Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sundance Films: Secrets of the Tribe

Title: Secrets of the Tribe
Director: José Padilha
Website: no individual site, but click here for Sundance page

Summary: The field of anthropology goes under the magnifying glass in this fiery investigation of the seminal research on Yanomami Indians. In the 1960s and ’70s, a steady stream of anthropologists filed into the Amazon Basin to observe this "virgin" society untouched by modern life. Thirty years later, the events surrounding this infiltration have become a scandalous tale of academic ethics and infighting. The origins of violence and war and the accuracy of data gathering are hotly debated among the scholarly clan. Soon these disputes take on Heart of Darkness overtones as they descend into shadowy allegations of sexual and medical violation. Director José Padilha brilliantly employs two provocative strategies to raise unsettling questions about the boundaries of cultural encounters. He allows professors accused of heinous activities to defend themselves, and the Yanomami to represent their side of the story. As this riveting excavation deconstructs anthropology’s colonial legacy, it challenges our society’s myths of objectivity and the very notion of “the other” (Sundance).

Thoughts: Anytime a documentary challenges the status quo of society AND makes reference the classic novel, Heart of Darkness, I’m instantly a fan of it. Let’s face it, we all get comfortable with certain parts of our lives and while comfort isn’t a bad thing, it’s always good to take a fresh look at things – even for the sake of verifying what we already know. José Padilha’s documentary looks like the perfect documentary to raise questions without making brash accusations. And the very fact this film compares itself to Heart of Darkness means there’s going to be some interesting storylines unfolding. I can’t wait to see this in theaters.

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