The Professional Foreigner
Portrait program of Asen Balikci
Curated and moderated by Dina Iordanova
Astra Film Festival 2019 is hosting this portrait program on
15-16 october 11.00 -15.00 - Astra Film Cinema 2
Asen Balikci (1929-2019), was a multi-lingual and multicultural visual anthropologist, he was a major internationally recognised academic, a pioneer of the discipline of visual anthropology, a leading figure in North American anthropology and the study of different cultures all over the world. He worked in places as diverse as Canada’s North, Afghanistan, Siberia, Mexico and Sikkim in the Himalayas or Bulgaria.
The curator and initiator and moderator of this program is Dina Iordanova, professor of Film Studies at the University of St. Andrews, she has published extensively on matters of Eastern European and Balkan cinema and on global film industries.
The series will introduce various facets of Balikci’s oeuvre featuring a complex program:
1. Screening a selection of his films: from his early work among the Netsilik Inuit in Nunavut (Netsilik eskimo series - Asen Balikci, Quentin Brown, 630 min, 1967), through to his observation of the difficult life of Ephtim, a pensioner surviving on the breadline in post-communist Bulgaria (A Month in the Life of Ephtim D. - Asen Balilci, 56 min. 2003), and Sons of Hadji Omar, made in Afganistan (Sons of Haji Omar - Asen Balicki, Timothy Asch, Patsy Asch , 58 min. 1978)
2. Presentation of portrait films (The Professional Foreigner, 60 min, Rolf Husmann, 2009 and Through These Eyes, 55 min, Charles Laird, Canada, 2004)
3. Panel discussion with invited guests, video testimonials on the oeuvre and contribution of Balikci to visual exploration of human society.
Film subtitles, discussions will be only in english.
Ephtim D., 73 years old, a retired postman, lives in Sofia with his wife in a three-room suburban apartment. As a socialist, he feels confused by the “crazy” democracy and the uncertainties of the transition period. The couple’s combined pensions amount to 66$. Ephtim experiences constant difficulties in balancing the family budget. Free medical care and lunches at a subsidized canteen are essential to his survival strategy. This portrait of a Bulgarian pensioner is presented in the context of a global hopelessness and a clearly felt nostalgia for the communist past. Dontchev Antonii , Balikci Asen • Bulgaria • 1999 • 56′
These films reveal the live reality of traditional Eskimo life before the European acculturation. The Netsilik Eskimos of the Pelly Bay region in the Canadian Arctic had long lived apart from other people and had depended entirely on the land and their own ingenuity to sustain life through the rigors of the Arctic year.
The filming was done during the summers of 1963 and 1964 and in the late winter of 1965 under the ethnographic direction of Dr. Asen Balikci of the University of Montréal, assisted by Guy Mary-Rousseliere, O.M.I., both anthropologists of wide Arctic experience. Quentin Brown was Producer-Director, and Kevin Smith the Executive Producer for the series. A minimum of cultural reconstruction was required during the filming; the Netsilik families readily agreed to live in the old way once more and showed considerable aptitude in recalling and representing the earlier ways of life.
All videos are in color, with the natural sounds of the region and of the Eskimos’ activities but with no voice other than those of the Eskimos. The films were originally released in 1967. The effect of this film series is that of a field trip where students can observe Eskimo ways at their leisure and form their own impressions. The pace is unhurried; many of the Eskimo activities are shown in close detail.
The films are useful for courses in economic anthropology, development of technology and North American aboriginal cultures, in general studies of the circumpolar culture area, as well as for high school and upper elementary grades. • • 1967 • 53′
The film documents the life of a tribal family in northeastern Afghanistan. Here we discover a world where people compete for social prestige, make their own clothes, fix cracked pots, load their possessions on the back of their camels, cross rivers with their caravans, and tell exaggerated stories while slowly moving through
seasons. Haji Omar, a tribal chief, is a wealthy man, has 6 wives and three sons, but is concerned about their future which he thinks is intimately bond to education. His hope resides in his youngest son who he sent to
school to prepare him for the western society. There is no direct clash between the nomad life and the modern life, nonetheless there is a feeling of inevitable change. The film ends with the Buzkashi games, Afghanistan’s national sport, where horsemen ride and fight for a headless goat. This is a powerful, brave and dangerous competition where pride is the last most significant value of the traditional world.
David Newman • SUA • 1978 • 59′
Asen Balikci has been a leading figure in making ethnographic films for many decades. In a series of talks between Balikci and filmmaker Rolf Husmann in different locations, the life and work of Asen Balikci are shown and discussed: the film takes us from Asen’s youth in Istanbul to his career in Canada where he became famous for making the Netsilik Eskimos Series, to filming in Afghanistan and then turning to two other activities of his: as a networker for the Commission on Visual Anthropology (CVA) and as a teacher of Summer Schools in Siberia and Bulgaria. His film work among the Bulgarian Pomak and his still ongoing work in Sikkim (India) conclude the film which is not only the portrait of a famous expert in Visual Ethnography, but also more generally touches upon vital issues of ethnographic filmmaking. Manfred Krüger, Rolf Husmann • Germania • 2009 • 60′
The documentary presents the efforts that were made through education to understand human behavior by getting children exposed to different indigenous cultures. It also sheds light on how, with time, the Eskimos’ lives changed, moving from igloos to houses, moving from their traditional way of living to a more modern one. In the Cold War period, Man: A Course of Study (MACOS), a project in social sciences, was initiated. The intention of the project was to show through ethnographic films and other materials different ways of living. The course was to be taught nationwide in schools. This was a quest in understanding what is distinctively human about human being as compared to others. First of all, children made contact with the indigenous people from the Pelly Bay
region watching the “Netsilik Eskimos Series”, by Asen Balikci. Nevertheless, the content of the course was considered too dangerous or shocking by politicians, giving way to controversy, which led to the shutdown of
the educational project.
Charles Laird • Canada • 2004 • 55′