Preview: Margaret Mead Film Festival

Manapanmirr, in Christmas Spirit (Paul Gurrumuruwuy; Fiona Yangathu; Jennifer Deger; David Mackenzie, 2012)

According to the festival program, “the complex sorrows and joys of Christmas in northeast Arnhem Land, one of the largest and most isolated tracts of Aboriginal land in Australia, are imbued with the transformative cycle of life, death, and rebirth. This film examines how stories first brought by missionaries in the mid-20th century have become the basis for celebrating the enduring place of the ancestral in the modern world. Manapanmirr, an expression that refers to a state of being joined or brought together, is a theme that pervades this moving film, which grew out of the filmmakers' ongoing explorations of Yolngu image-making and aesthetics, a two-decade project of creative collaboration with Yolngu artists and performers.”

“It’s the only Australian entry to the festival and only Australian Indigenous film in the festival,” Ginsburg says from NYC. “What’s very exciting about this film is that it’s a very collaborative project. Jennifer Deger has been working up there with the folks who are involved in the film for a very long time. She wrote her book there. She’s interested in the possibilities of Indigenous filmmaking in terms of the politics and aesthetics of storytelling, painting — the range of expressive forms of Indigenous cosmologies."

"The film is very immersive so you get a real sense of being there, the temporality of the ritual and also how people have indigenised Christmas and created it in their own spirit," Ginsburg says. "It is this wonderful combination of seeing the everyday, the land and how ritual emerges out of the activities of everyday.” Manapanmirr, in Christmas Spirit is eligible for the Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award.

Ginsburg also highlights, Children of Srikandi a collaborative documentary by the Children of Srikandi Collective — a film billed as the first by queer women about queer women in Indonesia.

As stated in the festival program, “the first film created by and about queer women in Indonesia, Children of Srikandi ties together eight authentic and poetic stories from different directors. Deeply personal and diverse in outlook and form, these contemporary stories are interwoven with beautiful shadow theatre scenes that tell the story of Srikandi, a mythological character of the Mahabharata who is neither man nor woman, moving fluidly between both genders. Srikandi’s tale is frequently used in the traditional Javanese shadow puppet theatre plays; here it anchors a collective anthology that transcends the borders between documentary, fiction and experimental film.”

Ginsburg also includes Adam Isenberg’s A Life Without Words (Una Vida Sin Palabras) among her top picks. 

The festival program describes A Life Without Words as "a haunting story of two siblings born deaf in rural Nicaragua. Dulce Maria (28) and her brother Francisco (22) have never strayed more than a few miles from the farm where they were born. With no written, spoken, or signed language, the siblings were never exposed to the traditional modes of communication and learning others take for granted. When a Deaf NGO worker arrives to try to teach them their first words, the unsettling drama that unfolds poses difficult questions about the meaning and nature of language, of aid work, and of documentary film.”

“It’s very existential,” Ginsburg explains. “Right at the end you see glimmers of language start to come. It makes you think about how extraordinary it is to have language when you don’t have a chance to develop it. It’s beautifully done, in observational style and uses film so well to get across these different ways of communicating. The festival has made an effort over the last decade to include films about disability in their line-up, to recognise it as an important form of human difference.” A Life Without Words is eligible for the Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award.

The Margaret Mead Festival runs from November 29 – December 2, 2012. The full program is available here.

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About this Blog

The annual Margaret Mead Film Festival is the longest running festival dedicated to documentaries in the USA. Kriser Professor of Anthropology at New York University, Faye Ginsburg was involved in the very first Margaret Mead Festival and has since become a long-term advisory board member. Familiar with Australia and SBS, Ginsburg selected three films she thought would be of interest to our audience. Here are her picks: