DER Documentary

Maasai Migrants Series

Maasai Migrants Series launch preview watch a preview of Maasai Migrants

Produced by Peter Biella
color, 111 min, 2008-2012




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The seven videos contained in this DVD were made in Tanzania between 2008 and 2010 by participants in the Maasai Migrants Field School, directed by Peter Biella of San Francisco State University's Program in Visual Anthropology. The primary purpose of the videos in the series is to educate urban and rural Maasai about the consequences of migration, especially its relationship to poverty and the spread of HIV. The films have been produced through a continuing collaboration with Maasai-led and other NGOs, and they are being screened and discussed in Maasai regions throughout Tanzania. Their purpose is to trigger emotional reactions that prompt viewers to engage in important — though otherwise rare and uncomfortable — conversations, about poverty, migration, and sexual practices. The series also constitutes a self-critical history of a project in applied anthropology and gives an example for applied practitioners who may wish to use video in their work.

About the films:

Maasai Migrants (Dir. Peter Biella, 22 min, 2008)
This is the first film completed in the Maasai Migrants Series, the multi-year collaborative exploration of applied anthropological videos contained in this DVD. Planned in close collaboration with Maasai organizers and local migrants, the film depicts the appalling conditions experienced by migrants in Dar es Salaam - the dangerous and underpaid work of night watchmen, and the tenuous existence of Maasai woman who, without male protection, are always at risk of exploitation. The video is divided into seven 3-minute vignettes, each giving a different facet of the Maasai community displaced by migration. Rich with data, the vignettes trigger audience discussions about the challenges of poverty and the push and pull of city life. A film about the scripting, shooting and screening of Maasai Migrants is recorded in Subject to Change, a video contained in this DVD. There, emphasis is placed on how the video has been understood by urban and rural Maasai viewers.

Subject to Change (Dir. Shamia Sandles, 21 min, 2009)
Subtitled A Freirean Case Study in Applied Visual Anthropology, this film presents the theoretical assumptions and screening strategy of films in the Maasai Migrants Series. It does so through a history of the Series' first season, the scripting, shooting and screening of Maasai Migrants (also contained on this DVD). Included in Subject to Change is documentary footage of meetings with production collaborators — an American professor and his student who made this film, Maasai night watchmen, homeless Maasai women, Maasai intellectuals and members of a Maasai-led NGO. These meetings reveal the development of the themes and documentary script of the film, and how they are designed to promote discussion among urban and prospective migrants living in rural homesteads. Subject to Change also provides an understanding of errors made by project members in choosing the wrong venues for screening and in failing to prepare post-screening facilitators for their task of promoting audience discussion after the showings. Finally, Subject to Change presents footage of four post-screening events in different locations — a church, an urban market, a school and a rural homestead. The analysis of Maasai Migrants' goals and strategy, supplemented by Maasai viewers' subtle comments on the film, reveal a great potential for an applied visual anthropology.

Maasai Speak Out on HIV and AIDS (Dir. Biella; research & footage by Thomas Sengale, 13 min, 2009)
Ilmurran is the most-frequently screened trigger film in the Maasai Migrants repertoire. Like the others, its goal is to provide critical education to displaced Maasai throughout Tanzania. When the film is screened with a skilled discussion facilitator, it allows an unprecedented opportunity for Maasai audiences to reflect on the realities and dangers of migration. Longido Waterhole and Longido Homestead, both included on this DVD, record Maasai viewers as they watch and discuss this film. Ilmurran: Young Warriors and the City provides discussion material concerning increased exposure to HIV, and the attraction of migration as a means of survival in the face of encroaching poverty. Following a strategy of collaborative, applied visual anthropology, the filmmakers worked with university educated Maasai to document the day-to-day lives of three young Maasai brothers (ilmurran, "warriors"). The young men all live at the same homestead in central Tanzania. Using interviews and vérité footage, the film invites the brothers to discuss discrimination, homelessness, and disease in the cities. It also highlights how their different ages influence their attitudes toward traditional Maasai values. Before he became ill, the eldest advocated migration as an expression of independence and courage; the youngest sees no purpose in "wandering" and advocates farming, a means of subsistence rejected by most Maasai. Ilmurran illustrates how poverty and migration have reshaped Maasai identity.

Ilmurran: Young Warriors and the City (Dir. Michael Crammond and Kellen Prandini, 22 min, 2010)
Ilmurran is the most-frequently screened trigger film in the Maasai Migrants repertoire. Like the others, its goal is to provide critical education to displaced Maasai throughout Tanzania. When the film is screened with a skilled discussion facilitator, it allows an unprecedented opportunity for Maasai audiences to reflect on the realities and dangers of migration. Longido Waterhole and Longido Homestead, both included on this DVD, record Maasai viewers as they watch and discuss this film. Ilmurran: Young Warriors and the City provides discussion material concerning increased exposure to HIV, and the attraction of migration as a means of survival in the face of encroaching poverty. Following a strategy of collaborative, applied visual anthropology, the filmmakers worked with university educated Maasai to document the day-to-day lives of three young Maasai brothers (ilmurran, "warriors"). The young men all live at the same homestead in central Tanzania. Using interviews and vérité footage, the film invites the brothers to discuss discrimination, homelessness, and disease in the cities. It also highlights how their different ages influence their attitudes toward traditional Maasai values. Before he became ill, the eldest advocated migration as an expression of independence and courage; the youngest sees no purpose in "wandering" and advocates farming, a means of subsistence rejected by most Maasai. Ilmurran illustrates how poverty and migration have reshaped Maasai identity.

Excerpts from Changa Revisited (Dir. Peter Biella and Leonard Kamerling, 17 min, 2012)
Composed of selections from a feature-length documentary, Excerpts from Changa Revisited depicts the shocking clarity with which three Ilparakuyo Maasai women understand the dissolution of their Ilparakuyo community. They describe their homestead as torn by human and livestock diseases, widespread alcoholism among men, and the increase of poverty, disrespect, migration and violence. Changa Revisited was filmed in a community that is very close to Dar es Salaam: for that reason, the community is experiencing the full destructive impact of migration and access to city life. Changa Revisited is therefore a cautionary tale to other, more isolated, Maasai communities that are currently less impacted by the crises of migration and HIV depicted in the film. Another video contained in this DVD, Longido Homestead, records women in a relatively isolated Kisongo Maasai community who watch Changa Revisited and discuss the fate of their less fortunate Maasai sisters to the south. The story of Changa represents to them — and to others in very isolated Maasai communities — what the future may bring.

Longido Waterhole (Dir. Peter Biella and Leonard Kamerling, 8 min, 2010)
All of the films in the Maasai Migrants DVD explore a technique of applied anthropology in which films are used to trigger often passionate post-screening discussions among Maasai audiences. Longido Waterhole, like its companion, Longido Homestead, documents such a discussion. As the film opens, a dozen Kisongo Maasai men have just viewed Ilmurran: Young Warriors and the City, one of the Series' trigger films about social change. The viewers, who live more than two hundred miles north of the community where the Ilmurran video was shot, launch into a discussion about the profound changes faced by their own community. They do not concern themselves with the principle theme of the Ilmurran film, i.e., the crisis of young Maasai migrating to the city. Instead, the film triggers a discussion of their own related crisis — the city migrating to them. Rapid regional development with new highways, foreign workers and permanent dwellings are all encroaching on their once isolated desert grazing land. Comments divide along age lines: senior warriors criticize their "fathers" for facilitating the arrival of outsiders and for their adherence to "outmoded" Maasai traditions. Elders reply that traditions are the only value that Maasai should preserve. The discussion at the Longido Waterhole gives insight into the ideological rifts concerning modernization among different age groups of Maasai. It also shows how using a film that focuses on one facet of modernization may trigger discussions of others that are more pertinent locally.

Longido Homestead (Dir. Peter Biella and Leonard Kamerling, 8 min, 2010)
Like its companion piece, Longido Waterhole and other videos on this DVD, Longido Homestead is part of the Maasai Migrants Series, a multi-year exploration of the use of applied anthropological media in facilitating social change through the screening and discussion of trigger films. Longido Homestead's women viewers are asked to discuss a video clip from Ilmurran: Young Warriors and the City, and a segment of Changa Revisited (both contained on this DVD). Unlike their male counterparts recorded in Longido Waterhole, these women viewers stay focused on the themes of the films they viewed. Like the men, however, the women understand the film topic in ways that differ according to their age. Older women declare that traditional Maasai medicines are an effective cure of AIDS. Their daughters, adult women who have visited clinics and have some formal education, know differently. Longido Homestead shows how the screening of trigger films can create an unprecedented opportunity for open discussion between age grades, opportunities in which younger women may contradict and educate their elders. The film also reveals an important strategy in the use of trigger films among communities that are as thoroughly sex-segregated as the Maasai. The women are only able to speak frankly with one another when the filmmakers persuade their husbands to leave.

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Related Films
Diary of a Maasai Village series
The Women's Olamal: The Organization of a Maasai Fertility Ceremony
Maasai Women / Odyssey


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