FILMING CULTURE: NIGERIA, KOREA AND BEYOND MARGARET MEAD ETHNOGRAPHIC FILM FESTIVAL TRAVELS TO THE UNIVERSITY, BRINGING TWO VIDEOS BY USC VISUAL ANTHROPOLOGY GRADUATES

03/22/93
by Carol Tucker
Fans of ethnographic film have a rare treat in store. The prestigious
Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival - which features 13
ethnographic films and videos - has its exclusive Los Angeles
screening at USC March 24 through 28.

And it's something of a coup for the University that the festival -
sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History in New York -
includes two videos produced by USC visual anthropology graduates.

"The Margaret Mead festival represents a selection of the best films
and videos in the ethnographic genre, and the fact that three of our
students made videos that have been chosen is very important in terms
of our program and USC's visibility," said Gary Seaman, anthropology
department chair and co-director of the Center for Visual
Anthropology.

The USC graduates' films are In and Out of Africa, by Ilisa Barbash
and Lucien Taylor, and An Initiation Kut for a Korean Shaman,
co-produced by Diana S. Lee.

The festival honors Margaret Mead, one of the first anthropologists
to use documentary film to study indigenous cultures. This is the
first year that the Mead Festival has traveled outside New York since
its inception in 1977, and USC is its only Los Angeles venue.

"We're the only place in Los Angeles that is really interested in
ethnographic films, and these films really represent the kind of
things we do here in the master's program," said anthropology
professor Timothy Asch, who co-directs the Center for Visual
Anthropology. Founded in 1978, the center is a teaching, research and
production facility within the Department of Anthropology.

March 25-28, in conjunction with the Margaret Mead Festival, the
Center for Visual Anthropology and the School of Cinema-Television
are sponsoring screenings of current USC students' films and videos
before the featured festival program. The festival opens March 24
with an introductory lecture by anthropologist Karl Heider of the
University of South Carolina.



Barbash and Taylor, both of whom received M.A. degrees in visual
anthropology in 1992, produced the 60-minute video, In and Out of
Africa, which follows an African art trader as he transacts business
between artisans on the Ivory Coast and art dealers in New York,
where he bargains for a sale. In and Out of Africa screens March 24
and March 28.

Lee, who received her M.A. in visual anthropology in 1991,
collaborated with Laurel Kendall, a curator at the American Museum of
Natural History, to make An Initiation Kut for a Korean Shaman, which
screens March 26. The 35-minute video portrays the initiation Kut, or
ritual, of a Korean woman who is becoming a shaman.



The Margaret Mead Film Festival, which selects about 40 films and
videos from the 450 submitted, is considered the preeminent forum for
visual anthropologists and ethnographic filmmakers. It began at the
American Museum of Natural History as a one-time event to celebrate
Margaret Mead's 75th birthday and her 50th year as a curator at the
museum.

Mead, who died in 1978, championed the use of film as an ethnographic
documentation tool during field work. She is renowned for using a
multidisciplinary approach to examine the cultural conditioning of
sexual behavior in Coming of Age in Somoa, 1928, and in Male and
Female, 1949. A columnist for Redbook, she was an advocate of women's
rights, population control, civil liberties and ecological
conservation.

The traveling exhibit highlights a selection of productions that span
the themes of art and society, children and the future, the culture
of sports, women's stories and community. Among the 13 films and
videos, one of the most acclaimed is Black Harvest, which screens
March 27. The 90-minute video centers on Joe Leahy, a mixed Papua New
Guinea highlander who straddles two worlds. It shows how the strain
of tribal warfare and the market economy combine to undermine his
investment in a coffee plantation.

Taylor and Barbash's documentary, In and Out of Africa, points up the
differences between what Westerners and the African trader view as
"authentic" art .

While they were graduate students in visual anthropology at USC, the
two teamed up with Christopher B. Steiner, assistant curator of the
Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and started following a
Nigerian art trader, Gabai Baare, as he sold statues, masks, jewelry,
colonial pieces and other artworks.

To Western art dealers, authentic art means pre-colonial pieces for
ritual wear and indigenous use. The video shows how Baare and the
artisans manage to meet the demand for such art by telling stories
about the significance of the pieces and by copying and aging them to
satisfy the Western craving for authentic African art.

In the video, Taylor and Barbash question Western society's rigid,
academic definition of authentic African art. "The problem we try to
bring up is that there's a lot of African art that falls out of those
categories, constructed by Westerners, which is just as authentically
African," Barbash said.

Barbash was pleased that In and Out of Africa was selected. While
living in New York, she would go to the Natural History Museum and
sit through the entire festival.

"It meant a lot to me to go into the (USC visual anthropology)
program and come out four years later with a documentary that was in
this festival," she said.



Diana Lee, who produced An Initiation Kut for a Korean Shaman, had
been interested in making a documentary about Korean ritual
performances when she met Kendall of the American Museum of Natural
History, in 1988. A long-time scholar of Korean shamanism, Kendall
was a visiting scholar at USC at the time.

"We started talking, and she invited me to go with her to Korea to
film this," Lee said.

Lee and Kendall followed Chini, a 32-year-old Korean woman, through
her initiation Kut into the practice of shamanism. "Chini must
demonstrate her ability to perform like a shaman, shouting out the
spirit's oracles. Her teachers coax, scold and instruct her,
revealing a sense of what it means to become a shaman and to perform
a Kut," Lee said.

Asch said one highlight from the USC student productions is Gang
Cops, which screens March 27 and received an Academy Award nomination
several years ago. Gang Cops is about Los Angeles County Sheriff's
officers who intervene in the feud between the Crips and the Bloods.
Another highlight is Who's Afraid of Project 10, set for March 25,
which explores a controversial program that counsels gay teenagers in
a Los Angeles high school.

Screenings are at the Social Sciences Building, Room B27, March
24-25, and at the Lucas Building, Room 108, March 26-28. The Margaret
Mead Festival begins each night at 7:30 p.m. Screenings of the
student productions start at 5 p.m. Tickets are $5 per session or $10
for the series. For information, call 740-1900. See Calendar for full
schedule of screenings.

[Photo:] A scene from In and Out of Africa, by USC visual
anthropology graduates Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Taylor. The 60-minute
video follows Nigerian art trader Gabai Baare from the workshops of
Ivory Coast artisans to the galleries of New York art dealers. The
video is one of 13 ethnographic documentaries traveling to USC with
the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival, March 24-28.