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The Sepik River Tribe

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Film Professor

on 3 October 2018

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Transcript of The Sepik River Tribe

The Sepik River Tribe
Many variations among villages along the Sepik River - there are more than 1000 indigenous ethnic groups and over 250 different languages spoken
Head Hunting and Cannibalism
Scarification and the Crocodile
Crocodiles (both fresh and saltwater) are revered by the Sepik River Tribe and worshiped as the water spirit.
Life revolves around the river - food, trading, transportation
The old tradition was that young men could only come of age if they killed someone and took their head. They would sometimes use the skulls as trophies after war. Some tribes ate human flesh. This practice became obsolete in the 1920s.
Spirit Houses
Large spirit houses are built in the center of villages - only men are allowed in. Important ceremonies occur here.
Boys are initiated to become men by going through a ceremony where their backs are cut to resemble the markings of the crocodile, which is a symbol of strength and power.
Dennis O'Rourke
1. In the Cannibal Tours reading, the author says that documentaries "primarily serve to make the audience feel good..." Do you agree with that statement? Do you think that a documentary's main purpose is not to enlighten but to help the viewer feel as if they have "achieved some cachet or absolution for themselves..."? (Page 3)
2. In the article Cannibal Tours, on page 6, O'Rourke states, "'Cannibal Tours' is a documentary film but it also is a fiction because it is an artifact, that is: someone made it." Thus, this implies documentaries are interpretations, so they will never be fully truth. The questions remains: where should the line be drawn between fiction and documentary?
As Christians, if pursuing filmmaking, what is our role in balancing the truth and fiction of documentaries?

Savi Masks - Most powerful masks
tongues out - sign of aggression
Only certain powerful men can take them out of storage
Don't need to be danced to be powerful - just need to gather them.
Used in men's ceremonial Spirit Houses
Mai Masks
represent pairs of mythological brothers and sisters
Names can't be said (even your own name) - represented with masks instead
Used in men's ceremonial Spirit Houses - elders wear them and can say names to evoke magic and healing
Turtle mask - represents hunting spirits. Men want a lot of them around before going hunting.
Dream mask - the legend is that once you dream it, the spirit will make you do bad things until you have carved it.
Women: fish & make sago flour/bread
Men: travel in conoes to trade
Villages vary in size, and each has distinct features. All have a Spirit House, surrounded by houses on stilts.
One of the least explored regions in the world due to its difficult terrain.
Germans were the first European contact - 1885, became a German colony
After WWI, Australia took control
Became an independent Commonwealth realm in 1975 with Queen Elizabeth as its head of state (represented by a Governor-General.) They also have a Prime Minister.
Classified as a "developing economy"
Nearly 40% of the population lives a self-sustainable natural lifestyle with no access to global capital.
Wood carving is the most common form of art, with masks acting both as art and objects for religious ceremonies.
"I make documentary films (as opposed to fiction films) not because I think they are closer to the truth, but because I am convinced that, within a reinvented form of the non-fiction film, there is a possibility of creating something of very great value - a kind of cinema-of-ideas, which can affect the audience in a way that no Hollywood-style theatrical entertainment films can. I make documentary films because I believe in a cinema, which serves to reveal, celebrate and enlighten the condition of the human spirit and not to trivialize or abase it." (p.6)
Screening Questions
1) Why do you think the film was called Cannibal Tours? Are there multiple meanings?

2) What filmic techniques were used to create the tone of the film?

3) Do you prefer a documentary to reveal something about another group of people or something about ourselves?

4) How much do documentaries actually change perspectives? Do they? Or do they mostly serve to support the pre-conceived notions of the audience who sought out the documentary because they desired reinforcement of their place as the "enlightened elite?"

5) O'Rourke mentions a quote by Jean Baudrillard that says "it is precisely when they seem the most faithful, true and accurate that images are the most diabolical." How is Baudrillard's statement possible? Can you think of examples in other films you have seen?

6) Why do you think the author of "Cannibal Tours" says "I don't make the film, the film makes me?"

7) What is the role of the "tourist" within a documentary? Are audience members "tourists" within the world of the viewing? If so, what does this mean?

8)If documentaries are not necessarily more truthful than other films, how can we or should we use the information in them?
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