DER Documentary

In Pursuit of the Siberian Shaman

By Anya Bernstein
color, 72 min, 2006



Long suppressed by missionaries and then by Soviet anti-religious campaigns, Siberian shamanism has experienced an unprecedented revival following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the number of shamans continues to rise. But who are these new shamans? Are they tricksters, magicians, businessmen, or cultural activists? This film takes a behind-the-scenes look at a Buryat shaman living on an island in the Lake Baikal as he moves between intimate shamanic rituals performed for local clientele and shows performed at various resorts for Western tourists in search of "primitive" cultures.

The film captures cross-cultural miscommunication as the shaman and tourists misunderstand one another, usually comically, sometimes disturbingly, made all the more poignant by the conflict between the dominant Russian Orthodox Church and the local shamanic tradition. Juxtaposing 1920s archival footage of a shamanic performance with its contemporary counterparts, the film grapples with the long-standing tension between the "indigenous" and the "cosmopolitan" in a rapidly transnational world.

“This is an excellent film for the classroom, appropriate to many different subjects, including anthropology, religion, Asian studies, globalization, tourism, and economic development. I fully intend to use it in my anthropology of religion class.” —Patty A. Gray, Department of Anthropology, University of Alaska Fairbanks
“...In Pursuit of the Siberian Shaman is recommended for collections that concentrate in anthropology or in Asian, European and/or multicultural studies. ” — Dan DiLandro, Educational Media Reviews Online (EMRO)

Related Resources
Visual Anthropology review
The Sacred Hoop review
Filmmaker Site

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Bilan du Film Ethnographique, Paris, March 2006
Gottingen International Film Festival, Germany, 2006
5th Russian Festival of Anthropological Films, Salekhard, Russia, 2006
Sardinia Ethnographic Film Festival, Italy, 2006
Moscow International Festival of Visual Anthropology, Moscow, Russia, 2006
Society for Visual Anthropology/AAA Film and Video Festival, San Jose, CA, 2006 - Documentary and Ethnographic Film Festival, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Ethnographic Film Festival of Montréal, Canada, 2006
XV International Festival of Ethnological Film, Belgrade, Serbia, 2006
Second Prize & Audience Award, Eyes & Lenses IV, Competition of Ethnographic & Anthropologic Films, Poland, 2007
Convention for the Study of Nationalities at Columbia University, 2007
Parnü: International Film Festival, Estonia, 2007
Festival of Visual Culture, Finland, 2007
Karelian Faces Festival, Russia, 2007
Eyes of Reality, Torun Second Review of Ethnographic Films, Poland, 2007
International Society for Shamanistic Research Conference, Budapest, Hungary, 2007
Globians Film Festival, Germany, 2007
Dialektus Film Festival, Budapest, Hungary, 2008
Delhi International Ethnographic Film Festival, India, 2008
16th World Congress of IUAES, Kunming, China, 2009

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Supported By Massachusetts Cultural Council National Endowment for the Humanities National Endowment for the Arts