Traveling film festival investigates diversity of cultures around the world

The Margaret Mead Traveling Film and Video Festival will return to the Karl Anatol Center at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) on Friday, April 15, from 2pm to 8pm for its third visit to campus. Admission is free.
Presented by the American Museum of Natural History, the Mead Film and Video Festival is the longest-running showcase for international documentaries in the United States. It 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 the festival to universities and museums across the country and around the world.
“This has been a pretty successful series,” said Steven Rousso-Schindler, CSULB’s assistant professor of anthropology and organizer of this year’s Mead event.  “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, a 52-minute film directed by Austrian filmmaker Eva Eckert. 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 Aphotographer’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 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.
“This series is the primary traveling showcase for ethnographic films, and it demonstrates the department’s commitment to visual anthropology,” Rousso-Schindler said. “I hope this series will help to attract students to CSULB from all over the state.  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.”
He also noted how 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.  That can mean film or any multimedia project,” Rousso-Schindler said. “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.”

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