Films: A-level Anthropology Unit 1

Home Education For Teachers Teaching Resources Films: A-level Anthropology Unit 1

Copyright Gonzalo Valverde

The following films have been selected from the RAI’s ethnographic film library for their suitability in dealing with subjects covered in the Anthropology A-level curriculum. They are also excellent resources for the International Baccalaureate (IB) and other A-levels such as sociology, geography and religion. These films are available for hire or purchase. For more information please contact the RAI’s Film Officer Susanne Hammacher at  02078370455. 


3.1. Unit 1 Being Human: Unity and Diversity

3.1.2. Thinking and communicating  

Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology Student Film
Director: David Griggs
Country/Production: UK
Release: 2002
Length: 30 mins
Location: South Africa, Lesotho, Africa
Ethnic Group: Basotho

The Basotho live in Lesotho, a kingdom of high mountains surrounded by South Africa. Afflicted by famine, poverty and AIDS, they carry on making a science out of their witchcraft beliefs.




Director: Richard Werbner
Country/Production: UK
Release: 2006
Length: 60 mins
Location: Botswana, Moremi Village, Gaborone, Africa
Language: Tswapong w/English subtitles

Set in Moremi village within Botswana’s awesome Tswapong hills, the film makes village elders self-consciously reflexive. The elders, including a controversial healer, view and discuss an earlier film of his séances with a participant, a former patient, now the anthropologist’s research assistant.
Their main subject is Seriti. Literally ‘Shade’, the idea ties dignity, power and charisma to the light in which a person is seen by others, the dead and the ancestors above all. The healer’s own Seriti is regarded at risk. He is accused of polluting the earth, of wrongly mixing the Christian and the non-Christian, of making the public private for personal gain. Elders condemn him but he defends his God-given mission for ‘the original way’. The film discloses the intimate play of light and dark in villagers’ lives, their concern for well-being and the public good, against the background of séances, a funeral, a wedding, and a sacrifice to restore communication with the ancestors.




Director: Richard Werbner
Country/Production: UK
Release: 2008
Length: 56 mins
Location: Botswana, Africa
Language: Tswapong w/English subtitles

Of all the faith-healing churches in Botswana, Eloyi is the most controversial. Sensational stories in newspapers and on television have made Eloyi notorious for so-called witch-busting and for exorcising demons. Known as tokoloshi, they appear like a nightmare image of an overwhelming consumer society. While attacking traditional ritual as Satan’s work, Eloyi brings back, in a Christian or even more remarkably Old Testament guise, many old Tswana practices. Rarely in the ritual of other churches is empathy for others’ and their mortal frailty so powerfully realised as in this Apostolic church during a séance. The film shows the impact of such empathy and the demonic in the lives of a childless couple, Martha and Njebe, originally from the countryside and now settled in Botswana’s capital city.  After a long quest for healing by traditional doctors and gynecological treatment by Western hospitals, Martha chooses to seek help from Eloyi. Her choice widens the gulf between her own faith and her husband Njebe’s scepticism.


Director: Helena Basu
Release: 2010
Length: 55 mins
Location: Gujarat, India
Laguage: Hindi, Gujarati w/English subtitles

The Sufi shrine of Mira Datar in North Gujarat is a large pilgrimage centre specialising in healing possession and mental illness. It has become a site of experimenting with new forms of community care in the mental health sector. The film documents exchanges between various actors at the shrine and listens to the stories of the protagonists. It presents different views on the presumed causes of mental illness as well as on the benefit or non-benefit of medicine or ritual practices as perceived by patients and their relatives.


Director: Lina Fruzzetti, Ákos Östör
Release: 2005
Length: 45 mins
Location: India, Kolkata, West Bengal
Winner of the Material Culture & Archaeology Film Prize 2005
Language: Bengali w/English subtitles

 For generations the Patua (Chitrakara) communities of West Bengal have been painters and singers of stories depicted in scrolls. The film follows the daily lives of Muslim Patua women from Naya villages near Kolkata, which have formed a scroll painters’ cooperative.




Granada Center for Visual Anthropology Student Film
Director: Anna Waddell
Release: 2005
Length: 32 mins
Location: London, UK
Language: English

Kristin, Mark and Bob collect things. The film explores attachment, possession and the way that objects inhabit their lives.

3.1.3. Organising social relations


Director: Jean Lydall, Kaira Strecker
Release: 2001
Length: 87 mins
Location: Ethiopia, Africa
Ethnic Group: Hamar
Language: Hamar & English
Winner of the 2003 RAI Film Prize

Filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Lydall has been making films with the Hamar community of southern Ethiopia since the 1970s. In 2001 she returned with her daughter and grandson to follow the continuing life story of Duka. Candid interviews reveal the complex family dynamics when Duka’s husband, Sago, takes a second wife, Boro. This film provides an intimate and personal family portrait that captures Duka’s ambivalence at sharing her home and husband. The quiet suspense is only heightened when Duka’s mother-in-law starts stirring up trouble. The high points of the film include the birth of the new wife’s child, and heated dispute between the mother-in-law and her son, which leads to the building of a new house.




Director: Simon Chambers, Delwar Hussain
Release: 2007
Length: 63 mins
Location: London/Bangladesh / Europe
Ethnic Group: Bangladeshis
Language: English, Bengali (English sub)
Winner of the RAI Film Prize 2007

Director Simon Chambers follows the lives of young Bengali sisters (who are close personal friends of his) as they travel from London to Bangladesh to undertake the arranged marriages that have long been planned for them. Although apparently reluctant to submit to the agreed arrangements, the sisters nonetheless seem unable or unwilling to ultimately escape their traditional destiny.




Director: Hua Cai
Length: 26 mins
Location: China
Ethnic Group: Na
Winner of the JVC Student Video Film Prize 1996

The Na are an ethnic group in south-east China. Their particularity is that all the members of each household are consanguineous relatives; their social organisation is absolutely matrilineal and as incest is prohibited, like elsewhere, their sexual life mainly takes the form of nocturnal visits of men to women.


Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology Student Film
Director: Laura Kirk
Release: 1998
Length: 34 mins
Location: Nepal
Ethnic Group: Nepalese
Language: Nepali w/English subtitles

This film in a traditional household in Nepal: a servant girl, Nani; a married woman, Sarita; and a mother-in-law, Ama. An interesting mixture of entrapment, duty and tradition.

3.1.4. Engaging with nature


Director: David Picard
Release: 2009
Length: 46 mins
Location: Madagascar, Africa
Language: English, French, Brazilian (Portugese) and German

Uncanny Strangers has been filmed in a fishing village in the South-West of Madagascar. Through a series of everyday life episodes the film provides insight into the relationships between the villagers and various human and non-human ‘strangers’ – ancestor and tromba spirits, Western NGO workers, ecotourists, fish collectors, cattle rustlers and the ethnographic filmmaker. Through its specific ethnographic focus, the film points towards more generic issues related to hospitality practice, frictions in the field of environmental action and transnational forms of collaboration.




Directors: André Singer and Steven Lansing
Location: Indonesia
Released: 1989
Length: 80 mins

This film, made for Channel Four Television’s Fragile Earth series, follows two American irrigation scientists who are seeking to understand the ancient Balinese irrigation system and forestall further environmental problems. Using traditional methods of cultivation, a single plot of irrigated land can produce tons of rice, year after year, century after century, with no added fertilizer and no ecological degradation. To understand why, biologist Jim Kremer, takes us into the paddies with laboratory tools, showing how the rice pond becomes a miniature aquatic ecosystem which produces abundant energy for the plants, and how “development” can threaten this careful balance.




SERMILIGAAG 65°54’N, 36°22’W
Director: Anni Seitz
Anthropologist: Sophie Elixhauser
Release: 2008
Length: 64 mins
Location: Greenland, Arctic, Inuit

The people of East Greenland inhabit a small string of coastal land at the edge of the biggest island of the world. Long winters have always shaped daily life here, a life that has gone within a few generations from earth house to modernity, complete with helicopters, satellite TV and alcohol. This documentary shows us East Greenland today, the village in summer and winter, the family between seal hunting and computer games. It lets us experience in clear and poetical scenes normality in an extraordinary world, quietly observing events, faces, gestures that combine to form a portrait that is at the same time strange and strangely familiar. (Winner of the Wiley-Blackwell Student Film Prize, RAI Film Festival 2009)


51 minutes Colour 1987
Director: Michael Beckham
Anthropologist: Terence Turner

This film focuses on the conflicts and determination of a group of people trying to survive and maintain their ethnic identity in the face of almost overpowering odds. The film contrasts the reactions of two groups of Kayapo to outside influence. The Kapot have opposed contact and resisted both nonindigenous Brazilian settlers and gold miners. The Gorotire, by contrast, were invaded by gold miners who strip-mined their land and polluted their rivers. The miners paid the Gorotire very little for the destruction until 1985 when the Gorotire forced the miners to raise the commission by 5% when 200 warriors seized the airstrip. This commission amounts to two million dollars per year for the tribe and the tribe is learning to cope with the money, both with the problems it brings and the power it gives. They have trained several of their number to deal effectively with the outside world on behalf of the rest of the tribe and now run a plane (and hire a pilot) to patrol their land against intruders. The Kapot, in their own way, are also trying to assert their identity and independence. This portion of the film shows the Kapot in the traditional activities of building and dismantling a hunting camp. Thesight the hunters returning with the tortoises they have caught is particularly impressive. The now famous Chief Rop-ni is featured as a leader of the Kapot and he states eloquently his opposition to the Gorotire’s acceptance of the gold miners. Despite their adherence to tradition, however, the Kapot use modern technology – video, radios, etc. – to protect their interests and record their rituals.

Director: Lina Fruzzetti, Alfred Guzzetti, Ned Johnston, Akos Östör
Release: 1989
Length: 36 mins
Location: Bangladesh, Janta, near Bishnupur town / Asia
Ethnic Group: Indian

Seed on Earth is a film about everyday life in rural Bangladesh (village of Janta, near Bishnupur town). It follows the daily schedule of two families and observes the complementary and difference of gender and generation in work, ritual and leisure activities of men and women, adults and children. The film reveals the strong links between the sacred and social life, the events and ideas of family, cultivation and worship. Village life and people are presented through their own activities in their own words in naturally occurring situations.


Director: Russell Hawkins
Release: 2001
Length: 52 mins
Location: Salomon Islands / Pacific
Language: English (English sub)

Set in the South Pacific, in a remote Solomon Islands village, SINCE THE COMPANY CAME is the story of a community coming to terms with social, cultural and ecological disintegration. When village leaders invite a Malaysian company to log their tribal land, the Haporai people of Rendova Island in the Solomon Islands find themselves at a difficult crossroads. Most of the men embrace the chance to earn money and participate in the modern economy; many of the women are more concerned with preserving the forests and traditions that sustain their families. At a village meeting, Chief Mark Lamberi calls into question the tribe’s finances, only to find himself the target of furious accusations from the new ‘big man’ of the community and Chairman of the logging project, Timothy Zama. The community is embroiled in conflicts over land ownership and logging royalties, conflicts that threaten the very core of their traditional social values.


Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology Student Film
Director: Becky Payne
Release: 2007
Location: England
Length: 31 mins
Language: English

This film is a glimpse into the life of the Landmatters Co-operative, a community of 11 adults and 4 children living in benders and yurts in rural Devon as they develop a permaculture project. The 42 acres of land was originally designated for agriculture, which means they do not have planning permission for residential use. The film follows the group as they fight for permission to live on the land in order to create a self-reliant way of life for a future that doesn’t depend on fossil fuels. The film also explores concerns of some local residents in the nearby hamlet who object to the ‘hippies’ living next door. The production and representation of material culture; its use to represent aspects of the social and spiritual worlds.