Margaret Mead 2011 Overview

Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the Margaret Mead Film Festival has the distinction of being the longest-running doc festival in the US. Named for the noted cultural anthropologist, who died two years after the festival’s founding in commemoration of her 75th birthday, and hosted by the American Museum of Natural History where Mead worked, the festival is acclaimed as a showcase for international ethnographic and experimental non-fiction. This year’s event, which runs November 10-13, includes 25 feature length works, and more than a dozen shorts, panels, and other special presentations.

The festival opens with Lotte Stoops’ stunning GRANDE HOTEL, which I previously covered in indieWIRE out of Hot Docs. I haven’t seen the fest’s closing night film, FLAMES OF GOD (pictured), by Meshakai Wolf, in which a poet/songwriter tries to publish the Romani dictionary he’s compiled over the past 35 years, but my curiosity is piqued.

In addition to a 35th anniversary retrospective, the festival features a couple of special themes for 2011: “Dreams of Outer Space,” a series on space exploration in conjunction with the AMNH’s upcoming “Beyond Planet Earth” exhibit; and “Inventing Home,” a series of films focused on the concept of home and community. The former includes 2010 Sundance winner SPACE TOURISTS by Christian Frei, about civilians who can pay the steep price to go into space, and the impact it has on local communities; and Marian Kiss’ SPACE SAILORS (pictured), which I haven’t seen, which revisits the highly publicized Intercosmos Program, which sent representatives from Socialist countries into space before the fall of Communism.

The “Home” series includes HULA AND NATAN, which I previously covered in indieWIRE out of True/False. Catching my eye in this section are Bettina Büttner’s KIDS (KINDER) (pictured), an observational portrait of boys in a children’s home; and Sofie Benoot’s BLUE MERIDIAN, which traces the Mississippi River from Cairo IL to the Gulf of Mexico, capturing moments of life along the river.

Of the remaining films, I can recommend both THE BENGALI DETECTIVE and CONVENTO, which I wrote about out of Sundance and SXSW, respectively. I keep missing Isabelle Lavigne and Stéphane Thibault’s Egyptian bellydancing doc, AT NIGHT, THEY DANCE, making its NY premiere here. The description of Robert Nugent’s MEMOIRS OF A PLAGUE (pictured) as borrowing from the conventions of sci-fi, archival footage, and photography makes this meditation on the much-feared locust intriguing. While Magdalena Pita’s PLANET KIRSAN includes a competition element, this story of a chess-crazed president indoctrinating all the kids in his small Russian Federation republic into the game sounds like it should bring a welcome twist to the conventions of the subgenre. I’m also drawn to Alain LeTourneau and Pam Minty’s EMPTY QUARTER, a semi-experimental exploration of life and economy in rural Oregon. On the other side of the country, Jacqueline Goss’ THE OBSERVERS might serve as a companion piece – her film focuses on the last manned weather observatory in North America, a lonely station in New Hampshire.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Overviews, Recommendations

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