In alphabetical order, the Official Selection for Sjón Anthropological Film Festival 2021 :: Solastalgia.
A New Era (2019, 1h19min, Boris Svartzman, France / China)
In 2008, local authorities evict 2,000 villagers from Guanzhou, a river island in Southern China to make way for new urban planning projects. In spite of the demolition of their houses and police pressure, a handful of inhabitants return to the island. For seven years, Boris filmed their battle to save their ancestral land, from the ruins of the village where nature is slowly reasserting itself, to the worksites of the mega city which inexorably advances towards them. Will they share the same fate of five billions of Chinese peasants expropriated yearly?
Boris Svartman is an Argentinean and French photographer and director. As a graduate in Chinese and Sociology, he spent over ten years living in China. He is now finishing a PhD in Visual Anthropology based on the field research of his debut film A New Era. As a sociologist and photographer, he is interested in forced eviction in big Chinese cities and in the countryside. Boris focuses on the expansion of Chinese cities in rural areas and the progressive disappearance of the dwindling peasantry in China. For a decade he has filmed the resistance of residents of one Chinese village faced with the urbanisation of their land, the subject of his first documentary.
Americaville (2020, 1h15min, Adam James Smith, US / China)
Residents of Beijing, China escape their polluted capital city to live out their interpretation of the American Dream in a replica Wild West town, only to find their environmental problems follow them.
Adam James Smith is a British filmmaker and educator, currently based in the United States. His films focus on the expression of identity in urban China and include The Land of Many Palaces (2015), Americaville (2020), Nightworld (2020), and Fantasy Factory (2020). He holds degrees from Stanford and Cambridge, the latter of which he is currently an Affiliated Filmmaker at the university’s Visual Anthropology Lab.
Animals (2019, 1h15min, Jonas Spriestersbach, Germany)
A birdcall-imitation-seminar, an animal-telepathy-hotline, a beauty contest for pedigree dogs. Wherever the film goes: animals are sorted, studied, and processed; and yet they remain enigmatic and absent. What’s inside the animals? The closer they are examined, the less certainty remains. And as the animals increasingly disappoint, a melancholic perplexity sets in. The idea was to find an answer within the animal, but instead people lost a sense of themselves. Encounters in faux fur costumes offer a last hope for warmth and dissolution. A film that acts like a shimmering mirror, in which we painfully recognise ourselves.
Jonas Spriestersbach studied psychology and art history before attending the university of arts in Kassel to study visual communications. From 2008 on he specialized in cinematography at the university of film and television in Munich. As a cinematographer he has shot more than 20 short and some feature-length films since then. ANIMALS is his first feature.
( ( ( ( ( /*\ ) ) ) ) ) aka Echoes of the Volcano (2019, 18min, Charles Fairbanks & Saul Kak, Mexico)
A sonic portrait of a Chiapan village focused on architecture and public space. Filmed over six years, ( ( ( ( ( /*\ ) ) ) ) ) is a sensory ethnography of culture and communication in a community founded by volcano eruption refugees. This film is about changes to the soundscape: an often overlooked part of our environment that nevertheless deeply affects our sense of selves and – especially in the town depicted in this film – community.
Saul Kak is an internationally acclaimed painter and native speaker of Zoque whose art practice is dedicated to the “cosmovisión” and rights of his people. Charles Fairbanks is a filmmaker, writer, and Guggenheim fellow whose films have screened on POV and at Anthology Film Archives, CPH:DOX, Visions du Réel, and hundreds of festivals across six continents. Together, their films strive to document modern challenges of Zoque people in a way that conveys their unique worldview: this cosmovision.
Hatua Kwa Hatua – Step by Step (2018, 11min, Judith Albrecht & Bafico, Tanzania)
Hatua Kwa Hatua is the second collaborative film of the bagamoyo film collective. Hatua kwa Hatua is a film about the relationship and dynamics of environment and every day life. The film tells the story of Mama K and her husband. He is a fisherman, but he hasn’t found fish for a long time, because of the over fished sea. Mama K becomes the main provider for the family. That leads to conflicts in their relationship. At the same time, a youth community theatre group is thinking about their next street performance. The film is the result of a ten days workshop at TaSuBa College of Art and Culture, Bagamoyo/Tanzania.
Judith Albrecht acquired her Masters degree studying ethnology, Latin American studies and sociology at the Freie Universität Berlin and completed her doctorate in 2011. Since 2003 she’s been working as an ethnologist, locally and abroad, and as a lecturer at different institutes of higher learning. Since 2016 she lectures at the faculty for ethnology at Freie Universität Berlin. Her regional focus lies on the Near and Middle East (specifically Iran), Libya and East Africa (speci cally Tansania and Malawi). Her topical focus lies on gender, political anthropology, migration, memory, transnationalism and diaspora studies.
Hoa (2018, 20min, Marco Zuin, Italy / Vietnam)
This short documentary follows the daily life of Hoa, a Dao ethnic minority healer living in a rural village in North Vietnam. Hoa collects medicinal plants in the forest and heals the community with the help of her daughter Chiem and her family. While the forests are under threat of deforestation due to rapid development, Hoa keeps transmitting the ancient female tradition of herbal medicine practices.
Imprinted (2019, 9min, Linda Paganelli, Germany / Croatia, Serbia)
‘Imprinted’ is an ethno-fiction short movie with a non-human perspective where the main characters are spaces/lands/locations: Jasenovac (former concentration camp run by Ustaša/now memorial site); Staro Sajmište (former fairground/former death camp/former concentration camp/former housing for workers/now studios for artists and entertainments/illegal housing for poor and marginalized); Stara Gradiška (former prison/former Ustaša prison for women and children/now abandoned). The film tries to untangle the multiple layers of complex histories and of a contested past – be it in numbers of the victims or the grade of atrocities committed. It also works on the idea of a multiplicity of truths and different readings of history through political, ideological, or biographical lenses. ‘Imprinted’ investigates collective memories, a difficult past, but also the present. It tries to explore, sensorially, the spaces with all their dimensions, historical, emotional, and bodily.
Linda Paganelli is a visual anthropologist and filmmaker. Her primary areas of interest are human rights in war zones, the relationship between power and minorities, refugees and migrants, and contemporary art. Her work is deeply rooted in her anthropological background and seeks to analyze and deconstruct existing ideas around values and stereotypes. She has been working, since 2009, as a freelance director mainly on short and long documentaries for TVs, production companies, magazines online, NGO campaigns, art galleries, universities, and newspapers online.
Missionaries Of The Rain (2019, 27min, Jimena Paz, Mexico)
In the central highlands of Mexico, a group of farmers, resisting modernity, keep on with the tradition of rain petition rituals. With enormous responsibility, they assume the mission to protect and restore their sacred sites in order to harmonize climatic balance and assure rains and food for the entire world.
Jimena Paz is a Mexican environmental scientist and documentary filmmaker. She has specialized in the areas of communication and environmental education, reaching audiences from different ages and cultural contexts through photography, literature, documentary film and teaching. In 2015, she began her film career as a scriptwriter, director and producer of the short documentary film “Missionaries of the rain” (“Misioneros del temporal”) (2019) and the documentary feature “Readers of time” (Lectores del tiempo) (post-production), works that show her particular interest in the relationship of indigenous peoples and the environment. She’s received grants from the Government of Mexico, UNESCO, Coca-Cola, UNAM, among others.
Names for Snow (2019, 6min, Rebecca Thomassie & Wapikoni, Canada)
This short follows Rebecca Thomassie, an Inuk woman, around Kangirsuk as she learns the 52 Inuktitut words for snow.
Rebecca Thomassie is an Inuk of Kangirsuk, in Nunavik. She participated in Wapikoni workshops to document some traditional knowledge of the different ways to name the snow and teach them to her daughter to ensure the sustainability of her culture.
New York, just another city (2019, 18min, André Lopes & Joana Brandão, Brazil / US)
A young leader and audiovisual director, Patrícia Ferreira has been recognized for the documentaries she has been making with her people, the Guarani Mbya. She was called to debate her work at one of the world’s largest ethnographic film festivals, the Margaret Mead Film Festival, held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In that place, Patricia comes across some exhibitions, debates and attitudes that make her think about the “juruá” people’s world, contrasting it with the Guarani’s modes of existence.
André Lopes is an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker, with a doctorate in Social Anthropology at University of São Paulo with a research internship at New York University. Researcher at the Laboratory of Image and Sound in Anthropology and at the Center for Amerindian Studies at USP. André has been working with indigenous people and video workshops since 2008, and has experience in directing documentaries and TV shows.
Newtopia (2020, 1h28min, Audun Amundsen, Norway / Indonesia)
The adventurous Norwegian backpacker Audun Amundsen is driven by his search for a utopian world and ends up in the jungle of Indonesia. Here he meets the shaman Aman Paksa and his clan who lives a traditional life, surviving without money, electricity or modern tools. Amundsen follows Aman Paksa for nearly 15 years on his turbulent path towards modernity.
Audun Amundsen is an international member of The Explorers Club and an avid explorer of remote human societies and social issues. His formal education is in renewable energy engineering, and since 2015 he has submerged full time into the field of documentary filmmaking since the foundation of his production company GonzoDocs AS. Newtopia is his directorial debut and it has been 14 years in the making.
No Island Like Home (2019, 44min, Giulio Gobbetti & Jan Stöckel, UK / Montserrat)
After a devastating volcanic eruption in 1995, the beautiful Caribbean island of Montserrat experienced a mass exodus. But many refused to leave, despite the social and economic destruction the volcano caused. Can a community torn apart by the force of nature ever truly recover? More than two decades ago, the volcano in Montserrat exploded with catastrophic consequences. Although many years have since passed, Celeste vividly remembers the eruption. She lost her life’s work: the shop she owned on the island’s capital. Today, where her shop once stood, lays an ash-coated ghost town. However, much like the regrowth of vegetation across the land, the community has a new-found vitality. Youngsters race cars on abandoned streets, taking back what the volcano stole from them. Mappie, a gardener, hikes with us through the thick rainforest: “The volcano does a range of good and bad” he says. “People thought Montserratians would have left. But I’m staying.” Yet, the volcano, under observation by scientists, lurks menacingly in the background. As everyday life unfolds, the most awaited day of the year arrives – St Patrick’s day. It is a litmus test: will people fill the streets, resilient? Or will the streets remain empty, signalling a community broken beyond repair?
Giulio Gobbetti is a producer, director and editor. He has a broad experience in producing and editing commercial projects, which he put at the service of his documentary work. He worked as a cinematographer and editor in several shorts and feature documentaries, including the award-winning Poshida, that premiered at BFI Flare in 2016. Jan Stöckel is a director and cinematographer. He has a background in visual anthropology and an interest in human stories and how to depict them on screen. He has worked as a cinematographer on various short- and feature documentaries as well as video-ethnographic projects.
Once You Know (2020, 1h44min, Emmanuel Cappellin, France)
Once You Know is the intimate journey of director Emmanuel Cappellin across the abyss of a world at the edge of climate-induced collapse. His voyage into this uncharted territory is that of a whole generation turning to climate scientists, local democracy, grassroots initiatives, and mass rebellion in a desperate search for an exit. Today, industrial civilisation faces the first symptoms of energy depletion and climate change induced collapse. Once You Know asks the disturbing question: Are there better ways of collapsing than others? This question leads the director around the world to meet four of leading climate scientists and energy experts. They share with him the truth, chaos and hope in their work. They allow him to challenge everything he took for granted, from growth-based democracies to personal freedoms. At the same time, in his little mountain village Saillans – a sort of life-size laboratory – questions of social justice, participatory democracy and energy transition are being redefined.
Emmanuel Cappellin is an associate producer at Pulp Films where, over seven years, he has been tirelessly directing Once You Know, his first feature-length documentary for the big screen. After growing up in France and the US, studying environmental sciences (McGill University, Canada), and Producing & Directing (Berkeley Digital Film Institute, California), Emmanuel chose filmmaking to creatively explore the complex relationship between humans and planet Earth.
Ougn Sa: Eaten by Fire (2020, 30min, César Colmant, Belgium / Vietnam)
Indigenous populations of the Vietnamese Highlands are facing the radical shrinking of their agricultural land in the current capitalistic era and are consequentially relying on other sources of income. The film follows members of a transnational family dispersed between France and Vietnam in their attempt to secure livelihood and strive in the context of the fast pace development of Vietnam. Adopting the point of view of a distant family member, the filmmaker questions the role that transmigrants play in supporting their kin at home and the unexpected relationships which connect them transnationally.
César Colmant is a humanitarian aid worker and a filmmaker from Brussels. César majored in Political Sciences and Law before working as a field coordinator with migrants in Serbia. He founded the fundraising NGO “La Route des Défis” in 2016 which supports ground-based initiative throughout Europe. “Ougn Sa: Eaten by Fire” is his first ethnographic film and the thesis film for his master in Visual Ethnography at the University of Leiden (NL), on the topic of livelihood transformations among Bhanar ethnic minorities in the post-deforestation Highlands of Vietnam.
River Tales (2019, 1h20min, Julie Schroell, Luxembourg / Nicaragua)
While a Chinese businessman wants to take control of the interoceanic route in Nicaragua, actor and teacher Yemn creates a theatre play with the local kids to reflect on their history, their identity and the country’s future.
Born in Luxembourg, Julie Schroell holds a master’s degree in contemporary history and a master’s degree in scriptwriting and film analysis from Université Libre de Bruxelles. Julie has directed and produced award-winning documentaries and short movies for institutions, cinema and for major broadcasters around the world, including France Télévisions, RTBF and Al Jazeera. Cuentos del Río (Tales from the River) is her first independent feature documentary. Julie has also worked as a video artist for exhibitions, theatre productions and operas. She currently lives in Berlin where she also directs workshops for young refugees and adults, teaching theatre, video and producing a radio show.
Seasons of Change on Henry’s Farm (2019, 1h23min, Ines Sommer, US / Japan, US)
For a quarter-century, Henry Brockman has worked alongside nature to grow delicious organic vegetables on his idyllic Midwestern farm. But farming takes a toll on his aging body and Henry dreams of scaling back. So he puts his former apprentices in charge of the farm, while spending a “fallow year” with his wife Hiroko in Japan. But things don’t turn out as planned, and Henry must grapple with the future of farming in a changing climate on personal, generational, and global levels.
Ines Sommer has directed and produced genre-crossing films for over two decades, ranging from experimental shorts to feature documentaries. Recent projects include “Count Me In,” a MacArthur Foundation-funded documentary about an innovative experiment in participatory democracy that aired on public television stations across the nation in Fall 2016. Her human rights documentary “Beneath the Blindfold” follows four international torture survivors on their path to healing. Ines currently serves as the Associate Director of the MFA in Documentary Media program in Northwestern University’s Radio/TV/Film Department, where she also teaches.
The Burning Field (2019, 1h11min, Justin Weinrich, US / Ghana)
In this immersive portrait of life in an environmental wasteland, four young Ghanaians struggle to navigate work and relationships over a single day in Agbogbloshie, the largest e-waste dump on earth. Told entirely from their unique perspectives and in their own words, verité sequences capture telling moments from lives spent dismantling and burning electronic appliances from around the world, and the steep toll that it takes both on them and on the environment.
Justin Weinrich is a trained anthropologist and an award-winning nonfiction filmmaker and journalist with over a decade of experience directing, writing, shooting and editing nonfiction films. His work has aired on The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and PBS, as well as theatrically worldwide. In 2016 Justin started Elephant Lake, a production company dedicated to using the art of filmmaking and new media to explore unique ethnographic, scientific, and environmental perspectives of our ever-evolving world.
The Dissident – a day in the life of Pentti Linkola (2019, 25min, Georg Grotenfelt, Finland)
Pentti Linkola is a well known philosopher, ornithologist and writer in Finland. All his life he has been concerned with the future of mankind and nature. He predicted the eco-catastrophe already in the 1960s. This film shows his daily life living on his own in the middle of the forest.
Georg Grotenfelt is an architect and filmmaker based in Helsinki, who has been working on documentary films since 1994.
The Fourfold (2019, 7min, Alisi Telengut, Canada / Germany)
Based on the ancient shamanic rituals and animistic beliefs in Mongolia and Siberia, the film explores the indigenous worldview and wisdom: Nature is the homeland of human being, Tengri is the deity and the father sky, Earth is the mother with rivers nourishing all beings, pagan and pantheist gods co-exist with all mortals. Against the backdrop of the modern existential crisis and the human-induced rapid environmental change, there is a necessity to reconsider and reclaim the ideas of animism for planetary health and non-human materialities.
Alisi Telengut is a Canadian artist of Mongolian origin. Alisi creates animation frame by frame under the camera, with painting as the medium, to generate movement and explore hand-made and painterly visuals for her films. Her works have been exhibited internationally at galleries and festivals, such as at Sundance, Slamdance, the Canadian Embassy in Paris (France), Telefilm Canada’s Talent tout court program at Cannes Film Festival (France) and at Phi Centre in Montreal (Canada). They have not only been presented as animation and moving image artworks with the unique visual style, but have also contributed to ethnographic and ethnocultural research. Her recent work has been added to the permanent collection of Art Science Exhibits (Germany) that represents the leading-edge of art making with dedication to positive action for Earth’s recovery. Alisi is a PhD candidate at Filmuniversität Babelsberg Konrad Wolf in Germany.
The Pine Barrens (2018, 1h44min, David Scott Kessler, US)
A wilderness stands in defiance of the encroaching megalopolis that surrounds it. Rare orchids and endangered species thrive near busy roadways. Wildfires rage through forests bringing life to its sandy soil. Land once deemed inhospitable, gave rise to a community and with it, a sense of pride inexorably linked to the diminishing island of darkness. Under a veil of folklore and myth, within the most densely populated state in America lies the New Jersey Pine Barrens. For six years, during a period of political flux that threatens to undermine New Jersey Pineland’s protections, David Scott Kessler filmed the forest and its inhabitants in order to create a growing and evolving portrait of nature and identity. The project, which evolved as a series of live performance scored by The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra, aims to capture the surreal wonder of the Pinelands in the hope of rekindling the sense of importance and imagination that helped to preserve it over 40 years ago.
David Scott Kessler is an artist and filmmaker living in Philadelphia, PA. He has presented films and installations at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, Summerhall Edinburgh, The Michener Museum, International House, Rooftop Film Festival, and Delaware Contemporary, and is the founder of the arts and music festival, Middle of Nowhere. His current project, The Pine Barrens, is a six-year study of a wilderness that exists within the most densely populated state in the United States – New Jersey. David was a 2015 Pew Center for Arts and Heritage Fellow and 2015 Flaherty Fellow. The Pine Barrens was chosen as a project to watch by Creative Capital.
Troiane (2020, 16min, Stefano Santamato, Italy)
In one single night, in October 2018, rain and wind tore down 14 million trees, transforming a lush mountain landscape in northern Italy into an apocalyptic ground, with environmental consequences that will affect life in the area for many a decades to come. In Carnia, one of the worst hit areas, 400 of those trunks were retrieved, and from there travelled to Syracuse, opposite end of Italy, where on theGreek theater stage they gained a last role, as mute witnesses of both tragedies. The film tells their journey as if through their own eyes, along 1500 Km and across a variety of landscapes, colors and sounds.
Stefano Santamato is trained in Architure and Documentary Filmmaking. He works for the Milan-based video production company The Blink Fish and develops specific research on architecture storytelling through audiovisuals.
Voices on the Road (2019, 23min, Bethan John & Eilidh Munro, UK / Peru)
Deep in the remote Peruvian Amazon a road is quietly destroying a protected rainforest, causing conflict and fear. But for some indigenous communities, desperate for change, it is also bringing hope. The road is cutting through a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Manu Biosphere Reserve, and opening it up to the outside world. Many indigenous communities are struggling to live in this ‘paradise’ and the road brings the promise of a better life. But at what cost?
A conservation filmmaker, Eilidh Munro has been working in the Amazon for the last few years, capturing rare animal behaviour and species new to science. In 2018, she became an Explorer with the Scientific Exploration Society and received the Neville Shulman Explorer Award for Expedition Filmmaking. A freelance multimedia journalist, Bethan John specialises in biodiversity conservation and social justice. She’s passionate about leading adventurous expeditions to unearth stories on the complex social, economic and environmental issues facing marginalised communities living in some of the most biodiverse places on Earth.
Waiting for the Sea (2020, 25min, George Itzhak, US / Uzbekistan)
Music can emerge in the most unexpected places, like the arid shores of the dried-up Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. Can an electronic music festival held in this remote and unforgiving place inspire a creative renaissance – and shine an international spotlight on a little-known environmental disaster?
George Itzhak is an Emmy & Webby-nominated director and producer who works at NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, America’s top evening news broadcast. There he creates news features and documentaries that are character-driven and illuminate the complex issues that face the United States – and the world – today. He also produces interviews with newsmakers, celebrities, and ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. George’s independent film projects have examined the experiences of people from behind the Iron Curtain and from the New East.
Withering Refuge (2020, 17min, Pedro Neto, Portugal / Zambia)
Withering Refuge is a film-essay that problematises the plight of different populations living in Zambia’s Meheba Refugee Settlement and in its mining surroundings. The piece explores the way in which the spaces of refuge are dramatically withering. Extracting and processing ore while extracting and processing humans and non-humans alike is not a simple metaphor.
Pedro Neto is an anthropologist and filmmaker, lecturer and researcher at the University of Lisbon. He has authored and co-authored several short films, including Sizígia (2013) and Curupira (2016).