DER Documentary

Secrets of the Tribe

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by José Padilha
color, 98 min, 2010

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The field of anthropology goes under the magnifying glass in this fiery investigation of the seminal research on Yanomamö Indians. In the 1960s and '70s, a steady stream of anthropologists filed into the Amazon Basin to observe this "virgin" society untouched by modern life. Thirty years later, the events surrounding this infiltration have become a scandalous tale of academic ethics and infighting.

The origins of violence and war and the accuracy of data gathering are hotly debated among the scholarly clan. Soon these disputes take on Heart of Darkness overtones as they descend into shadowy allegations of sexual and medical violation.

Director José Padilha brilliantly employs two provocative strategies to raise unsettling questions about the boundaries of cultural encounters. He allows professors accused of heinous activities to defend themselves, and the Yanomami to represent their side of the story. As this riveting excavation deconstructs anthropology's colonial legacy, it challenges our society's myths of objectivity and the very notion of "the other."

“In the world documentary section, one of the best is the new work by Brazil's José Padilha, who did the excellent Bus 174. His complex, shattering Secrets of the Tribe examines the effects that waves of cultural anthropologists have had on the Yanomami Indians of the Amazon basin, a society that had been totally isolated from nominal civilization.” — Kenneth Turan, LA Times
“The interviews with the Yanomami, who describe entire villages of people dying, sexual abuse and the havoc wrought by anthropologists who traded information for steel axes and machetes, create a cumulative effect that can only be described as heartbreak.” — Shari Kizirian, Documentary Magazine
“Director Jose Padhila has brilliantly turned the methods of anthropology on the anthropologists themselves... The result is a film that challenges us to look at definitions of self and other, and that provides a record that is almost the same as the entire history of contact and colonialism suffered by many Indigenous peoples of many lands over many centuries - but in this case condensed into thirty or so sordid and appalling years... (Secrets of the Tribe) provides us with a clear and cautionary tale of how ego skews perspective and, in doing so, creates a world of suffering. I left the theater ashamed to be a member of the "academic tribe." And having said that, this is a film that I would recommend to all - especially academics.” — Michele Desmarais, Journal of Religion and Film
“While there is plenty to be appalled about here, Secrets of the Tribe is actually quite funny, insightful and entertaining. The egos, the inconsistencies and the battle of the minds keep the narrative moving forward at superb speed, raising questions about motive, opportunity and objectivity along the way.”
— John Esther, Moving Pictures Magazine
“If ever there existed the notion that anthropologists are a group of innocuous and dispassionate individuals interested largely in detached analysis about non-Western cultures, Padilha demolishes it. In so doing, he provides viewers with a glimpse into how professional egos, jealousies, and politics have shaped the reproduction of knowledge about what was, until recently, one of the last isolated and pristine indigenous tribes on the planet. …The debate (Padilha) reveals makes us want to understand more about the actual details and substance of the arguments engaged. This, in my view, is what is most significant about his film. It is happily the case that Documentary Educational Resources is distributing this work. As noted, it won't explain to students all they should know, but I can't think of a more engaging way to introduce them to issues about methods and ethics in fieldwork, the relative scientific and humanistic aspects of anthropological investigation, and debates about the cultural versus biological determinants of behavior. ” — John Homiak, American Anthropologist, Vol. 114, No. 1

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Contro-Sguardi International Anthropological Film Festival, Italy, 2012
Sundance Film Festival, 2010
Independent Film Festival of Boston, 2010
HotDocs, Canada, 2010
Roma Independent Film Festival, Italy, 2010
Torino GLBT Film Festival, Italy, 2010
Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Festival, Ireland, 2010
It's All True, Rio de Janiero, Brazil, 2010
CINESTRAT, Spain, 2010
Latin American Film Festival, Netherlands, 2010
DocAviv, Israel, 2010
Henley International Film Festival, UK, 2010
Montreal First Peoples' Festival, 2010
FIDMarseille - Marseille Documentary Film Festival, 2010
Film and Art Fest, Poland, 2010
Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival, 2010
Bergen International Film Festival, Norway, 2010
Havana Film Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Cuba, 2010
Los Angeles International Film Festival, 2010
American Anthropological Association/Society for Visual Anthropology Conference, New Orleans, LA, 2010
New England Festival of Ibero-American Cinema, Providence, RI, 2010

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The Yanomamo Series
Yanomamö: A Multidisciplinary Study
A Man Called "Bee": Studying The Yanomamo
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Yanomamö Shorts

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