Film festival touches on age-old questions

  • 2010-03-25
  • By Ella Karapetyan

HE’S GOT THE BEAT: The festival is a crossroads for all types, those on the never ending search into their own souls.

TARTU - This year, for the seventh time in a row, Tartu is hosting the 7th “Worldfilm Festival,” which takes place from March 22–28. The festival’s program contains documentaries with an anthropological spirit from around the world, by introducing different societies and enabling thinking along different approaches to life. The screen is filled with travelers, contemporary shamans, inhabitants of the penthouse-apartments in South America, child soldiers in Uganda, childhood in Papua New-Guinea and lots of others with their unique experiences.

According to the director of the festival, Pille Runnel, the central topic of the film program is aging. “The issue of aging, which is more denied than understood in Estonian society, is explained by touching and interesting films about elderly people, which tell about how different cultures approach aging,” Runnel says. This special program, opened by a workshop with special screenings and a discussion, followed by the films, distributed throughout the general program, aims to understand old age as a cultural category, asking, what is universal about it and how different can be the ways to become old and be old. All these questions are very relevant, because we are part of societies which are different from earlier ones. A significant part of the members of the societies are considered to be old. Instead of treating it as an economic burden and social problem, the festival approaches aging as lived experiences of the people and thinks about how the societal structures have to adapt to this new reality,” he added.

The main program of Worldfilm Festival introduces stories about very different people, starting from the poorest in the world (‘Bagyeli pygmies’) till the most economically advantaged in their societies (‘High rise’). The confrontation between a pipeline and pygmies made the Bagyeli pygmies discover that they are very poor. “Before, we were poor but we didn’t know it because we lived contentedly in the forest,” the protagonist of the film says. The Bagyeli hunting culture allowed them to live in the jungle of South Cameroon for thousands of years, but outside they were considered like animals or slaves by a society dominated by farmers. When the Exxon pipeline arrived in the Pygmy’s forest aided by the World Bank, they understood “Our bureaucratic society is worse with them than the farmers,” the filmmakers state.

“As a sharp contrast, everybody will have a look into the elite penthouse apartments, which overlook the upwardly mobile cities of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Recife in Brazil. The filmmaker explores how the architecture adds a physical dimension to the separation between the country’s social classes and economically privileged people. Penthouse apartments up in the sky separate people living there from the gunfire between rival gangs and crowds of ant-sized people - pedestrians and sunbathers. This look and distance is similar to the men in cinematographic “Solitary life of cranes,” climbing day by day up to the cranes not just to build and create, but to have a distant look at the city and gaze, at the people living there, their roads and buildings, which live with their own secret lives,” Runnel explains. 

As always, Worldfilm Festival is a meeting point for people who are nomads in their soul, being on the road to either face different people and cultures, or to catch their own shadow: a trip to Asia in the footsteps of a Swiss travel writer, another trip to get in touch with Indian 15th century mystical poet Kabir,  a trip to the other side of the world, where a song is being prepared to be presented in honor of you, Mongolian and Amazonian shamans facing the outer world with tourists – curious experience-consumers, French filmmakers traveling to discover the “Moscow” of Siberia, are just many of the stories one can see.

Besides the main program, the festival also introduces a retrospective of visual anthropological filmmakers, which focuses on Alaskan documentary filmmaker and anthropologist Leonard Kamerling, who from 1972–1988  completed several films about  the native people of Alaska together with anthropologist and filmmaker Sarah Elder. They produced films jointly with village councils.  Their approach to making anthropological films together with native communities stemmed from their personal experiences of living and working in these communities and seeing collective work and decision-making. Thus, the approach to filmmaking, based on collective and shared decisions, became inevitable. When they started these experiments, similar models did not exist, also traditional anthropology didn’t encourage this approach. Idea about shared or collective anthropology as an ethical basis of ethnographic research was not yet part of Western academic culture.

In addition to the films about Alaska, the film program introduces an affectionate story about a small village school in Hokkaido, Japan. The main protagonist of the film was not aimed at teaching just reading and writing to children, his aim was to educate their mind and soul, doing it from heart to heart.
In cooperation with Jaan Tonisson Institute, the festival offers special programs and workshops on world education to schoolchildren. This program and workshops are aimed at youngsters with an interest in documentary films, and enables them to watch films in a unique festival environment. Film screenings are complemented by discussions in the theory and practice of filmmaking, aiming to develop a critical approach to film and understanding better the film’s language, filmmaker’s agenda and the ways films are constructed.