If you’re in the DC area, stop by National Geographic headquarters this weekend for a cultural treat: The All Roads Film Festival (Sept. 27-30), featuring compelling stories from indigenous and minority cultures around the world. Here’s a preview compiled by NGM staffers.
The Road Leads to: Palawan, a lush island province in the Philippines where local folklore, rituals, and beliefs—“busong” is the indigenous term for “fate” or “instant karma”—venerate nature and clash with modernity. As a boy bears his sore-covered sister to a healer, he encounters friends and foes on the way. Everyone in this mythopoeic movie is searching for someone or something.
Plot Point: Ethnographers, take note: This is the first feature made in the Palawan language. The director and co-writer, Auraeus Solito, based Busong on stories he learned from his mother, a descendant of shamans and a member of the Palawan tribe.
Cool Moments: A tree crushes a chainsaw-wielding logger. A stonefish stings an imperious Westerner. Message: Don’t mess with Mother Nature!
The Road Leads to: Beirut and other parts of Lebanon, where artists share their creative struggles and successes both during and since the 2006 war.
Plot Point: “An artist in Lebanon has to suffer a lot, but eventually he’ll find a way,” painter Chucrallah Fattouh asserts. Indeed, the film showcases artists who found ways to create despite the destruction of war. They did so using all sorts of media—poetry, architecture, sculpture, dance, painting, and music. “As long and people love life, art is not far,” Fattouh explains.
Cool Moment: In Lebanon, political and religious groups have specific colors that emphasize separation, but several artists in Tomorrow We Will See challenge those divisions. “Mixing is much better,” says artist Nadim Karam, talking about the colors in his elephant painting and in society. “I mixed them in such a way that no one can go and say I am of that color or that color. They are so intermingled they are obliged to be of all colors. And that’s how it should be. ”
The Road Leads to: South Dakota. While on a quest to “bridge the gap” between cultures around the world, Brooklyn native Chris Bashinelli visits the Oglala Lakota people of Pine Ridge. He goes to a sweat lodge, hunts buffalo, plays basketball, and visits a suicide intervention group while searching for signs of hope in the troubled community.
Plot Point: “When I look into the eyes, and put my arms around these kids and hold them, they give me all the strength I need and they tell me there is hope here,” says community activist Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory. “Yes, it’s bad, and I see all the adversity. But you know what? This is my home. I am proud, I am proud to be Lakota.”
Cool Moment: Seeing the exhausting, bloody, and spiritual work that goes into hunting a buffalo. The gutting is shown in all its gory glory, and as the host takes a bite of the buffalo’s massive liver, an onlooker assures him: “It’s completely sterile!”
The Road Leads to: Town. The son of a sheep herder journeys there from the far-flung hilltops and outlying areas of rural Tibet to sell his father’s dog, a nomad mastiff breed prized by rich Chinese city dwellers.
Plot Point: The movie touches on themes of urbanization and lost ways of life, of generational differences and the changing roles of women in Tibetan society. It’s a very visual narrative. Long shots slow the pace, evoking the perspective of a person outside the scramble of urban life. Pastoral scenes of valleys of waist-high grass collide with images of the grimy frontier town that continually draws the family back.
Cool Moments: A scene in which the son comes home drunk is shown in almost complete darkness. An overturned motorcycle’s light cast sideways across the ground and the framed lit window of the house impart a strong sense of simmering domestic troubles.
The Road Leads to: Mt. Gerizim and other parts of Israel and the West Bank, where the boundaries for 730 Samaritans (“observers” in Hebrew) are clear cut.
Plot Point: “Where do you belong more?” asks the daughter of actress Sophie Tzedaka. After Sophie’s oldest sister abandoned her faith for the man she loved, the Samaritan community lashed out at the family. Sophie’s decision to desert the sect as a response to this injustice has ramifications for everyone. Barak Heymann’s documentary follows the lives of a family whose loyalty to religion and to each other is tested.
Cool Moment: Heated family conversation brings to voice unanswered questions. Sophie asserts that her childhood was marred by punishment, yet her father, who was shunned by the Samaritans after all four daughters left and was arrested for vandalizing a synagogue, refuses to give up his religious beliefs. “The question is who the victim was,” he says, bringing to light the idea that perhaps there is more than one lonely Samaritan.
The Road Leads to: Kashmir, India, next to the polluted Dal Lake. As boyhood friends Gulzar and Afzal attempt to leave the region, violent protests, government curfews and a tender, if unrequited, love story get in the way. In the backdrop is an environmental research project to revive the dying lake.
Plot Point: “Don’t you know what’s really going on?” Afzal tells Gulzar, fed up with Gulzar’s fanciful crush that threatens to unravel their friendship and their plan for a better future in Delhi. “You’re nothing to her. She wouldn’t even take you as a servant!” The eventual shoving match leaves both men pushing each other into the water.
Cool Moment: Convinced that human pollution is killing the lake, Gulzar quickly builds a composting toilet in his home—a tribute to Asifa, the female environmental researcher and the object of his blatant affection. Despite the technical and chemical intricacies of the organic commode, he makes it look extremely simple.