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Ethnografilm Festival in Paris: A Documentary Film Festival With a Difference

Ethnografilm Festival in Paris: A Documentary Film Festival With a Difference

  • Films screened during the four-day event, including my own ‘Road to Zuni,’ covered a wide range — family history, migration, war, food sovereignty, climate crisis, deforestation, catastrophes of industrial capitalism, and contemporary issues.

I just returned from attending the Ethnografilm Festival held in Paris last month where my film “Road to Zuni,” was screened. The annual non-fiction film festival is in its seventh year since it was inaugurated in 2014. The festival was held at Théâtre Lepic in Montmartre, a historic cultural center of Paris. Originally called Cine 13 theater, the venue was renovated in 2019 and was renamed Théâtre Lepic.

This year marked the return of the festival after it was closed down for the last two years because of the pandemic. Naturally, the spirits were high, and on opening night, all the directors in attendance vowed not to use the word ‘Covid’ and called it ‘co- video.’ What followed was a spectacular four days of watching documentaries and engaging with the directors. Founding director Wesley Shrum’s interview on Ethnografilm explains the beauty and uniqueness of this festival.

Film screenings were held for almost 12 hours after which directors hung out at a nearby bar and cafe to discuss their films and life. Films screened were divided into groups; and after four or five films, there was half an hour of engaging discussion involving the directors and the audience. 

One of the objectives of the festival was to provide a candid dialogue between filmmakers from different backgrounds. It is like an academic conference without the pressure of presenting a paper. Almost half are academic films (made by people with academic affiliations), and the directors are there at hand to talk about their films and field questions from fellow directors and the audience. 

Filmmaker Annapurna Pandey at the festival.

The films were only screened at the festival, without any online showing. Since this festival does not rank the films for any award, the atmosphere is conflict-free, and people are joyful. The only requirement is that once the film is selected, the director needs to be there physically to participate in the film discussion.

This festival runs on a shoestring budget — Shrum’ s wife, Susan, a school teacher in Louisiana, organizes the artwork. Her high school students take screenshots of all the films, from which they produce original art pieces on the films for each director to take home. Those pieces are matted and displayed on the theater walls during the festival. 

The ISC is a partner of the festival, along with The Society for Social Studies of Science (4s), and the journal of Visual Ethnography. You may find all of the Festival’s partners here.

The festival gave me an opportunity to meet filmmakers from all over the world. Films screened this year included films from India: one on the production of Indigo in the state of Telangana and the other about Dalit female drummers from Tamil Nadu. There was also an Israeli filmmaker from Delhi who came with her film “Typewriter.”

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It was exciting for the screening of my film after two years of cancellations. “Road to Zuni” focuses on the land claim case of the Zuni people of the American Southwest, featuring the testimony of an anthropologist. The film highlights the importance of the oral traditions of the indigenous people.

Films shown at the festival covered a wide range — family history, migration, war, food sovereignty, climate crisis, deforestation, catastrophes of industrial capitalism, contemporary issues such as the story of the bigfoot, Dakota Access pipeline protest, and Indigenous rights issues in the Amazonia as well as First Nations people in Canada.

I felt one theme that ran through these films was the issue of social justice. This was the first time I sat for 12 hours for four consecutive days, watching films non-stop without getting tired. I want to commend the organizers for providing such a wonderful setting for screening non-fictional ethnographic films and meeting amazing people who positively impact society through their films.

Annapurna Devi Pandey teaches Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and was a postdoctoral fellow in social anthropology at Cambridge University, the U.K. Her current research interests include diaspora studies, South Asian religions, and immigrant women’s identity making in the diaspora in California. In 2017-18 she received a Fulbright scholarship for fieldwork in India. Dr. Pandey is also an accomplished documentary filmmaker. Her 2018 award-winning documentary “Road to Zuni,” dealt with the importance of oral traditions among Native Americans.

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