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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Public anthropology and the Millennium film project: Cinema of Advocacy or Contradiction?

During my summer internship at the National Anthropological Film Collection (formerly the Human Studies Film Archive) in the National Anthropological Archives. I worked on rehousing and processing the Millennium trims and outs collection. This collection consists of the film edited into a 1992 television series hosted by Harvard anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis.
Small index cards representing footage removed for inclusion in final cuts of episode.
This is typically one of the final steps in production.
 To process the materials, the film rolls were rehoused in archival film cans, which were placed in the National Anthropological Film Collection (NAFC)’s state-of-the-art environmentally controlled sub-zero vault, located at the Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD. In total, the collection comprises 1336 rolls of double-perf camera original rolls that have been rehoused into 399 cans. In addition to preserving the film rolls, the other major goal when processing the collection was to keep valuable contextual and technical information associated with each film roll. Happily, the Millennium trims and outs collection is now safeguarded for future researchers, preserving high quality ethnographic film that portrays a diverse collection of subjects.
Millennium outs and trims collection in sub-zero storage vault.
In addition to handling the collection, I also had the opportunity to learn something about the Millennium film series. What I discovered is that the film collection is particularly fascinating because it reflects some of the methodological and humanistic transformations that were occurring in anthropology during the end of the 20th century. These transformations, I think, display some of the contradictions between ethnographic film and the burgeoning discipline of public anthropology.

In the last few decades of the 20th century, anthropology underwent a transformation as applied anthropologists and academic researchers began to converge on a form of anthropology today known as engaged, or public anthropology (Lamphere 1053). As a result, the discipline became more self-reflexive about its ethics and the politics of its work (Hart 7). This new branch of anthropology called for an increase in collaboration and partnership with the particular communities in which anthropologists worked, as well as increased engagement by anthropologists in the public and political spheres in an attempt to influence policy (Lamphere 1053).

At the forefront of the changes to the discipline was David Maybury-Lewis (Borofsky; Lamphere 1052). Maybury-Lewis strived to counteract negative feelings and popular disdain for indigenous groups, or the so-called “Other,” and to advocate for the interests of these small-scale societies (Hart 1041). Perhaps the largest contribution to his legacy was his creation of the organization Cultural Survival, an NGO dedicated to collaboration that would strengthen the ability of indigenous people to operate their own organizations and advocate for their own rights, including land rights, health care, education, and political power (Lamphere 1051). The 16mm films from his Emmy award-winning 1992 ethnographic film project, Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World, which are now processed and housed in the Millennium trims and outs collection at the NAFC is another key piece of Maybury-Lewis’ legacy.

The Millennium documentary film project aired on television in ten 60-minute episodes before being released on VHS in 1992. Holistically, the project challenged the morality of the state (in their various particulars) and attempted to generate broader appreciation for forms of indigenous knowledge that had been amassed over millennium. In short, the series sought to illuminate “tribal” values and knowledge that could “contribute to the transformation of public ethics” in the coming millennium (Hart 1037). The series examined large universal topics, such as love, marriage, politics, wealth, spirituality, power, identity, and art, while looking at specific ethnographic examples from at least 15 distinct countries. Among the indigenous societies filmed by Maybury-Lewis and his crew were the Xavante of western Brazil (the society where he did his original fieldwork), the Mashco-Piro of Peru, the Wodaabe of Niger, the Nyimba of Nepal, the Gabra of Kenya, the Makuna of Colombia, the Dogon of Mali, the Weyewa of Sumba (Indonesia), the Huichol of Mexico, and the Navajo of the southwestern United States. As a way to drive home the universality of themes that it considered, the series contrasted this footage of “tribal” communities with the challenges faced by individuals in Western societies. Examples included an artist dying of AIDS, a teenage suicide-attempt survivor, and a New York City garbage man. Interwoven among these stories is a reflection on the positive and negative impact anthropological pursuits can bring to indigenous societies, as well as an attempt to advocate on the behalf of such communities.

Maybury-Lewis’ goal for the Millennium project was to shed a light on the importance of cultural diversity and to advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples. The project, however, still received critique from his fellow anthropologists. Although self-reflexive about anthropology, Millennium represented indigenous people similarly to earlier ethnographic cinema and revealed in visuals of the exotic “otherness” of indigenous people (Rony 220). Television’s entertainment model did not allow such a project to fully break free of ethnographic cinema’s traditional conventions because it called for dramatic storylines and mystery, clashing with anthropology’s late 20th century critique of exoticism, essentialism, and objectification (Hart 9). While the Millennium series often focused on important socio-political issues, such as the Canada’s Oka Crisis of 1990, it also employed dramatic English voices-overs imagining deeply personal stories of indigenous individuals from a Western perspective.

Regardless of the contradictions of the series, the project is rich in documentary value because of the exceptional footage captured by Maybury-Lewis and his crew, as well as its demonstration of the philosophical tensions in anthropology during the late 20th century. In the National Anthropological Film Collection in the National Anthropological Archives you can now find the original outtakes and trims from the Millennium project.

Caroline Waller, Intern
National Anthropological Film Collection 
National Museum of Natural History

Works Cited
Borofsky, R. (2000), COMMENTARY: Public Anthropology. Where To? What Next?. Anthropology News, 41: 9–10. doi:10.1111/an.2000.41.5.9

Hart, Laurie Kain. "Popular Anthropology and the State: David Maybury-Lewis and Pluralism." Anthropological Quarterly 82, no. 4 (2009): 1033-042.

 Lamphere, Louise. "David Maybury-Lewis and Cultural Survival: Providing a Model for Public Anthropology, Advocacy, and Collaboration." Anthropological Quarterly 82, no. 4 (2009): 1049-054.

Rony, Fatimah Tobing. The Third Eye : Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle. N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Omo: Expressions of a People, Photographs by Drew Doggett

Finding Aid Now Available at the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives

Omo aims to help viewers gain a greater visual understanding of the creative expressions of traditional peoples in Ethiopia and beyond, and subsequently encourage an appreciation of the world’s cultural diversity – one that develops into a genuine shared humanity. 
-Drew Doggett

EEPA 2015-009-0002: Untitled 2, Karo Tribeswoman with Pierced Lip, Wearing Necklaces, Karo Village, Omo Valley, Ethiopia 

Twenty of Drew Doggett's visually arresting black and white photos are now open for research at the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives (EEPA), National Museum of African Art. This vibrant collection documents the indigenous people of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, including the Suri, Hamar, Dhassanac and Karo peoples. Taken in February 2011, the photos were used in Doggett's series, Omo: Expressions of a People (2012). 

EEPA 2015-009-0001: Untitled 1, Suri Boy Surveying his Cattle, Suri Village, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Emphasizing the roles of art and creativity in traditional cultures, Doggett depicts body decorations and adornments, including headdresses, ear plates, necklaces, loin coverings, body painting and scarification and lip piercings. There are also several photographs of village scenes, cattle herding and rites of ceremonies, particularly the Hamar peoples' Jumping of the Bulls.

Take a look for yourself at the EEPA’s finding aid to learn more about Doggett’s vision and artwork.

EEPA 2015-009-0015: Untitled 37, Karo Boy with Painted Face, Karo Village, Omo Valley, Ethiopia
Biography of Drew Doggett:
Photographer and filmmaker Drew Doggett (b. 1984 in Maryland) received his BA from Vanderbilt University (2006), majoring in Human & Organization Development. In addition to working from 2006-2012 under prominent fashion and portrait photographers, including Steven Klein, Annie Leibovitz, Mark Seliger, Ruven Afanador and Craig McDean, Doggett has photographed remote regions in the Himalayas, Africa, France, Canada, and other areas. Solo exhibitions include Slow Road to China (2010-2011), Omo: Expressions of a People (2012), Discovering the Horses of Sable Island (2013), Dunes: Landscapes Evolving (2014-2015) and Sail: Majesty at Sea (2015). His work has garnered awards at the Px3 Prix de la Photographie Paris (2014, 1st place in Culture Photography category), Px3 White Color Trilogy Photography Competition (2015, 2nd place in Nature category) and the Nikon Photo Contest (2015, 3rd prize for the film Dunes: Abstract Expressions). In 2016 he was honored as an Associate from the Royal Photographic Society. His work is held in private collections globally and is also in the permanent collections of several museums.

For more information about Drew Doggett, see his website

EEPA 2015-009-0008: Untitled 21, Dhassanac Woman Holding Tree Branches in Village near Omorate,
Dhassanac Village, Omo Valley, Ethiopia
Accessing the Collection:
Drew Doggett is the owner of copyright and other intellectual properties of this collection. Permission to reproduce images requires written consent from Drew Doggett. Any commercial exploitation of any of the works in the collection that include a person identifiable in the work is explicitly prohibited unless Drew Doggett grants a publicity release. Contact the Archives staff at for more details.

To make an appointment at the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, please email Our research hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 AM to 4 PM.

Eden Orelove, Photo Archivist
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art