The Kalahari desert is home to the hunter-gatherer tribes whose members anthropologists long ago dubbed “bushmen.” (The Gods Must Be Crazy starred such bushmen, whose language features click and pop sounds.)
The documentary Ghostland visits one group, the Ju/’Hoansi of Namibia, who these days receive tourists as a sort of “living museum” to supplement the tribe’s livelihood since the government outlawed killing game 25 years ago. White tourists (“ghosts”) revel in such visits as the Ju/’Hoansi (some of whom speak fluent English) dance and sing, make beaded jewelry, and collect their money.
The film turns endearing and powerful, though, when it flips that dynamic, following a group of Ju/’Hoansi out of the desert for the first time to tour wider Namibia and then Europe. This inevitably becomes a mirror for Westerners to view themselves from angles both fresh and uncomfortable: We’re loud, we work too hard, we like meat but can’t deal with an animal’s innards.
The filmmakers put sufficient trust in their audience to let the cameras roll, telling the story without narration. It’s the closest most of us will get to spending time with fellow humans who have extraordinary perspectives on ordinary things — and ordinary perspectives, too.
Ghostland: The View of the Ju/’Hoansi
Directed by Simon Stadler and Catenia Lermer
Cargo Film & Releasing and Autlook Film Sales
Opens December 14, Film Forum