Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Glimpse Into Rich Global Cultures and Human Stories at the AMNH's Margaret Mead Film Festival

By Tami Shaloum 

If you have ever wanted an insider’s glimpse into another culture without the expense and inconvenience of traveling, you will definitely want to check out the 2013 Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History this weekend. Beginning Thursday, October 17 and running through Sunday, October 20, the Mead festival features over 40 films and events documenting and showcasing many of the rich cultures from around the world and the human stories that connect us all. It will conclude on Sunday night with an award ceremony and dance party featuring the only all-female mariachi band, Mariachi Flor de Toloache.

The events running throughout the weekend include musical performances, talks and art installations, all free with the purchase of a film ticket. Films include Chimeras, which talks about modern Chinese identity and Western influence in the art world; Cinéma Inch’Allah!, about four Belgian-Moroccan filmmakers friends; The Infamous T, which features a queer and homeless American teenager; and Three Voices (Diario a Tres Voces), which weaves the stories of three Mexican females into a study of what it means to be a woman. Cultural tourism figures into several of the films this year, from Papua New Guinea in Cannibal Tours, to Ethiopia in Framing the Other, to Bolivia, Thailand, Mali and Bhutan in Gringo Trails.

WGINY is highlighting the opening night film and Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award Contender Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls. This film will change your perspective on Myanmar. Miss Nikki is an Australian woman determined to form Myanmar’s first all-girl band. The Tiger Girls are her creation. She manages them, trains them, styles them, writes music, and choreographs their dances. Although the Girls’ music pervades the film, the story of the band is only half the focus, the other half being Myanmar itself. Long governed under harsh military rule, this country in Southeast Asia is as compelling a subject as the five vibrant young women talking about their dreams of becoming international pop stars. Myanmar’s strict censorship laws made it difficult for any kind of creative expression, especially those pertaining to politics and anything that goes against the ideal of a proper Burmese female. These six women persist despite these setbacks, even when it is clear that the country is not quite ready for such a concept. It’s an underdog story, although it’s clear these girls are bolstered by privileged Western entities. For instance, would they have even existed if not for a manager who is clearly being supported by her wealthy boyfriend? It is unlikely that the Burmese production company they are signed to in the beginning would have even taken them on without Nikki’s presence. Also, we are not given a satisfying reason as to Nikki’s motivations to forming the band and her experience with this kind of business. There is no real thoughtful discussion about the pros and cons of Western influence on their culture. Some of the girls express doubts about the changing pro-democracy government, but it is dismissed as something they will have to get used to. Ultimately, it’s a story about five girls from different backgrounds coming together and becoming close friends who also happen to make music together. It is filled with spirited and youthful dreams, but also the every day realities the girls face as they struggle with money, family and success.

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