Representation of the Indigenous

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In the early stages of documentary film making one of the first directors of early documentary Robert Flaherty demonstrated an early understanding for the construction of documentary film. His films aimed to uncover and discuss the unknown truths about indigenous peoples around the global. In the Film “Moana” made in 1926, Robert Flaherty travels deep into the Samoan islands to try and undercover the mysteries surrounding this small exotic tribal culture. Flaherty’s film tries to uncover and provide truths about this group of people, but he brings into question problems regarding the representation of the tribe in ethnographic documentary films. Comparing Robert Flaherty’s films and his second feature length film “Moana” to Bruce Parry’s Documentary series on BBC entitled “Tribe” I will attempt to bridge the gap and discuss the evolution of documentary starting from the birth of the genre, to the post-modern state of contemporary ethnographic documentary film today that attempts to tackle the reoccurring and persistent questions regarding the reality of tribal life and the representation of the indigenous person.
The concept of representation is valuable when looking at the depiction of indigenous people as in both cases Robert Flaherty and Bruce Parry seek to depict a certain level of truth regarding the realities and major cultural components of tribal culture. Robert Flaherty takes a “raiders” approach to understanding indigenous people. He maintains a western ideology of life and applies this criterion as the basis for his study of the Samoan and other Indigenous people. However, Bruce Parry utilizes a more ambiguous approach to his research as he tries to depict the humanity and the cultural importance of these people and th...

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...e. It seems like trying to reach out and to understand these people has brought them more grief than benefits. In Bruce Parry’s film all the encounters with the outside world equate to a newer levels of harm and misfortune from sickness to addiction. The modern man and the indigenous man are two separate entities that cannot co-exist in harmony. This means that the best representation for them is none at all. Trying to capture the reality of these people seems to interfere and manipulate them to alter their lives completely. Film is a great way to construct and reflect reality, but when the camera starts to shape reality rather than capture it. The documentation of these images serve not the purpose of an essay of raw facts putting towards a subjective truth, but rather a list of alleged facts that try to persuade you of a reality that does not necessarily exist.
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