Dead Birds

  • Thur Apr 11
Dead Birds

introduced by Professors Jane Fajans and Terry Turner (both from Dept of Anthropology)

Robert Gardner
Robert Gardner (narrator)

A landmark ethnographic documentary, Dead Birds explores the nearly neolithic world of the Dani, a tribe of Papuans in New Guinea untouched by the modern world. Following the habits and customs of the Dani only a few years before their integration by the Dutch government, Gardner’s camera, accompanied by narration written by novelist Peter Mathiessen (At Play in the Fields of the Lord), beautifully captures the rhythms of tribal life, from religious ceremonies to farming practices. Far from a naïve celebration of the peaceful and noble “primitive,” the film reveals the near constant state of war between clans, both the perpetual battles and the inevitable mourning rituals for the dead. As much a detailed ethnography of a vanishing people’s existence as it is a philosophical exploration of the nature of humanity, Dead Birds has been hailed by the poet Robert Lowell as “unlike any other movie I have ever seen… Robert Gardner’s film is dazzling.”

35mm color
1 hour 24 minutes
release year/country
1963 USA