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Astra Film Festival

Astra Film Festival 2006

Portrait Robert Gardner

AFF 2006 celebrates the work of Robert Gardner.

Robert Gardner was born in 1925 in Brookline Massachussets, and is one of the most famous ethnographic filmmakers in the world. Over the zears he has been making athnographic films, teaching, writings on documentary films and ethnography and supporting filmmakers and their projects. His film focus on specific people and specific places, including Niger, Ladakh, Sudan, Eritrea, and New Guinea.

Robert Gardner is seeking the unknown, images, the haunting moments and new flavours of beauty. In the past forty years, his approach and style in filmmaking have proviked much discussion among anthropologists. He was criticized on many occasions: " Those who are strongly concerned with a single identity for the discipline of anthropology, and a well-maintained frontier post which marks out hostile neighbouring states called Art and Science, cannot be comfortable with people who move freely between them, with either several passports, or the 'wrong' one." (Peter Loizos)

Gardner's films have received numerous awards, including the Robert J. Flaherty Award for best nonfiction film ( twice); The Golden Lion for Best Film at the Florence Film Festival ( three times); and First Prize at the Trento, USA Dallas, Melbourne, Nuoro, EarthWach, Athens and San Francisco film festivals. His films have been invited to Festivals throughout the world including Jerusalem, Bergen, London, Munich, Toronto, Montreal, Margaret Mead, Marseilles, Locarno, Chicago and Cinema du Réel.

Robert Gardner is the author of a Human Document (1965); and Gardens of War (1968). His latest book, Making Forest of Bliss (2002), is the outcome of a close watching of the film with his collaborator Akös Östor. He is also the subject of three books, Rituale von Leben und Tod: Robert Gardner und Seine Filme (1989); Gardner, by Harry Tomicek (1991); and Natural Rhythms: The Indigenuous Life of Robert Gardner, by Thomas Cooper (1996). In the 70s, Gardner produced and hosted Screening Room, a series of more than one hundred 90-minute programs on independent and experimental filmmaking. The series, considered an invaluable historical record of modern cinema, has been transferred to digital format, for archival preservation by the Nuseum of Film and Broadcasting in New York City.

The selection offered by ASTRA FILM FEST 2006 includes Gardner's famous Forest of Bliss, Dead Birds, and Rivers of Sand, the less-known film Passenger, as well as Screening Room with Jean Rouch of the Screening Room Series.

Dead Birds

Director: Robert Gardner
Country: U.S.A.
Year: 1964
Length: 83
Dead Birds is a film about the Dani, a people dwelling in the Grand Valley of the Baliem high in the mountains of West Irian. “When I shot the film in 1961, the Dani had an almost classic Neolithic culture. They were exceptional in the way they focussed their energies and based their values on an elaborate system of intertribal warfare and revenge. Neighboring groups of Dani clans, separated by uncultivated strips of no man's land, engaged in frequent formal battles. When a warrior was killed in battle or died from a wound and even when a woman or a child lost their life in an enemy raid, the victors celebrated and the victims mourned. Because each death had to be avenged, the balance was continually being adjusted with the spirits of the aggrieved lifted and the ghosts of slain comrades satisfied as soon as a compensating enemy life was taken. There was no thought in the Dani world of wars ever ending, unless it rained or became dark. [...]” (R. Gardner). Dead Birds has a meaning which is both immediate and allegorical. In the Dani language it refers to the weapons and ornaments recovered in battle. Its other more poetic meaning comes from the Dani belief that people, because they are like birds, must die.

 

Forest of Bliss

Director: Robert Gardner
Country: U.S.A.
Year: 1986
Length: 90
Forest of Bliss is an unsparing yet redemptive account of the inevitable griefs, religious passions and frequent happinesses that punctuate daily life in Benares, India's most holy city. The film unfolds from one sunrise to the next without commentary, subtitles or dialogue. It is an attempt to give the viewer a wholly authentic though greatly magnified and concentrated sense of participation in the experiences examined by the film. "In late 1984 and early 1985 I was back in Benares making Forest Of Bliss, a film about which I had pondered at length since my first unsettling visit ten years earlier. I have shaped the film so that it occupies the time between two sunrises. It stands as an exclusively visual statement resorting neither to voiced commentary nor subtitles. It is about people being and also dying.

 

Passenger

Director: Robert Gardner
Country: U.S.A.
Year: 1998
Length: 25
Passenger is the title of a painting by Sean Scully, the well-known American artist. It was done in his studio in Barcelona in the early summer of 1997. A friend, the filmmaker Robert Gardner, made what he calls “an observation in four movements.” The intent of the piece is to impart an experience of the engagement by Scully with the work in question, an engagement which is both physical and emotional. The only sounds are those made by the artist as he works and, occasionally, musical passages from tapes Scully listens to while he is painting.

 

Rivers of Sand

Director: Robert Gardner
Country: U.S.A.
Year: 1973
Length: 83
The people portrayed in this film are called Hamar. They dwell in the thorny scrubland of southwestern Ethiopia. They are isolated by some distant choice that now limits their movement and defines their condition. In their isolation, they seemed to have refined this not uncommon principle of social organization to a remarkably pure state. At least until recently, it has resulted in their retaining a highly traditional way of life. Part of that tradition was the open, even flamboyant, acknowledgement of male supremacy. Hamar men are masters and their women are slaves. The film is an attempt to disclose not only the activities of the Hamar, but also the effect on mood and behavior, of a life governed by sexual inequality.

 

Screening Room – Jean Rouch

Director: Robert Gardner
Country:U.S.A.
Year: 1980
Length: 64
In the 1970s, Gardner produced and hosted Screening Room, a series of more than one hundred 90 minute programs on independent and experimental filmmaking. The series, considered an invaluable historical record of modern cinema. At AFF 2006, you can see the interviews with Jean Rouch, Ricky Leacock, Alan Lomax, and Peter Huton. Jean Rouch appeared on Screening Room in July 1980 and screened Les Maitres Fous as well as several film excerpts including Rhythm of Work and Death of a Priest. Over a period of five decades Jean Rouch made many films about the Songhay and Dogon of West Africa. He also made, with Edgar Morin, the classic documentary, Chronicle of a Summer about the lives of Parisians.