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[whitespace] The Real World

The Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival finds deep human drama in everyday lives

By Rob Pratt

IN AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL film like Wu Yii-Feng's Moon Children, the drama unfolds slowly. An albino Taiwanese man marries his sweetheart despite her father's insistence that an outcast could never support her. But with his therapeutic massage business, the cheery albino man does well, and the couple builds a life together, she running a beauty shop and he organizing Taiwan's first albino association, in addition to working as a masseur.

Soon she gets pregnant, and the deep human drama of their circumstance becomes obvious. Will their child be black-haired or a white-haired albino like its father? Will the young mother have to endure the same kind of shame that her mother-in-law felt for bearing albino children?

Focusing on real-life dramatic moments like TV's Cops but without the police-blotter emptiness, films showing this week in the inaugural Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival look at the way people live around the world. A traveling selection of works presented at the 22-year-old New York City festival--the single largest showcase of international documentaries in the country--the event, running Wednesday (Oct. 13) to Friday at the Louden Nelson Community Center and Oct. 22 to 24 at UCSC's Media Theater, also marks a new partnership between the Santa Cruz City Museum of Natural History and the festival-sponsoring American Museum of National History.

"People very often don't have an idea of what anthropology is because it's not taught in high schools," explains local festival organizer Hugh Raffles, an assistant professor of anthropology at UCSC. "This festival is great because it opens people up to anthropological ways of looking at the world."

Since the '80s, though, anthropology looks at the world a little differently, and the Margaret Mead Festival has documented the changing outlook of the academic discipline of anthropology just as the United States sees itself differently in the wake of postmodernism, Raffles explains. Now, he adds, there's much more self-consciousness on the part of documentary filmmakers--a point underscored by Marcel Lozinki's film So It Doesn't Hurt.

"It was made by a group of journalists in the '60s who interviewed a woman outcast in a village, a small farming village in Poland. She was an intellectual--she loved reading literature--and she lived alone and ran the farm," he says. "The second part of the film, in 1997 or '98, some of the same journalists went back to that woman and talked about then and now. Some of the questions feel intrusive, and they start to talk about what it's like to be interviewed."

Ultimately, Raffles continues, it shows how the world has changed--and how the way we come to know it also has changed. With the advent of postmodernism, even a camera lens isn't a neutral observer because there's always someone behind the camera doing the focusing.

"About 20 percent of the films in the big festival are made by anthropologists," Raffles says. "For this festival, I'd say at least 50 percent are. Some are very cutting-edge, both formally and topically, and some are done more traditionally."


The Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival opens Wednesday (Oct. 13) and runs at the Louden Nelson Community Center, 301 Center St, Santa Cruz, at 7pm Wed-Fri, Oct. 13-15, and Fri-Sun, Oct. 22-24; also at 2pm on Oct. 24. Each program offers several films grouped under topics like "Women and Taboo," "Border Crossing" and "Resistance." Tickets are $2.50, available at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium box office (420.5260), the UCSC Ticket Office (459.2159) or the Santa Cruz City Museum of Natural History (420.6115).

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From the October 13-20, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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