Colonial Mentality

We begin our three-part series focus­ing on the con­ti­nu­ity of colo­nial men­tal­i­ty with a clas­sic ethno­graph­i­cal film from 1930. We do not want to accuse the direc­tors Gulla Pfef­fer and her cam­era­man Friedrich Dal­sheim, who shot their movie in a vil­lage in Togo, of having a Euro­cen­tric per­spec­tive, quite the oppo­site. MENSCHEN IM BUSCH (People in the Bush) is most likely the first German film about anoth­er cul­ture that con­sis­tent­ly assumes the per­spec­tive of the people being filmed. It is an odd fact, how­ev­er, that the film is intro­duced by Duke Adolf Friedrich zu Meck­len­burg, who was the gov­er­nor of the German colony of Togo (1912-1914). How did that happen? Adolf Friedrich became known for his early expe­di­tions to Africa between 1907 and 1911, which earned him an hon­orary mem­ber­ship in the Berlin Soci­ety of Anthro­pol­o­gy. After the First World War, he became the vice pres­i­dent of the German Colo­nial Soci­ety and was a member of the board of the German Kolo­nial­film GmbH, which was found­ed in 1917. We will dis­cuss how his intro­duc­tion with racist under­tones ended up in this film.

Mischa Hedinger assem­bled his com­pi­la­tion AFRICAN MIRROR (2019) from movies by the late Swiss film­mak­er René Gardi. We fast for­ward to the end of the 1950s, to a time when Gardi defined the image of Africa in the West for more than five decades (Film­fo­rum showed his DIE LETZTEN KARAWANEN in 1987). In his count­less books, TV pro­grams broad­cast on German and Swiss tele­vi­sion, and in his movies, Gardi roman­ti­cized beau­ti­ful, naked sav­ages and the pre­mod­ern times they sup­pos­ed­ly live in. At its pre­mier in Berlin, AFRICAN MIRROR pro­voked strong reac­tions and divid­ed audi­ences. While some people took Hedinger’s mon­tage as a crit­i­cism of the colo­nial­ist tone of such adven­ture films, others regard­ed the film – because it com­plete­ly refrains from all com­men­tary – as just anoth­er repro­duc­tion of racist men­tal­i­ty. The movie inspires an excit­ing dis­cus­sion on how what we see in the mirror shifts, depend­ing who is looking.

CRACKS IN THE MASK (1997) by Frances Calvert is about the jour­ney of two people from the Torres Strait Islands to sev­er­al Euro­pean muse­ums in search of their country’s masks, none of which can be found in their coun­try of origin. They dis­cov­er 99 objects in the col­lec­tion of the museum in Glas­gow alone. Their cau­tious inquiry regard­ing whether at least a few of them could not be returned, is quick­ly revealed as naive. While the prove­nance of museum arti­facts with a colo­nial back­ground and their resti­tu­tion is cur­rent­ly a topic of dis­cus­sion, the fun­da­men­tal debate about the logic of the objects remain­ing where they are is not men­tioned. The ques­tion of our rela­tion­ship to rit­u­al­is­tic objects and their spir­i­tu­al mean­ing, his­to­ry, and iden­ti­ty is still unan­swered. (Mike Schlömer)

African Mirror

Mischa Hedinger
Switzerland 2019 | 84 min | engl. subtitled

Fri, 31-May-19 01:30 PM

Sun, 02-Jun-19 02:00 PM
For decades, Swiss trav­eller and film­mak­er René Gardi (1909-2000) explained the African con­ti­nent and its inhab­i­tants to us. In books, tele­vi­sion pro­grams and films, he waxed poetic about the beau­ti­ful … read more

Cracks in the Mask

Australia, Germany, Switzerland 1997 | 57 min | engl. subtitled

Sun, 02-Jun-19 10:30 AM
Over the last 100 years, the Torres Strait Islanders in far north Aus­tralia have been the sub­ject of many anthro­po­log­i­cal expe­di­tions. The result­ing deple­tion of their cul­tur­al arte­facts has left … read more

Menschen im Busch

Friedrich Dalsheim, Gulla Pfeffer
Germany 1930 | 64 min | engl. subtitled

Thu, 30-May-19 10:00 AM
A por­trait of daily life and work in an African vil­lage. Seem­ing­ly untouched by colo­nial influ­ences, the inhab­i­tants are entire­ly self-suf­fi­cient. Eth­nol­o­gist Gulla Pfef­fer and cam­era­man Friedrich Dal­sheim found the … read more