Undala and Undala Conversations
watch a preview of Undala
This special set combines two films on one DVD:
Undala (color, 28 min, 1967) - watch a preview
Undalawas filmed in 1964 in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan in an early era of ethnographic filmmaking just before the emergence of the technology required for the field recording of synchronous sound. Dust hangs over the land, diffusing the light, muting shadow, and adding a patina of gold to each scene. As an intense and purely observational experience, it could be seen as a precursor to what is being referred to today as "sensory ethnography."
The village Gangwa is presented as first encountered by a team of filmmakers and anthropologists. A musical score by Harold Schram, a student of Indian classical music, accents the movement and rhythm of a medley of visual impressions of daily work activities: a potter opens a flawless clay vessel on his potter's wheel spinning on a spike of wood, a carpenter planes a sliver from a plank held without tool or vise and men lift 340 pounds of water from a shaft well in the skin of a flayed bovine. The tactility of grit and dust, of sweat and heat, of abrasive winds and squinting eyes, and of water flushing from a leather bag, infuses the viewing with the sensate — an embodied world of the craftsmen that no longer exists.
The Selection Board of the IX Festival dei Popoli awarded Undala special mention: “For the accuracy with which significant aspects of everyday work in a third world country are revealed and for the quality of the image.” (March 4, 1968, Florence) The film received the Cine Golden Eagle, with screenings at the Brussels Film Festival and the International Festival of Short Films, Krakow, Poland, in 1968.
Undala Conversations a film by Peter Biella (color, 30 min, 2011, 16:9) - watch a preview
In 2009 the ethnographer Thomas Rosin, who studied Gangwa across a span of forty years, and the producer Allison Jablonko meet to discuss the early work. In Undala Conversations they watch the original film and explore its evidence of a feudal architecture and settlement plan, the virtuosity of craft production, and the causes of the single example of ineptitude filmed among working men. They review how the first impressions of fluid movement, concealed faces, and the deft coordination of craftsmen, captured by Undala's cinematographer, Marek Jablonko, led to puzzles and questions, opening numerous avenues to research that the anthropologist pursued in subsequent years.
A discussion of farming practices reveals a sophisticated regime involving partnerships in irrigated farming, rainwater harvesting and aquifer recharge coordinated with husbandry that made the Thar of Rajasthan one of the most densely populated deserts in the world.
“Suitable for college courses in cultural anthropology, economic anthropology, ethnographic film, and Indian/South Asian studies, as well as general audiences.” — Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database
Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Special Mention, IX Festival dei Popoli, 1968 (for Undala)
Cine Golden Eagle, 1968 (for Undala)
Brussels Film Festival, 1968 (for Undala)
International Festival of Short Films, Krakow, Poland, 1968 (for Undala)