Free Memorial Screening
Presented with Documentary Educational Resources, Studio7Arts, and UIC Daley Library
July 21st at 8:00 pm, Free
“In Dead Birds my fondest hope was that my camera be a mirror for its viewers to see themselves.” -RG
The Nightingale Cinema is honored to present a FREE screening of Dead Birds (1964) to note the recent passing of legendary nonfiction filmmaker Robert Gardner. This commemorative screening of his most influential film, Dead Birds, is a 16mm print from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Daley Library. The print is being made available to the public with special permission from Gardner’s family, Studio7Arts and Documentary Educational Resources of Watertown, MA (DER.org).
There is a fable told by a mountain people living in the highlands of New Guinea about a race between a snake and bird. It tells of a contest which decided whether men would be like birds and die, or be like snakes which shed their skins and have eternal life. The bird won, and from that time all men, like birds, must die.
-from the film Dead Birds
Gardner’s own synopsis of Dead Birds:
Dead Birds is a film about the Dani, a people dwelling in the Grand Valley of the Baliem high in the mountains of West Papua. When I shot the film in 1961, the Dani had a classic Neolithic culture. They were exceptional in the way they dedicated themselves to an elaborate system of ritual warfare. Neighboring groups, separated by uncultivated strips of no man’s land, engaged in frequent battles. When a warrior was killed in battle or died from a wound and even when a woman or a child lost their life in an enemy raid, the victors celebrated and the victims mourned. Because each death needed to be avenged, the balance was continually adjusted by taking life. There was no thought of wars ever ending, unless it rained or became dark. Wars were the best way they knew to keep a terrible harmony in a life that would be, without them, much drearier and unimaginable.
Dead Birds has a meaning that is both immediate and allegorical. In the Dani language the words refer to the weapons and ornaments recovered in battle. Their other more poetic meaning comes from the Dani belief that people, because they are like birds, must die.
Dead Birds was an attempt to film a people from within and to see, when the chosen fragments were assembled, if they could speak not only about the Dani but also about ourselves.
Filed under: documentary, film, Free Screening!, Uncategorized