Dinaz Stafford’s documentary about the Garos of Meghalaya, rice farmers who have lived in relative isolation for 6,000 years in northeast India, unfurls gracefully, emphasizing the quotidian. In lieu of voice-over or excessive intertitles, conversations among the Garos (“My niece is already doing it with a boy”; “Would you leave me if the rice crop is bad?”) dictate the doc’s easy rhythm.
Too often, though, the everyday details give us only hazy notions of social, political, or economic peril. Although the film begins with a burial, most of the crises occur offscreen: A couple refer plaintively to their daughter’s death (the infant mortality rate in the region is as high as 18 percent); a man tells his pleading brother that “money is difficult right now”; an imperious government official makes reference to “militants in the area.” But Stafford slyly captures the insidious work of the missionary man as hordes of kids sit rapt in front of a makeshift alfresco cinema. The spectacle that made them go slack-jawed? John Huston’s bloated 1966 epic The Bible.