Cross-Cultural Film Guide/ Patricia Aufderheide
The American University/ ©1992
Plot: The subject matter of these three short (two 18 and one--Pemp--27 minute long) documentaries, produced by the Centro de Trabalho Indigenista in conjunction with various indigenous groups in Brazil and directed by the Center's head, Vincent Carelli, is shaped by each indigenous group's way of using video.
Espirito da TV is an essay about the way the Waiapi, a small and recently contacted Tupi-speaking group in far northern Brazil, have used television to document their own cultural practices, to discover the existence of other Tupi-speaking groups they had not known about, and to receive the experience of other indigenous groups that have confronted common problems such as land rights. The work unfortunately does not refer, except in credits, to an anthropologist who worked with the Waiapi during this time and who provided some on-camera translation.
Festa da Moca showcases the way that the Nambikwara in Brazil's far northwest used video to revive waning cultural practices. The Nambikwara is a once-huge group, savagely reduced by disease and cultural collapse in the 1960s as a result of the opening of a major road (the 364) for mining, logging and colonization in the Amazon. Led by one of the group's leaders, aided by Carelli, they recorded a lengthy girls' puberty ritual, and then watched it as a group. The viewing produced much criticism of the ritual for nontraditional practices in it, and when the opportunity came up, this group united with another to perform the ritual more traditionally. Thus encouraged, the group went on to restore a male puberty ritual of nose piercing, a hallmark Nambikwara practice that had not been practiced for a generation. In the video, the Nambikwara leader is described as a co-director.
Pemp documents the recent history of the Gaviao tribe in the eastern Amazon. In the 60s, the Gaviao were widely considered so decimated by contact that their continued survival as a group was impossible. As the video shows through interviews, oral histories and scenes of people at work, the group has not only survived but has pioneered some approaches to living on the interface with Brazilian culture. The group has resisted the pressures of development (specifically hydroelectric dams and the massive Carajas mining project), invested monies given for use rights on the land, begun a marketing cooperative for Brazilnuts (peculiarly translated as "chestnuts" in the video) that properly manages the tropical rain forest, and begun tribal cultural reclamation projects with the Help of video. As in Festa da Moca, a tribal leader is both a co-producer and a major spokesperson.
Style: Each of these videos has a self-reflexive aspect because of the self-conscious reference to television itself and the indigenous groups' use of it. Much indigenous use of video clearly does not look anything like these videos, as we can see from the sight of Indians closely examining their ritual practices on camera. When producing for themselves, Amazonian Indians appear to highly prize complete documentation of rituals that may take days to complete, as Turner has noted. This is not merely reproduction, albeit in a different form, of tradition; it marks a new awareness by indigenous groups of their cultural practices and heritage as a culture among others, and it makes cultural preservation an explicit issue.
Although a Brazilian, Carelli, is the director of these projects, these videos are also artifacts of indigenous use of video. Indigenous groups have become acutely aware of the power of mass media, and the need to intervene in the shaping of their own images in the outside world. These videos were produced for an outside audience, both in other indigenous groups and in the wider national and international communities concerned with indigenous affairs and human rights. They are all typified by a representation of indigenous groups as organizations that want to and can survive on their own terms, and can incorporate modern technology (such as video) toward that end.
Background/Production Context: The Video in the Villages project is part of the Centro de Trabalho Indigenista, a non-governmental organization. The project began in the 1980s and receives funding from a variety of sources including U.S. foundations and Brazilian non-governmental organizations. These videos are only a small part of the project's function; a far larger part is being of technical assistance to indigenous organizations who want to use video, and developing archiving systems for recorded videotape.
Importance: This is one example of burgeoning work with and by indigenous groups worldwide. It is part of the practice that is changing the terms of what was once known as "ethnographic cinema."
Ginsburg, F. (1991). Indigenous Media: Faustian contract or global village? Cultural anthropology, 6 (1), 94-114.
Smith, G. (1989). Space age shamans: The videotape. Americas, 41 (2), pp. 28-31.
Turner, T. (1991). The social dynamics of video media in an indigenous society: The cultural meaning and the personal politics of video-making in Kayapo communities. Visual Anthropology Review, 7 (2), 68-76.
Turner, T. (1991b, January-February). Visual media, cultural politics and anthropological practice. The Independent (New York).
Last updated on September 17, 1996
AU home | Library home | Top