DER Documentary

The Chairman and the Lions

The Chairman and the Lions launch preview watch a preview

directed by Peter Biella
produced by Frank Kaipai Ikoyo, Juma Mriga, Kelly Askew, Howard Stein
color, 46 min, 2012
In Maa and Swahili with English subtitles


Non-profit, K-12, and Individual pricing also available
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As recently as forty years ago, most sections of the Maasai were semi-nomadic and relatively independent of the nation-state. However, political, social and economic changes in East Africa have forced many herders to adopt a sedentary lifestyle. The Chairman and the Lions introduces Frank Kaipai Ikoyo, a charismatic Ilparakuyo Maasai who, at thirty-three, is the leader of a Tanzanian village called Lesoit. Ikoyo was elected to his post at the age of twenty-six in part because he had completed primary school. That someone so young would be accorded such authority would have been without precedent not long ago. Yet this ethnography of Ikoyo's duties as village chairman shows how literacy and insight into the workings of the nation-state are essential for Maasai to combat the many lions, both real and figurative, that beset them: land grabbers, "bush" lawyers, unemployment, out-migration and poverty.

Like leaders of many indigenous groups, Ikoyo understands education to be a double-edged sword. He advocates schooling as a key to village self-determination, while still seeking to preserve the foundations of pastoralist identity. For as one Maasai woman argues, schooling may well transform their children into "educated criminals." The film depicts Ikoyo contending with the invasion of village land by a non-Maasai farmer, interrogating spies in a lawsuit, persuading mothers to send their daughters to school, navigating the legalese of an exploitative contract, and eliciting help from a renowned elder to train young warriors in the art of lion hunting. The Chairman and the Lions interweaves its observational vignettes of Ikoyo's activities with narrative accounts by the chairman himself.

“Peter Biella's straightforward documentary on village life in the East African nation of Tanzania will definitely be of interest to anthropologists and ethnographers, but general viewers should enjoy this as well due to its unquestioned star--Chairman Frank Ikoyo, the vigorous young community leader of Lesoit.” — Video Librarian

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Special Jury Award, Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), Tanzania, 2013
First Prize, ETNOFilm Festival for Ethnographic and Anthropological Film, Croatia, 2013
NAFA - Nordic Anthropological Film Association Festival, Iceland, 2014
Ethnografilm festival, France, 2014
Gottingen International Ethnographic Film Festival, Germany, 2014
ETHNOCINECA, Austria, 2014
Ethnographic Film Festival of Quebec (FIFEQ), Canada, 2014
Days of Ethnographic Film, Slovenia, 2014
11th World Film Festival, Estonia, 2014
The Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival, USA, 2014
ETHNOFEST Athens Ethnographic Film Festival, Greece, 2013
Intimate Lens Ethnographic Film Festival, Italy, 2013
SIEF Congress, Tartu, Estonia, 2013
The Heart of Slavonia' International Ethno Film Festival, Djakovo, Croatia, 2012
SVA Ethnographic Film and Media Festival, San Francisco, USA, 2012
Jean Rouch International Film Festival, Paris, France, 2012
Meetings of the Royal Anthropological Institute, London, England, 2012
Festival of Visual Anthropology ASPEKTY,Turon, Poland, 2012

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