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Archival Legacies of the Yanomamö Series – Restoration and Return

In February, DER co-hosted a panel at the Smithsonian’s Mother Tongue Film Festival discussing the restoration of the Yanomamö film series, a groundbreaking media project that expanded the boundaries of documentary. “Archival Legacies of the Yanomamö Series – Restoration and Return”, a two-part roundtable, focused on the technical and aesthetic issues underlying the processes of film preservation and digital restoration and explored the value of these films for the Yanomamö and anthropologists interested in more equitable collaborations.

Watch the full panel discussion:

Distributed by Documentary Educational Resources (DER) and archived in the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archive, the series emerged from a collaboration between anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon (1938–2019), filmmaker Tim Asch (1932–1994), and Yanomami communities in southern Venezuela and northern Brazil.

The collaboration resulted in 110,000 feet of film and 21 films, including some of the most celebrated ethnographic films of the period: The Feast (1970), The Ax Fight (1975), and A Man Called “Bee” (1974). But this work was not without controversy as Chagnon’s mis-characterizations of the Yanomami as the “Fierce People” has had ongoing impacts on communities, and scholars have called into question his ethics.

The first roundtable is focused on the technical and aesthetic issues underlying the processes of preservation and digital restoration. The second panel explores the value of these films for the Yanomamö and anthropologists interested in more equitable collaborations. Acknowledging the painful legacies of anthropology, these roundtables will provoke discussions about the value of historical works and the potential for redress and corrected narratives.

Part 1 – Preservation & Digital Restoration

Panelists:

  • Joshua Bell (Introduction — Recovering Voices, NMNH)
  • Alice Apley (Moderating — DER)
  • Pam Wintle (Emeritus, National Anthropological Archives)
  • Frank Aveni (DER)
  • Nic Brynolfson (DER)
  • Elías Mendoza Vivas (DER)

Part 2 – Return

Panelists:

  • Joshua Bell (Introduction, Recovering Voices, NMNH),
  • Alice Apley (Moderating, DER)
  • Hortensia Caballero (Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientificas)
  • David Good (University of Guelph and The Good Project
  • Javier Carrera Rubio (University of Mayland, College Park and Research Associate, NMNH)

This program was co-presented by Documentary Educational Resources and the National Anthropological Archives.

Restoration of the Yanomamö Film Series was graciously funded by a National Film Preservation Foundation grant and individual donors.

Accessibility: ASL interpretation and live real-time captioning will be provided for the discussion.


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