Dead Birds Re-Encountered 2013
Distributed by Documentary Educational Resources, 101 Morse Street, Watertown, MA 02472; 617-926-0491
Directed by Robert Gardner
DVD, color, 88 min.
Aging, Anthropology, Area Studies, Indigenous Peoples, Travel and Tourism, War
Date Entered: 08/17/2017Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA
As a young graduate student, Robert Gardner traveled to a remote corner of Indonesia, where he filmed and photographed the Dani people of West Papua, New Guinea. The result was his ground-breaking ethnographic documentary, Dead Birds. In 1989, the director of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology returned to the site of his earlier expedition to discover how the lives and landscape changed in the intervening 28 years. This film is a record of that later encounter. It was issued in 2013 to mark the 50th anniversary of Dead Birds original release date.
Reuniting with Weyak and Pua, two of the main characters from the first film, Gardner sees firsthand how the primitive Neolithic people are now connected to the outside world by a new road that runs across a previously isolated valley. Although Weyak has adopted western clothing, Pua retains his traditional dress. Weyak explains the Dani are no longer interested in war or revenge, while Pua travels by helicopter to a nearby town where he visits a souvenir shop and is gawked at by townspeople and tourists.
Although the reunion provides some insight into the lives of the Dani in 1989, it suffers from poor editing and voice-over commentary, making for a disjointed, confusing narrative. Clips from the earlier film give some context, however for viewers who have not seen the original 1963 film, this stand-alone product feels incomplete.