Ikland

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Ikland
Directed by Cevin D. Soling and David Hilbert
Spectacle Films
Opens June 15, Quad Cinema

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Still shaken by a childhood reading of anthropologist Colin Turnbull's '60s portrait of Uganda's Ik tribe—whom he dubbed "the worst people in the world" for shunning love, abandoning children, and defecating on one another's doorsteps—director Cevin D. Soling traveled to Northern Uganda to find out if the Iks were, in fact, sadistic monsters of legend. As recounted in his documentary Ikland, what he found was something far different: a people whose friendly nature and familial protectiveness (against starvation and a violent opposing clan) was recognizably human—a revelation that starkly exposes Turnbull's racism. Soling and co-director David Hilbert divide their screen into multiple visual quadrants, an aesthetic strategy that soon becomes a wearisome affectation that's barely mitigated by their refusal to romanticize the landscape or soft-pedal the hazardous hardships of Ik life. Whereas the filmmakers' compassion runs deep, their focus ultimately wavers, culminating with, of all things, the decision to have the Ik stage A Christmas Carol—presumably because Scrooge abandoned his humanity in a manner that Turnbull claimed the Ik did—which proves to be a hopelessly strained metaphorical stunt.

 
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2 comments
HSR
HSR

Crock, you have it exactly right. Turnbull's book is one of the most misunderstood works of anthropology. He obviously wasn't a racist because he wrote a glowing, affectionate book portraying the people of the African rainforest, the Forest People -- almost the opposite of Mountain People. I would just add that another factor Turnbull clearly discusses in the Mountain People is that the Ik had also been removed from their traditional lands to a much more barren area for the purpose of creating a game reserve.

Crock
Crock

I would be interested in a review that took Turnbull's whole book-length study of the IK seriously....controversial or not. The thesis that I took away from the book was that the IK were a normal semi-nomadic tribe of East Africa in previous decades. But the terrible drought that ravaged the area was the cause of their becoming 'awful' and overturning normal patterns of individual and social behavior reported by previous anthropologists in the 1930s on. Terrible material scarcity was the primary variable that led to the horrors of social interaction among even close relatives among the Ik. What thesis is this documentary trying to overturn? That hunger and starvation does not make humans more beast-like? I never took away the thesis from Turnbull's book that the Ik were in any particular way unique--only that when there is not enough to eat, humans turn to behavior that can be seen as 'evil'.

 

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