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BEING IN THE WORLD takes us on a journey around the world to meet philosophers influenced by the thought of Martin Heidegger, as well as experts in the fields of sports, music, craft, and ... See full summary »

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Credited cast:
Robert Gardner ...


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Release Date:

1 October 1963 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Aves muertas  »

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a great film -- not just a great ethnographic film
27 February 2005 | by See all my reviews

DEAD BIRDS is about the Dugum Dani, one of the many peoples in the Highlands of New Guinea. The 1961 Harvard/Rockefeller expedition came upon the Dani at a time when they had had virtually no contact with the modern world. And so the film is able to show us a kind of life that is now no where to be seen. A man forms a spear with a sharpened bone. Men and women make magic. Women go off on a salt journey. The village is swept clean of ghosts -- and all the while, this village must guard against the warriors from the other side of the valley -- and the villages on the other side of the valley must guard against Dugu Dani warriors. And we see warfare.

I am puzzled at the suggestion that there is anything racist in all of this -- especially since the point the film wants to make is that warfare and killing are there deep down at the core of our human nature. This idea is certainly controversial, but it is not racist. Quite the contrary; the film is asserting that the Dugum Dani are essentially like ourselves.

But it is provincial to assume that we have to agree with the movie's "point" in order to appreciate it: Peter Matthiessen wrote the voice-over narrative -- and it is beautiful; the photography is stunning, especially given that fact that it was done in 1961 -- under difficult circumstances. The people -- the individuals -- you'll meet in this film you will not soon forget.

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