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Margaret Mead Traveling Film And Video Festival Returns April 15

Published: April 1, 2011

The Margaret Mead Traveling Film and Video Festival returns to the Anatol Center on Friday, April 15, from 2-8 p.m. for its third visit to campus. Admission is free.

The American Museum of Natural History’s Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival is the longest-running showcase for international documentaries in the U.S. The Mead Festival screens documentaries aimed at raising national understanding of the complexity and diversity of the Earth’s peoples and cultures. Encompassing a broad spectrum of non-narrative work the Mead Festival presents the best in documentary, experimental films, animation, hybrid works, and more. The festival debuts at the American Museum of Natural History each fall and travels with a portion of its program to universities and museums across the country and around the world.

“This has been a pretty successful series,” said organizer Steven Rousso-Schindler, a member of the Anthropology Department since 2008. “The Mead specializes in visual anthropology, a subfield of cultural anthropology that is concerned with the study and production of ethnographic photography, film and new media. Each film will be accompanied by a faculty member’s presentation about a topic related to the film.”

This year’s festival opens with 2008’s “A Mountain Musical” directed by Austrian filmmaker Eva Eckert in a crisp 52 minutes. A man tears out his wife’s hair. A young poacher is shot down by his father. A pig is butchered. For the people of the rural and industrial communities that surround the Alpine community of Erzberg, these lyrics comprise the stories of their lives. With a fine art photographer’s eye for composition and the patience of a paid-by-the-hour psychiatrist, Eckert coaxes old-timers into performing these songs.

The curtain rises next on the 57-minute “Shooting with Mursi,” a 2009 Ethiopian drama directed by Olisarali Olibui and Ben Young. Deep in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, the Mursi are a nomadic people ruled by consensus and elders. Uprooting seasonally in order to graze their cattle, they find themselves encircled by three national parks, none of which they are allowed to enter. Director Olibui takes a digital camera among his tribe to capture a portrait of a people and their customs as they face the modern world.

The program also includes “There Once Was an Island: Te Henua e Nnoho” directed in 2010 by Briar March. The 80-minute film set in Papua, New Guinea, focuses on the Takuu, a Polynesian people of the island of Nukutoa who carry on without electricity and free from ideas of private ownership. But the rising South Pacific is eroding their shores, threatening their taro crops and shoreline huts, forcing them to accept federal subsidies to survive. “There Once Was an Island” bears witness to the effects of climate change on a culture rooted to its geography.

Rousso-Schindler applauded the Anthropology Graduate Student Association and the Anthropology Department for their support of the series.

“This series demonstrates the department’s commitment to visual anthropology,” he said. “I hope this series will help to attract students to CSULB from all over the state. This series is the primary traveling showcase for ethnographic films. Hosting this series is the department’s way of saying, ‘We are serious.’ Plus, seeing how our students have taken a growing role in the festival’s organization demonstrates that there is a real interest in programs like these.”

The festival offers hands-on experience to future visual anthropologists. “We want to help our students become more proficient with the tools that it takes to make good anthropological work,” said Rousso-Schindler. “That can mean film or any multimedia project. The Mead Festival screens documentaries that increase our understanding of the complexity and diversity of the peoples and cultures that populate our planet. It has evolved with the times while growing steadily to reflect the various incarnations of storytelling while remaining steeped in the documentary tradition.”

–Richard Manly