Coming to theatres today, Wednesday, December 14: GHOSTLAND
Simon Stadler’s chronicle of Kalahari bushmen’s experience of the West debuted at Thessaloniki Doc earlier this year. Its festival circuit also included SXSW, Ambulante, Atlantic, Bergen, Flahertiana, Durban, Rio, and Vancouver, among other events.
For more than 25 years, the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen of Namibia have been barred from hunting the wildlife that has sustained them for millennia. In response they have had to adapt to a capitalist system and depend on the tourism industry, entertaining Europeans with staged dances and demonstrations, and selling them handmade crafts. Stadler, a German filmmaker, seeks to privilege the perspectives of the Ju/’hoansi in their interactions with these outsiders, representing them as knowing participants in an awkward but necessary exchange rather than the stereotyped “savages” that visitors likely assume they are observing. When the setting changes from Namibia to Frankfurt, however, owing to an invitation to four of the Bushmen to travel as part of a cultural exchange, the film struggles, opting instead for a less complex fish out of water approach. While Stadler transforms the Bushmen from the object of the gaze to the gazers themselves, these new tourists’ observations of Western culture are presented in consistently unsurprising and simplistic terms, noting that Germans and their city are too large, anonymous, and noisy. The result is a mildly amusing role reversal from the initial scenes of the film, but one handled with too broad a stroke to be particularly complex or revealing.