DER Documentary

Bitter Roots: The Ends of a Kalahari Myth

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by Adrian Strong
color, 71 min, 2010

This DVD is closed-captioned for the hearing impaired

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Bitter Roots: The Ends of a Kalahari Myth is set in Nyae-Nyae, a region of Namibia located in southern Africa's Kalahari desert, traditional home of the Ju/'hoansi. It updates the ethnographic film record begun in the 1950s by John Marshall, whose films documented 50 years of change, and who together with Claire Ritchie, established a grass-roots development foundation, which Adrian Strong (the filmmaker) joined in the late 1980s.

Shot in 2007, two years after Marshall's death (and including footage from his films), Bitter Roots documents the return of Strong and Ritchie to Nyae-Nyae where they observe the erosion of a community-led development process following the imposition of a new agenda led by the World Wildlife Fund, which prioritizes wildlife conservation and tourism over subsistence farming. Communities voice their dissatisfaction with the new Conservancy, which has done little to help people farm and improve their lives.

Through archival footage and discussions with community members, this film sensitively examines the problems (lions, elephants, conservationists) currently facing the Ju/'hoansi and challenges the myth that they are culturally unable to farm. The film investigates the perpetuation of this myth by showing how tourists and filmmakers still demand to see how people used to live rather than they way they live now, and how the Ju/'hoansi cope with such expectations, while steadfastly continuing to farm against all the odds.

“Everyone who has followed the Ju'hoasi saga, from The Hunters (1957) to A Kalahari Family (2001) needs to see this film. In the Marshall tradition, Adrian Strong has made the subject close and personal. From the bleak ruins of a misguided international development project and the cynicism of those who would turn a profit in that barren landscape to the dawning realization that the Ju'hoasi will prevail, the film is unflinching. Bitter Roots is tightly made and keeps the question on the table — who has the right to dictate people's fate on their own land?” — John Bishop, Media Generation
Bitter Roots unveils how misguided development programs can be when they focus so narrowly on wildlife conservation and tourism. It also reveals how large NGOs and detached donors can contribute to further marginalizing the very people who they are attempting to help, an important though unsettling lesson for those who still wish to “save the world.” The film is a valuable educational resource for teaching students about international development, political ecology, and indigenous peoples. — Rachel Giraudo, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley
Bitter Roots is an eye-opening, depressing, and angering — and therefore very effective — film… Suitable for college courses in cultural anthropology, applied/development anthropology, anthropology of threatened cultures, and African studies, as well as general audiences.” — Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database
“…this low-budget film demonstrates what ingenuity and creativity can do.” — Robert J. Gordon, American Anthropologist, September 2012

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Guillermo Z˙˝iga Award, ESPIELLO Film Festival, Spain, 2014
Guillermo Z˙˝iga Award, Spanish Association of Scientific Film and Image, Spain, 2014
Award, Best Representation of Cultural Change, Archaeology Channel Int'l Film & Video Festival, 2012
Honorable Mention, Best Public Education Value, Archaeology Channel Int'l Film & Video Festival, 2012
Honorable Mention, XVI Sardinia International Ethnographic Film Festival, Italy, 2012
Best Film Made by an Anthropologist, 4th ETNOFILm, Croatia, 2012
Ethnografilm Festival, Paris, France, 2016
Espiello International Ethnographic Documentary Festival, Spain, 2014
Freiburger Film Forum, Germany, 2013
SVA Ethnographic Film Festival, USA, 2012
International Anthropological Film Festival in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 2012
XXIII International Festival of Archaeological Film, Italy, 2012
9th International Film Festival - The Heart of Slavonia, Croatia, 2012
G÷ttingen International Ethnographic Film Festival, Germany, 2012
The Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival, 2012
Worldfilm 2012 - Tartu Festival of Visual Culture, 2012
Athens Ethnograhic Film Festival, 2011
31st International Nordic Anthropological Film Association (NAFA) Film Festival and Symposium, 2011
12th RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film, London, 2011
Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival, 2011

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