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Ritual Burdens cover photo

Ritual Burdens 2011


Distributed by Documentary Educational Resources, 101 Morse Street, Watertown, MA 02472; 617-926-0491
Producer n/a
Directed by Robert Lemelson
DVD , color, 88 min.

Sr. High - General Adult
Anthropology, Bipolar Disorder, Community Mental Health Services, Depression, Family, Festivals, Drugs, Mental Health, Psychiatry, Psychology, Religion

Date Entered: 10/30/2013

Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

The small Indonesian island province of Bali is known around the world for its unique and beautiful cultural art forms, including painting, sculpture, and dance. The many Hindu holy days, temples, and festivals that are an integral part of daily life are an expression of both the culture and the society. In Bali, the calendar includes more than 200 days of rituals ranging from large-scale life cycle occasions to smaller blessing ceremonies. These events are intricate and encompassing, both in terms of time and resources and generally fall upon the women of the island to prepare, manage and lead them.

In this short case study, anthropologist and filmmaker Lemelson hypothesizes that the myriad of Balinese religious responsibilities also act as a significant stressor and one that may predicate mental illness. When the audience first meets Ni Ketut Kasih, she is a middle-aged village woman who also serves as her community’s temple priest. She has suffered for decades from bipolar disorder, characterized by bouts of sadness, confusion and paranoia. They are usually triggered by an approaching ritual obligation and frequently required hospitalization. In interviews, both Ketut and her family describe her symptoms, along with the possible causes and effects. The audience briefly meets Ketut and her family 11 years later, when the ravages of her illness are plainly visible.

The film, one of a 6-part series by Lemelson titled Afflictions: Culture and Mental Illness in Indonesia, uses ethnographic research and first-person narrative to discuss the issue of mental illness in the developing world. It is well suited for a discussion of psychological issues related to rituals and social expectations. An excellent study guide provides needed context and background information on Ketut, her illness, her family’s response and is available on the DER website.


  • Winner, Bronze Award for Short Documentary, Prestige Film Awards, 2012