dreams are Made of explores a year in the life of what Simon calls an “accessible form of Paradise Lost,” an urban woods in which various dreams and life projects can take root. As in Pai’s work, the film provides an occasion for us to consider the relationship between space and urban subjectivity.

Simon depicts the Bois de Vincennes as a magnanimous and surprising character, whose changes throughout the seasons and ability to befriend nearly every urban denizen in need of respite give the woods a universal character. Within the woods, we will find tired nannies resting their feet, one eye still on the stroller, as well as tireless cyclists racing about a track (not to mention the exhibitionists itching to flash the cyclists as they pass). The woods will play host to everyone who comes here. A grandmother–you might call her homeless, but it’s not so clear cut–explains how she arranges her life to remain in her tent hidden within the woods, evading intervention of welfare agencies. She prepares for a visit from her grandchildren, who will see her soon, if her encampment is not discovered and removed by park wardens. If she comes to the woods for freedom, others see it as a place of challenge and work. Sex workers wait in the woods for clients. Sport fishermen show off the catch before releasing it. Some who come here celebrate. Others rest. For everyone, the Bois de Vincennes exists within the city, but somehow persists outside. Even as a place of trade, it traffics in dreams. It is both part of the normally expected urban infrastructure and radically other. Like other heterotopias, the woods present us with a paradox. They are a place to escape urban life but also recreate it, both in the diverse texture of park visitors (not to mention those who might not visit), and in the sense that the park functions to maintain urban spatial and class distinctions: Paradise Planned? Does the park ever really deliver on its promise for escape? Let our questions fall silent among the snow covered pathways. Spring will return soon, the cyclists and the exhibitionists await its promise.

The Bois de Vincennes appears as character in the film. Yet Simon is also a skillful interviewer, who allows visitors to the park to describe their relationship to the woods, telling us how their visits connect to the wider fabric of their lives. Although the film never takes us away from the park, we get a sense of the worlds to which the visitors return, some refreshed, others with anxiety. The film also gives us a sense of the woods’ history and fragility. The Bois de Vincennes became a public resource as the result of historical coincidences, they have housed several facilities including a university, and they require a great deal of work to maintain. What is at stake in public investment in this communal escape from the city?

In asking these questions, Simon gives us space to think about urban space more broadly. Those of us old enough to remember that the 2/28 Peace Park was once New Park may also recall Pai Hsien-Yong’s “kingdom in darkness.” Today a light show fountain plays nearby the lotus pond. From the 1960s until the late 1990s, this space was a hidden–but widely known–rendezvous for gay men. Removal of park walls and the creation of the 2/28 Memorial provided public goods. Nonetheless, we might ask what possibilities and histories have been lost as the park changed designations. If places are not just given, but practiced, we could also ask, along with a man cruising the woods in Simon’s film, what kinds of relationships–to other people, nature, and place–are lost when chat and hookup apps displace the practices of ambling, watching, and waiting that once defined a park. Should there be some indication of New Park’s former life? Does a Taiwan which now congratulates itself on its progressive approach to LGBTQ rights still want to remember this hidden kingdom? Do Taiwanese LGBTQ people themselves?

The Woods Dreams are Made of provokes us to discuss the history of urban green spaces, some of which housed communities that have since been demolished and forgotten. The history of the Bois de Vincennes–from royal hunting preserve and palace lands, to military training ground, and finally public park–differs greatly from Taipei’s parks. However, after viewing Simon’s film we might wish to come to terms with the ways that Taipei’s parks have required urban spaces to be “repurposed” or “redeveloped.” What kinds of practices of urban planning, consumption, real estate, and recreation have produced the Taipei we see today? Is there still space in this Taipei for the kind of freedom Simon’s film suggests? Is this freedom purchased with the marginalization of communities that once lived on the grounds of Da An Forest Park and other urban oases? To ask these questions is not to doubt the value of urban green spaces. Rather, Simon’s film encourages us to understand more clearly how we might adjudicate among competing values as we attempt to build a more open and verdant city.

More than posing questions, Simon’s poetic and multivocal film is an invitation to dream along with the woods. Replete with humour and a sense for the varied coincidences that enrich urban life, The Woods Dreams are Made of will encourage those who watch it to be curious about the lives of those they see running the track around Da An Forest Park and to appreciate the work needed to maintain such fragile urban green spaces. Yet–and most importantly–we might dream along with the Bois de Vincennes about a city whose arms are large enough to house all of us.

Watch the trailer for The Woods Dreams Are Made Of.

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Review: The Third Shore

Dr. Teri J. Silvio
Institute of Ethnology Academia Sinica

“When I’m here, I miss there; when I’m there I miss here.”

The Third Shore is a fascinating film in which the relationships among culture, history, and personal identity are explored. Concrete objects take on layers of significance, and the answer to each question reveals a deeper mystery. It deals directly with the issue of relations between indigenous peoples and settlers in the Amazon, but the characters’ alienation and moments of connection probably resonate with culturally displaced viewers everywhere.

The film gives us glimpses into two men who cross between settler and indigenous cultures from opposite directions. Director Fabian Remy is first fascinated when he comes across the story of João da Luz, the child of one of the first settler families in the region who was captured in 1945, at the age of 10, in a raid by a group of Kayapo. He was taken back to the Kayapo village, where he was adopted into a chief’s family, given a new name, Kramura, and taught Kayapo language and customs. Then, when he was 18, the Villas-Bȏas brothers found him during one of their reconnaissance trips up the Xingu River, and returned him to his biological sister and brother-in-law in the settler community. When Remy tried to find João/Kramura to interview him in 2005, he was too late – João/Kramura had died just a few months before Remy located his relatives. Years later, Remy is still captivated by this story, and sets off again to trace the history of João/Kramura, this time with a companion, his friend Thini-a. Thini-a is a member of the Fulni-ȏ tribe, but left his village at the age of 15, and has lived mostly in large cities ever since.

“The more you discover things, the more you know, the more you suffer.”

As Remy and Thini-a interview João/Kramura’s two sets of remaining kin, the life that we glimpse is rarely a happy one. His Kayapo family takes them to João’s grave and recall his initiation ceremony. His settler family removed his lip plug, but say that he never really learned Portuguese, that he always missed the Kayapo. His Kayapo friends would travel hundreds of kilometers to visit him, and he would leave with them for weeks.

Remy and Thini-a’s last stop is the frontier town of Sao Jose, a city that grew up on the border of the Xingu reservation area and the white settlements, where João/Kramura spent much of his later life. The people there remember him, he would come and work on the ferry until he had enough money to buy tobacco and other goods, and then go back to the Kayapo for a while. Before they leave, Remy and Thini-a are able to locate his Brazilian ID, acquired late in life, and we see João’s face for the first time. But the formal ID reveals very little about the man, except for the dates of his birth and death.

If João remains mysterious because he is dead and his story can only be approached through the memories of others, Thini-a remains mysterious too. The emotional trajectory of João/Kramura’s story is revealed largely through the point of view of Thini-a (the director does not appear in the film, and the narrative he provides in voice-overs is primarily factual). Thini-a is a taciturn man, but when he speaks he is insightful, and his silences are eloquent themselves. His life is full of contradictions. He works teaching about indigenous culture in schools in Rio, yet he has not been back to his village to participate in the Ouricuri ritual for ten years. His uncles were killed by Portuguese ranchers, yet he sings Portuguese folk songs about the trials of being a rancher with feeling. He says he saw emotional closeness in the crowded urban apartment buildings of Brasilia; he sees sadness in the faces at a dance party. When questioned about these contradictions, he simply says, “My path is not your path.”

The film ends with the image of Thini-a on the ferry across the Xingu, the same route on which João/Kramura worked, which Remy sees as an obvious symbol for the lives of both men, shuttling between indigenous and settler cultures. Thini-a has decided to go back to his village to participate in the Ouricuri ritual for the first time in over ten years. Remy asks if he can film it, Thini-a says no.

The indigenous people of the Amazon have long been an object of study by anthropologists, and they have been particularly important in the recent “ontological turn” in anthropology. This film is particularly interesting because it offers both an exploration and a critique of the idea that the worlds of indigenous people and settlers are incommensurable. On the one hand, we see that for many indigenous people today, it is impossible to live in a purely indigenous world. Border-crossing is not only possible but often necessary, both practically and emotionally. On the other hand, it is clear that much of the suffering that both João/Kramura and Thini-a feel comes from their experience of incommensurability. The Third Shore does not try, as many ethnographic films do, to approach indigenous worldviews through the recording of ritual, or, as other ethnographic films do, to focus on the conflict between indigenous and settler worlds in terms of the political struggles of indigenous communities. It does not really spend much time on the content of Kayapo or Fulni-ȏ beliefs. Rather, it tries to show us the emotional and epistemological consequences of living between different worlds. Thini-a’s final refusal may not only be a demand that the sacred and secret nature of the ritual be respected. It may also be a demand that we acknowledge that the world constructed through ritual, and the part of himself that lives in that world, may not be graspable through the mediation of ethnographic film.

Watch the trailer for The Third Shore.

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Review: Faber Navalis

Gabriele de Seta

Faber Navalis is a movie about the embodied craftiness of boat-making. In the mobile camera-eye of Maurizio Borriello, the film-maker is also the faber navalis or ‘maker of ships’, at the same time director and directed, both silent artisan and self-aware documentarist. Condensed in thirty minutes of carefully spliced shots and intimate sounds is a compressed timeline of manual labor, wood and image treated as raw materials with symmetrical care. Just like each of the poetically framed scenes composing this documentary, an individual plank of wood is measured, marked, cut, contoured, sanded, polished, bent, transported and fixed into place. After half an hour of entrancing woodwork, as the creaking plank is being hammered into its matching gap on a side of the ship, one can imagine Borriello’s parallel work on the multitrack interface of a video-editing software, each audio and video track a painstakingly but instinctively shaped plank composing the waterproof hull of this documentary.

Trained as an anthropologist and working on a marine ethnography in post-Tsunami Indonesia, Maurizio Borriello resorted to learn the art of boatbuilding in order to understand the transmission of the non-verbal repertoires of knowledge involved in this artisanal practice. Years later, while working on the restoration of a Norwegian wooden ship recognized as historical maritime treasure, Borriello decides to add one more tool to his practice: a video camera. This camera follows the story of a single wooden plank, from the dismantling of a old and rotten ship hull to the gradual assembling of a new vessel. The director-artisan orchestrates his documentary performance through fixed lens angles, sometimes perched on the corners of his deserted workshop, other times mounted on moving cranes, trolley carts, circular saws or even the plank itself, challenging the roles of objects and subjects, and distributing agency through embodied perspectives. What is it like to be a piece of wood on its journey from tree to boat?

Sound is integral to the experience of Faber Navalis, and offers a counterpoint to the visual movement between detailed close-ups, dynamic perspectival shots and wider angles. Borriello chooses to mix his audio according to a crisp and focused directional aesthetic – while the artisan-director is alone and doesn’t say a word throughout the movie, everything sounds: the wood itself, human hands, tools and machinery, the workshop rooms through reverb and resonances. While the camera is manipulated as nothing more than another woodworking tool, microphones are used to capture the peaks of rhythmic hammering, the textures of sandpaper friction, the echo trails of sawing blades. Sound here is not merely diegetic ambience, but an unapologetically material aural structure that buttresses the fleeting passage of images. For Maurizio Borriello, documentaries are vessels, and Faber Navalis floats effortlessly over its own running time, compressing the practical knowledge of artisanal practice into a personal and affecting example of sensory ethnography.

Watch the trailer for Faber Navalis.

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Review: Secrets of the Tribe

Anthropology Beyond the Pale : Reviewing Secrets of the Tribe


Watching the Jose Padilha directed film Secrets of the Tribe (2010) is deeply troubling. Secrets of the Tribe is about professional anthropological misconduct and its consequences for the Yanomami (also called Ya̧nomamö or Yanomama). Although extent professional association and university investigations have so far passed no final judgment on wrongdoing on the part of the anthropologists, Secrets of the Tribe suggests the Yanomami engagement with anthropology has not been in the best interests of the Yanomami. The way the film makes its point is to show how the Yanomami talk about the anthropologists, how the anthropologists talk about the Yanomami, and how anthropologists talk about anthropologists. (Sadly, the film does not show how the Yanomami talk with Yanomami about anthropologists.) Viewing the film suggests to me that the anthropology discipline’s own culture of language use contributed to the abuses the film seeks to expose and that abuse will be piled upon abuse unless anthropologists learn how to talk with each other.

It is common knowledge that the Yanomami are dispersed in small settlements along the Orinoco and Amazon river basins in southern Venezuela and the extreme north of Brazil and have a population of somewhere between 15,000 to 30,000 people. Classification of the language remains uncertain. Traditional livelihood is through hunting, fishing, and horticulture. The small Yanomami settlements are located in rough terrain remote from major urban areas and intensive contact between the Yanomami and outsiders came relatively late and long remained sporadic. In the last half of the Twentieth Century, intensifying outside contact took four main forms: gold prospectors, missionaries, anthropologists, and non-governmental agencies. Although not entirely absent, the government presence has often been weak and policies concerning assimilation versus preservation have fluctuated.

The last half-century of contact between the Yanomami and the outside world has not gone peacefully. First, as documented in Jan Rocha’s Murder in the Rain Forest: the Yamomami, the Gold Miners and the Rain Forest (1999), a gold rush that began in the late 1970s eventually resulted in serious environmental destruction, armed conflict between gold miners and the Yanomami, and the introduction of disease. Second, as described in Patrick Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon (2000), the renowned anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon and the geneticist James V. Neel became central figures in a high profile case of alleged professional ethical misconduct. Chagnon was author of the undergraduate classic ethnography Yanomano: The Fierce People (1968), and collaborated with the deceased Timothy Ash for the equally influential ethnographic film The Axe Fight (1975). James V. Neel, also now deceased, was geneticist who played a leading role in the establishment of that field in the United States in the 1950s and collaborated with Chagnon in collection of blood samples and inoculation of some Yanomami against a measles outbreak where it was unclear at the time whether they unwittingly helped to spread the disease and are thus culpable in the deaths of Yanomami participants in their research.

All of this and much more were first recounted in-depth in Patrick Tierney’s monograph Darkness in El Dorado. Response to the volume began even before its publication. After reading the galley proofs, Amazonia specialists Terence Turner (Cornell University) and Leslie Sponsel (University of Hawaii) wrote a famous “confidential” email to representatives at the American Anthropological Association. That email warned officials of the American Anthropological Association of the impending publication of Patrick Tierney’s book and its possible ramifications to anthropology. Surprising only to its authors, the email immediately circled the globe.

A task force appointed by the American Anthropological Association investigated allegations made against anthropologists discussed in Tierney’s monograph and the Executive Board initially accepted the judgments against certain anthropologists and their field research practices (AAA 2002). Eventually, however, the executive board rescinded acceptance of the El Dorado Task Force Report after a vote to do was passed by the membership of the American Anthropological Association (2005). Inquiries into possible unethical conduct were conducted elsewhere, such as of James V. Neel at the University of Michigan (Cantor 2000).

In sum, it is important to note that all allegations by all professional organizations and universities have reported no professional misconduct by any of the allegations of impropriety in the book Darkness in El Dorado. Furthermore, Darkness in El Dorado author Patrick Tierney was cited in many of these reports with a degree of shoddy and biased research methods that likewise calls his own ethnical standards into question. The film Secrets of the Tribe both covers much of the same ground as the book Darkness in El Diablo, yet passes lightly over the questions raised about the allegations raised about the book itself. Nonetheless, the film still substantiates and extends certain allegations of anthropological wrongdoing originally raised in the Patrick Tierney book.

Public discussion of Secrets of the Tribe and its subject has already been extensive, both in and out of the discipline of anthropology. After watching this film, even sympathetic views of what anthropologists did in the name of anthropology will be hard put to defend all of what happened. Probably the most damning account in the film is that of the French linguist Jacques Lizot. First hand accounts are given in the film charging that Jacques Lizot exchanged gifts for sex with young boys. He is now sought on “an unrelated molestation charge” by the French police and is believed to be hiding out in Morocco (Shari Kizirian 2011). There is no point in quibbling over whether at least some anthropologists violated professional ethics in Yanomami research.

Still, as depicted in Secrets of the Tribe, even unsympathetic commentators on anthropological ethics used in Yanomami research can themselves be condemned for their own unethical professional conduct. The makers of the film are acutely aware of this irony. The famous jazz song played in the background at the end of the film—Louis Armstrong’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”—well captures this irony. It is songs about a couple that, through disagreement over the proper pronunciation of the word “tomato,” decide to call off their wedding. The lesson seems to be that maybe anthropologists have similar problems with communication with each other.

The film Secrets of the Tribe provides a venue for those Yanomami who appeared in the film to give voice to Yanomami suffering and bitterness as a result of misconduct by anthropologists. Although it is impossible to judge how representative these Yanomami spokespeople are of the Yanomami experience of anthropology as a whole and, as mentioned, we miss what the Yanomami say among themselves about the anthropologists, the film certainly convinces the viewer of the authenticity of their witnessing. The film likewise also epitomizes the sensibilities of those who suffered at the hands of anthropology elsewhere in the world and perhaps have not had the same opportunity to bear witness. In short, there is more than enough reason in this film as representative of the voices of those wronged by anthropology to convince an anthropologist who is currently employed in the field to question whether he or she has taken a wrong turn in choice of professional career, while there is even more reason for a young scholar to turn away from the field before it is too late.

Worse still, there is no “and yet” silver lining to what happened. The scandal provoked a split in anthropology. Of those involved in the alleged misconduct, some changed fields to align themselves with behavioral scientists or took other steps to distance themselves from professional anthropology. The mission of anthropology is thus being pursued by some with other professional affiliations and thus outside of the professional ethics agreed upon by professional anthropological associations. Secrets of the Tribe does a good job of letting malcontent former anthropologists give voice to their dissatisfaction with the very language in which anthropology is now being conducted. The decision of these former anthropologists was “to call the whole thing off.”

Of those involved in leveling charges of misconduct in anthropological research on the Yanomami, they retain their professional affiliations with the American Anthropological Association, yet there is ample reason to feel unease at their own professional conduct in alerting the association of to the alleged misconduct. The film describes the confidential email where the anthropologists Terence Turner and Leslie Sponsel raise comparisons with the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness, and add in parentheses the damning disclaimer “though not, perhaps, a Josef Mengele” (quoted in Geertz 2010: 213). Mere mention of Josef Mengele in this email—the “Angel of Death who performed “experiments” of unbelievable cruelty on prisoners in Nazi Germany death camps—is a damning reflection upon the ethical character of the accusers themselves. Disclaiming the resemblance and claiming that the communication was confidential is no excuse for this sort of language.

Those who choose to continue in anthropology should come away chastened by the tragic events, the resulting scandal, and even how the scandal was exposed and condemned. My own personal emphasis is on what can be done by professional anthropologists and students to improve the quality of communication over ethical issues in the conduct of anthropology before things go wrong. That is, a dialogue about anticipating ethical issues seems more promising—from what is learned from events described in Secrets of the Tribe—than exclusively focusing on how to judge when something goes wrong. This is not to say that professional standards should not be set and that established procedures for resolving through institutional adjudication charges of ethical misconduct put aside. It is to say, however, that a more proactive approach will give hope to preventing ethnical misconduct in anthropology. For that to happen, however, one has to also hope that the ordinary course of professional and collegial conduct in everyday disciplinary communication takes a turn for the better.

Put bluntly, if the film Secrets of the Tribe is any indication, anthropologists need to change how they talk. This change needs to take place in class, in faculty meetings, in reviews, and even in annual meetings of anthropology associations. The language in which anthropology as a profession is nowadays conducted leaves little hope about effective communication about ethical conduct during fieldwork. If anthropologists cannot talk among themselves, anthropology will remain beyond the pale of professional ethics. If this is to be, then it would be better to turn out the lights and let other disciplines take over the task of anthropology’s self-designated task of studying humanity in full.

[References Cited]:
American Anthropological Association. 2005. “American Anthropological Association Executive Board Rescinds Acceptance of El Dorado Task Force Report.”
American Anthropological Association. 2002. El Dorado Task Force Papers.
Two volumes., Timothy and Napoleon Chagnon, directors. 1975. The Axe Fight. Watertown MA: Documentary Educational Resources.
Cantor, Nancy. 2000. “Statement from University of Michigan Provost Nancy Cantor on the book, ‘Darkness in El Dorado,’ by Patrick Tierney, published by W.W. Norton and Co.

Chagnon, Napoleon. 1968.Yanomano: The Fierce People. New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston.

Geertz, Clifford. 2010 [2001]. On the Devastation of the Amazon. In Life Among the Anthros and Other Essays. Fred Inglis, ed. Pp 123-134. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Kizirian, Shari. 2011. Anthropologists Behaving Badly: Jose Padilha’s ‘Secrets of the Tribe’ Does Some Digging of Its Own. Documentary.

Rocha, Jan. 1999. Murder in the Rain Forest: the Yamomami, the Gold Miners and the Rain Forest. London: Latin America Bureau.

Tierney, Patrick. 2000. Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.

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Review: Funeral Season

Lancit,Matthew. Funeral season (la saison des funerailles): marking death in Cameroon. DVD, English subtitles, 2010

Matthew Lancit is a young Canadian filmmaker who went to Cameroon to be with his French girlfriend. She was working in the Bamileke town of Dschang, and as it happens their flat was next door to the morgue. One thing led to another and the result is a film about ways of dealing with the dead in the ever-evolving complex of ‘Bamileke Tradition’. This is more concerned with secondary funerals rather than burials (something that morgues have changed), which can happen many, many years after a person has died. These ‘cry dies’ (to use the Cameroonian pidgin English) or ‘funerailles’ (as they are called in Cameroonian French) punctuate the dry season months every year. They can only occur once the family, friends, associated savings societies (tontines or rotating credit societies), and church and cult associations (where relevant depending on the affiliations of the deceased and surviving kin) have accumulated enough money to pay for celebrations lavish enough for the person concerned. In some cases nothing can (should) be done until the family (on behalf of the deceased) has built a house in the natal village, and one cannot commemorate a person until their own parents have been themselves commemorated. It is easy to see how an accumulation of commemorative debt can pile up on a family group.

Lancit is not an anthropologist and makes no claim to be one. What his film captures is both the joyous (and somewhat chaotic) exuberance of the organization of ‘traditional’ events in Cameroon and also the feel for how chains of connection get established which shape what happens in fieldwork. He goes to see a traditional doctor (he uses the term ‘witch doctor’) but spends more time talking to his interpreter than the man he was supposed to be interviewing. So he ends up going to the interpreter’s home village. Similarly his tailor and a motorcycle taxi driver end up being interviewed and taking him to funerals. We arrive in one village to interview the chief on the night his installation is being completed, so we hear the dancing but cannot see it, although later we attend the public festivities that mark the completion of the succession. (The new chief makes a speech in English lamenting the demise of tradition and the local language.)

Lancit is a player in all this. His Jewishness features as part of what makes him different from his girlfriend and other ‘Europeans’. We see him as an ingenue struggling with poor French and discussing what is happening and why people are so concerned to do this. He is also struggling with his own memories, his own dead, so we see stills of the Cameroonian dead and then a clip of a video from his Bar Mitzvah and a still of his now dead uncle (whom he is said to resemble).

Overall I enjoyed this film and can see a role for it in teaching since it so well conveys the character and feeling of its topic. It asks interesting questions yet does not pretend to be more than it is.

David Zeitlyn University of Oxford Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 17, 632-680 © RoyalAnthropological

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Review: There Once Was An Island

Peter Calde

Unsensational, intimate and quietly passionate, March’s meticulously observed examination of the crisis facing the small atoll of Takuu is an object lesson in patient documentary film-making .

March’s first documentary feature, the excellent Allie Eagle and Me, traced the pioneering feminist artist’s journey from lesbian separatist to fundamentalist Christian.

For this film, she made two trips to the atoll, 250km northeast of the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, charting the inexorable rise of the oceans swallowing the island and compiling a lucid, compelling and often visually ravishing portrait of Takuu life.

The sea is a constant, menacing presence in the film but, March’s camera finds the ineffable beauty in the environment too, sharpening the poignancy of the loss happening before her (and our) eyes.

More important she shows plainly what is at stake for the islanders as they debate what they should do. Ethnically and culturally Polynesian in a Melanesian country, they are far from comfortable with the plans to relocate them to the mainland – to a plantation, far from the sea and surrounded by a decade-long civil war. The proposal, which seems to be not much more than bureaucratic hot air in any case, takes no account of the cost in economic, never mind cultural, terms of uprooting a people from their ancestral home.

Rising oceans will displace hundreds of millions over the next half century and Takuu is the canary in climate change’s coal mine. This sobering and important film is a warning to the world, if only it would listen.

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Review: Preface Visual Exploration of the Body and Soul

Hu Tai-Li (Festival President, TIEFF 2009)

Launched in 2001, the biennial Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival (TIEFF) is holding its fifth installment this year. Previous festivals explored the themes of Island Odyssey, Migration Story, Family Variation, and Indigenous Voices, while TIEFF 2009 will delve into the central theme of Body and Soul.

This year’s festival director and I have both dealt with the recent losses of loved ones, so we share a deep understanding of illness and death. When she proposed physical healing as a potential theme to the film festival organizing committee, I suggested that the theme also incorporate the soul as well. In cultures around the world, the soul is always involved in discussions of physical illness and death. We received a total of 300 submissions of various themes from Taiwan and countries around the world. 19 of the final 34 films chosen for screening at TIEFF 2009 fit into the theme of Body and Soul.

Arguably, the most difficult events people face in their lives are illness and death. Each culture has its own traditional views on illness and healing practices, with many relying on shamans who can communicate with spirits to drive out illness and deal with souls. At TIEFF 2009, five engaging films feature shamans. First, in the Looking Back section of the festival, A Balinese Trance Seance is a collaboration between the late ethnographic documentary director Timothy Asch and anthropologist Linda Connor filmed in Bali. The pair also worked together on Releasing the SpiritsA Village Cremation in Bali to document a mass cremation ceremony held to release the spirits of the deceased to be reborn in its next body. We have also invited famous visual anthropologist Karl Heider to head the post-viewing discussion session.

In the four other films (BetweenFate of The LhapaThe ShadowLiving with the Invisibles), we meet Korean shamans, Tibetan shamans exiled to Nepal, Indonesian Wana shamans, and Moroccan spirit mediums who all chant and beat drums to cure their patients. Even in modern society, when western medicine seems to be at a loss, people still look to their traditional cultures and seek out the power of alternative healing. Continuing in this year’s theme, the festival also features three extremely moving films about facing death, FAMILYHard Good Life and Trekking in Wind and Rain. Although their loved one may be gone, surviving family and friends continue to talk to the spirit of the deceased as they sing and seek comfort in funeral and burial ceremonies. FAMILY, one of the festival’s opening films, depicts bereaved parents who decide to donate their beloved son’s body to serve as a teaching cadaver at a hospital. Their love spurs them to make this sacrifice, allowing their son to contribute even after his death.

Films selected to represent this year’s theme reflect many types of disabilities and illnesses, including leprosy (Korea’s Lady Camellia and Taiwan’s Leprous Life), cancer (Transparent Time, Hard Good Life 2), deafness (Voices from EL Sayed), blindness (Bilal), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a.k.a., ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, (Seeing Freezing Life-The Most Intimate Computer Family), mental illness (People Say I’m Crazy), HIV and AIDS (Native Canadian The Long Walk and Swaziland’s Today the Hawk Takes One Chick). Although some of the sufferers were separated from their communities due to their illnesses, they ultimately created an unbreakable bond not only with their own families, but with society as a whole, influencing all those they met. The opening film, Today the Hawk Takes One Chick, struck us with its portrayal of the high mortality rate in some African villages caused by HIV, while the majority of children orphaned by the disease must rely on their grandmothers as they face a precarious future.

Aboriginal society always is a major focus of TIEFF and we also hope to see more native people pick up video cameras to record their own cultures. Following the introduction of Hopi director Victor Masayesva and Taiwanese Amis director Mayaw Biho at the last TIEFF, this year we are presenting two works by Pilin Yabu, a member of Taiwan’s Atayal Tribe. The Stories of Rainbow depicts elders with tattooed faces and ancestral spirits, while Through Thousands Years (one of the festival’s closing films) is a new film describing the experiences of a non-aboriginal Han Chinese film crew as they interact with the Atayal Tribe. Featured films also include Orchid Island (Lanyu) ’s Tau Tribe member Hsieh Fu-mei’s (謝福美) first film Men’s Ocean, Women’s Calla Lily Field, which will be screened together with Rowing the Cinat. While also about Orchid Island, the second was filmed by a Han Chinese director providing a different perspective. Additional films featured at TIEFF 2009 chronicling ethnic minorities directed by members of those groups include Mu Xiaoqiao’s (木小橋) outstanding Trekking in Wind and Rain about the Nakhi of China and Ellen-Astri Lundby’s Suddenly Sami about Norway’s SamiFilmed by local residents, The Lost Buddha, explores the culture of the Northern Shaanxi province, while truly capturing the unique spirit of the area. Also, a Hakka cameraman chronicles Taiwan’s Hakka culture in Small Steps on a Long Road.

French director Martine Journet (filmed Indonesian Wana shaman) and Australian director Tom Murray (filmed the ceremonial culture of Australia’s Yolngu people), accomplished filmmakers who have both spent long-periods of time living in aboriginal societies, once again have films featured at TIEFF and have again been invited to attend the film festival. Tom Murray’s new film In My Father’s Country (one of the festival’s closing films) shows the assault from the outside world faced by Australia’s Yolngu culture and the elders’ touching battle to teach the tribe’s young people their traditional rituals and culture. The Taiwanese selection, Sing It!, records a school principal of the Bunun Tribe who works to pass on traditional Bunun songs to the tribe’s children. The Sixth Resettlement, a work from mainland China, interweaves black and white footage from a 1960’s documentary with modern footage to document the lives of the Kucong people in their traditional hunter-gatherer society caught up in a wrenching cycle of repeated resettlement and escape back to their original homes as they face their sixth resettlement. In Search of the Hamat’sa: A Tale of Headhunting, uses Anthropologist Franz Boas’ 1894 witnessing of the Canadian Kwakiutl hamatsa, or cannibal dance, and Edward Curtis 1914 film as a jumping off point to research the history and significance of the dance. The film shows how interaction between anthropologists, museums, and native peoples led to the development of the modern ritual.

Two films in this year’s festival touch on how traditional culture can affect and restrict women. Desert Brides depicts the difficulties faced by Israel’s Bedouin women living in a society where polygamy is still prevalent. Menstruation is a look at how Nepalese women living in Himalayan mountain villages are viewed as being unclean during their monthly period and are traditionally forced to live apart from society in unsanitary huts.

Ethnographic film festivals often serve as a forum to discover and highlight a director’s first work. When an individual first picks up a video camera, it is often easiest to point the lens at his or her own family. However, producing an intimate, relevant film is not easy. At this year’s film festival Hsieh Fu-mei (謝福美), a member of Orchid Island’s Tau Tribe, used her parents as subjects of her first film Men’s Ocean, Women’s Calla Lily Field. Chen Hsin-yi’s The Captive exposes her father’s secret—he once fought for the Communist army and was a prisoner of war. The film is a moving depiction of the conflict and mutual support between father and daughter and husband and wife.

There are two films that lie outside of this year’s theme that are nevertheless especially rich in cultural significance, Jerusalem(s) and Patrasche, a Dog of Flanders, Made in Japan. In a world where travel has allowed people from different backgrounds to shuttle across the globe, these two films show us the variety of ideas and interpretations that different cultures and religions can have on the same subject. When Belgians change the appearance of Patrasche and his owner to better fit Japanese tourists’ image of the characters gleaned from a popular animated feature, they blur the line between cultural reality and fantasy. TIEFF 2009 features a variety of films that will expand our horizons while nourishing our bodies and souls.

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