Preview: Margaret Mead Film Festival 2018

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Celebrating its 42nd edition, the Margaret Mead Film Festival—the internationally recognized premier platform for documentary films—will screen 55 outstanding films representing 39 countries and host special events and performances from Thursday, October 18, through Sunday, October 21, at the American Museum of Natural History.

Honoring the legendary anthropologist Margaret Mead, this year’s festival focuses on the theme “Resilience in Motion, documenting stories that celebrate individuals who are breaking new ground or breaking free despite challenging circumstances and sparking provocative conversations­—whether they’re about battling voter suppression in Cumberland County, North Carolina, or Nigerian school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram struggling to regain normalcy after their release from captivity, or transgender women in Tonga creating safe spaces for self-expression.

“Each year we are astonished by the breadth of human stories represented. These stories allow us to look past news cycles and learn the stories real of people who are pushing their communities forward,” says Bella Desai, director of Public Programs and Exhibition Education. “Around the world and in our own backyard, there is a sense of moving forward and drive. There is a sense of momentum—even hope—to this year’s Mead and we can’t wait to press play together.”

This year’s films shed light on contemporary culture through the work of filmmakers from countries around the world, including Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, France, Ukraine, India, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, South Korea, Poland, Turkey and Switzerland. With more than 50 filmmakers and protagonists in attendance this year, the festival’s post-screening discussions will allow audiences to participate in rich, engaging, and intimate conversations.

Festival Highlights, Opening and Closing Nights

The opening-night film on Thursday, October 18, is the New York premiere of Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped by Boko Haram, written and produced by Karen Edwards and directed by Gemma Atwal. The film introduces the world to the young women whose kidnapping by Boko Haram, a militant terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria, drew global attention and inspired the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls. Through exclusive interviews, we see how girls who managed to escape are adapting after their imprisonment and rebuilding their lives. The film debuts on HBO on Monday, October 22.

This year’s Mead features a new centerpiece presentation focusing on work from some of the world’s Indigenous and community film collectives. Called Collectively, this focus within the Mead illuminates how media empowers communities whose voices were previously underrepresented. The three collectives showcased this year represent a diverse group of visual storytellers—East African filmmakers, Indigenous voices of the Brazilian Amazon, and Cambodia’s multimedia memory-makers. These three groups provide training and access to filmmaking equipment as well as mentorship: Bophana Center of Cambodia, Maisha Film Lab of East Africa, and Vídeo nas Aldeias of Brazil.

The Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award

The Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award recognizes documentary filmmakers whose work displays artistic excellence and originality of technique while offering a new perspective on a culture or community remote from the majority of the festival audiences’ experience. The 11 contenders for this year’s Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award, all presenting U.S. premieres at the festival, are:

Georgina Barreiro, director, Tara’s Footprint
Four young siblings find their place within their community, a sacred Buddhist village high in the Himalayas. This observational documentary, set in the stunning landscapes of the Sikkim region of India, takes the viewer on a journey to explore the push and pull between contemporary culture and the ongoing tradition of Buddhist practice.

Maciek Bochniak, director, Ethiopiques—Revolt of the Soul
The jazz-funk music that came out of Addis Ababa in the 1960s and 70s was complex, fun, original, and nearly lost to the world. Meet the Ethiopian artists who forged this beautiful new sound amid constant political turmoil and repression, and feel the passion that has gone into keeping that sound alive.

Jean-Simon Chartier, director, Playing Hard
Video game makers face enormous pressure to create the next great game as the industry has grown into one of the largest in entertainment, surpassing even the mammoth film and music industries. It requires creativity, discipline, and remaining cool under pressure to develop a project into a success. Does this team have what it takes?

Łukasz Borowski, director, Runners
A nearly 150-mile race brings out extremes of human experience, from pain to joy and everything in between. Follow three long-distance runners as they conquer one of Poland’s most gruesome ultramarathons: a 52-hour race through rocky, wooded terrain, climbing and descending through a treacherous and equally breathtakingly beautiful mountainous region.

Helin Celik and Martin Klingenböck, directors, What the Wind Took Away
In 2015, ISIS massacred and imprisoned tens of thousands of ethnic Yazidis in northern Iraq. Meet two women who were forced to flee to the mountains with their families and settle into a refugee camp in southeastern Turkey. Their daily tasks—washing, building a kitchen tent, planting a bed of parsley—are overshadowed by the question of how long they will stay in this liminal space.

Christy Garland, director, What Walaa Wants
For eight years, young Walaa was raised by her siblings in the Balata Refugee Camp while her mother was in an Israeli prison. With her mother’s release, Walaa focuses on her dream: joining the Palestinian Security Forces. Her strong personality and rebellious attitude land Walaa in constant trouble with her superiors, revealing the complexities of growing up female under occupation.

Niklas Kullström and Martti Kaartinen, directors, Eastern Memories
From the Mongolian steppes to the diplomatic circles of Tokyo, Asia has seen rapid economic and social transformation in the last century. Narration drawn from the writings of a late-19th century linguist create a provocative sense of contrast against scenes of contemporary life.

Marcia Mansur and Marina Thomé, directors, The Sound of Bells
Church bells announce the time for work, rest, prayer, and celebration. But for the people of Minas Gerais, Brazil, the sound of bells transcends the everyday. As a group of young bell ringers develop a sense of pride in making their own sound reverberate through their town, we see how religious experience connects the community to something larger than themselves.

Tensin Phuntsog and Joy Dietrich, directors, Rituals of Resistance
A Tibetan-American filmmaker explores modes of resistance to Chinese occupation by speaking with activists across generations. A former Tibetan monk broke his vows and became a guerilla leader. The filmmaker’s own mother followed the Dalai Lama’s Middle Path and raised their family in America. A young Tibetan man attempted to self-immolate in 2006. How does the filmmaker understand his place in this struggle?

Anja Reiss, director, Truth Detectives
In international war crimes investigations, the cover-up is often part of the crime. Now, by harnessing the capabilities of modern mobile phones, satellite images, and GPS data, investigators can get to the truth of human rights violations with the help of the people affected. Counter to the fear that data collection will lead to a dystopian nightmare, human rights activists, journalists, and lawyers use surveillance tools to expose human rights abusers.

Carmen Torres, director, Amanecer (Dawn)
Carmen Torres never had a chance to ask about her birthmother because her adoptive mother died when Carmen was just 13. As an adult she is confronted with the impersonal nature of a bureaucratic adoption agency. When she decides to trace her biological roots to a rural community in Colombia, one question remains: why was she given up for adoption?

Special Events

Free with Any Mead Ticket or Festival Pass are featured performances and interactive events around the Museum to complement the extraordinary slate of films and serve to further illuminate the many cultures celebrated at this year’s event. The Mead Festival will offers a Mixed Media Lounge in the Museum’s oldest gallery—the Northwest Coast Hall—so visitors can test drive the latest in experimental narratives capitalizing on new virtual reality, augmented reality, and more in this casual drop-in environment.

For the Festival’s full schedule, highlights, daily updates and tickets, visit

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