DER Documentary

Ngat is Dead: Studying Mortuary Traditions


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by Christian Suhr and Ton Otto
co-directed by Steffen Dalsgaard
color, 59 min, 2009




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What do anthropologists mean when they claim to study the cultural traditions of others by participating in them? This film follows the Dutch anthropologist Ton Otto, who has been adopted by a family on Baluan Island in Papua New Guinea. Due to the death of his adoptive father, he has to take part in mortuary ceremonies, whose form and content are passionately contested by different groups of relatives.

Through prolonged negotiations, Ton learns how Baluan people perform and transform their traditions and not least what role he plays himself. The film is part of long-term field research, in which filmmaking has become integrated in the ongoing dialogue and exchange between the islanders and the anthropologist.

“Straddling the permeable genres of ethnographic, participatory, and narrator-driven documentary, this one-hour DVD will be an extremely useful teaching resource. It presents anthropological insights prompted by filmmaking grounded in long-term familiarity and involvement with a community. It also demonstrates the benefits of an anthropologically trained film crew. ...As an ethnographic film that demonstrates the value and developing insights of long-term fieldwork, this is excellent.” — Mike Poltorak, University of Kent, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Volume 16, Issue 4, December 2010

Film Festivals, Screenings & Awards
Freiburger Film Forum, Germany, 2009
Royal Anthropological Institute International Festival of Ethnographic Film, Leeds, England, 2009
Prix du Patrimoine Culturel Immatériel, Jean Rouch International Film Festival, Paris, 2008
Beeld voor Beeld, Bogotá, Colombia, 2008
DIEFF, Delhi International Ethnographic Film Festival, Delhi, India, 2008
13th Mostra Internacional do Filme Etnográfico, Brazil, 2008
IV Moscow International Visual Anthropology Festival, Russia, 2008
VISCULT 2008: The Festival of Visual Culture, Finland, 2008
SIEFF, Sardinia International Ethnographic Film Festival, Nuoro, Italy, 2008
XXII Pärnu International Film Festival, Estonia, 2008
Beeld voor Beeld, Amsterdam, 2008
Days of Ethnographic Film, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2008
Worldfilm: Tartu Festival of Visual Culture, Estonia, 2008
BILAN, Jean Rouch International Film Festival, Paris, 2008
The International Ethnographic Film Festival of Quebec, Canada, 2008
XVI International Festival of Ethnological Film in Belgrade, Serbia, 2007
TIEFF, Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival, Taipei, Taiwan, 2007
NAFA, Nordic Anthropological Film Festival in Trondheim, Norway, 2007

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