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Margaret Mead Film Festival Celebrates 35 Years

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The American Museum of Natural History in New York City celebrates thirty-five years as founder of the Margaret Mead Film Festival, a showcase for contemporary cultural and anthropological storytelling. The Festival takes place this year November 10th through November 13th.

The Margaret Mead Festival will screen over thirty-five films, including seven U.S. premieres, culled from more than one thousand international and domestic submissions. Also featured will be live musical performances, and a space-themed Radiolab listening party in the Hayden Planetarium dome.

Seven filmmakers are in the running for the annual Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award, to be conferred by a jury chaired by Darren Aronofsky, director of Academy Award-winning film Black Swan. The award ceremony will take place on closing night.

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.

In the spirit of the legendary anthropologist Margaret Mead, this year's films shed light on diverse and, sometimes, vanishing cultures through the work of filmmakers from more than thirty countries, including the Czech Republic, Egypt, Mozambique, and Portugal. Twenty one of the filmmakers will be in attendance, as will two MacArthur Fellows, including WNYC Radiolab's Jad Abumrad and anthropologist and Mead Festival advisor Faye Ginsburg. The festival's post-screening discussions allow audiences to participate in conversations with filmmakers and film subjects.

"The Mead Festival illustrates the profound richness and variety of human experience today," says Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. "By training a lens on the people and experiences of our own time, it builds on and extends the legacy of the great Margaret Mead and the American Museum of Natural History's commitment to studying and presenting culture."

Festival highlights also include Dreams of Outer Space, a film series about space exploration and science-fiction cinema; the 35th Anniversary Retrospective, a celebration of the festival's most influential features over the past three decades; and a live performance by Mohawk musicians.

"Every year the Mead Festival introduces audiences to cultures and communities that might otherwise be inaccessible," adds Ariella Ben-Dov, Margaret Mead Film Festival creative director. "With filmmakers present at the screenings, the films spotlight the struggle to preserve traditions and cultures against great odds."

Full film descriptions and trailers can be found online at amnh.org/mead. The public can purchase tickets and create a personalized film schedule at mead2011.sched.org. For festival highlights or daily updates, information can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/MeadFilmFestival or Twitter using #MeadFilmFest.

Festival Opening and Closing Nights

The opening night film on Thursday, November 10, is the New York premiere of Grande Hotel, directed by Lotte Stoops. The Grande Hotel in the West African seaside town of Beira, Mozambique, was once the most opulent resort on the continent. Now, it is home to an estimated 3,000 squatters. Living in this outsize shell of former luxury, those on the margins of society create a self-enclosed community as the place they call home crumbles around them. As one voice in the film observes, the history of the hotel is the history of the country.

Closing night will feature the New York festival premiere of Flames of God, directed by Meshakai Wolf, on Sunday, November 13. The film follows Romani songwriter and poet Muzafer Bislim on his journey from Macedonia to France for the International Biennial of Poets in Paris. While seeking to publish his opus, a handwritten, 25,000-word dictionary containing what he believes to be some of the oldest and most obscure words in the Romani language, Bislim reunites with long-lost friends and family.

Mead Festival Special Series and Panels

The 35th Anniversary Retrospective Series presents a program of short films and several feature documentaries from the festival's past: N!ai: The Story of a !Kung Woman by John Marshall, Adrienne Miesmer, and Sue Cabezas; A Wife among Wives from David and Judith MacDougall's Turkana Conversations Trilogy; and Alanis Obomsawin's Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance.

Featured films also include Trance and Dance in Bali by Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead, Les Maitres Fous by Jean Rouch, and Jero on Jero: A Balinese Trance Séance Observed by Linda Connor and Patsy and Timothy Asch.

In anticipation of the Museum's upcoming exhibition Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration, opening November 19, the Mead Festival presents Dreams of Outer Space, a film series about the human quest to conquer space. Marian Kiss's Space Sailors is a look back at the Soviet Union's Intercosmos Program, which sent 13 cosmonauts from socialist countries on highly publicized missions. Christian Frei's Space Tourists contemplates the privatization of space travel and the implications for the earthbound.

Museum astrophysicist Michael Shara, who is the curator of Beyond Planet Earth, will lead audiences on an armchair tour of the last 100 years of science-fiction cinema-from Georges Méliès's whimsical Le voyage dans la lune (1902) through Duncan Jones's existentialist Moon (2009)-to see what these filmmakers got right about the future of space travel and what they got wrong.

In addition, Radiolab's Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich will host a listening party in the Hayden Planetarium's dome featuring previously aired interviews with Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan's widow; Brian Greene, host of NOVA's The Elegant Universe; and Hayden Planetarium Director Neil deGrasse Tyson. Abumrad and Krulwich will share behind-the-scenes anecdotes and field questions from the audience.

The Mead Festival's Inventing Home series presents films that depict individuals carving out space for themselves and for their families, even forming wider communities in unlikely or inhospitable locations. In Kinder, a troubled boy returns to his family determined to find his place among them.

A ramshackle scrap yard on the edge of Israel is the setting for Hula and Natan, a tragicomedy about two brothers who spend most of their time locked in battle over matters both the fundamental and trivial. The ordinary Chinese citizens profiled in Rainmakers are transformed into political activists to protect their homes, which are threatened by a series of environmental disasters.

All for the Good of the World and Nošovice tells the dramatic behind-the-scenes story of the giant car company that tore the heart out of a bucolic tight-knit village in the Czech Republic. Finally, Blue Meridian meanders down the Mississippi, measuring myth against the reality of the communities that have thrived and foundered along America's fabled waterway.

The special panel discussion How Do We Look will focus on the history of documentary and its 40-year trajectory from the academic realm of visual anthropology to the living room as primetime entertainment. Technological changes continue to play a crucial role in the how documentaries are made, as increasingly portable and affordable tools influence form and multiple channels opening up the potential to reach wider audiences.

Live Performances

Following the screening of Skydancer on Sunday, November 13, is a performance and discussion of traditional Mohawk songs by Bear Fox and Katsitsionni Fox, who appear in the documentary, and Robby Baier, who composed the film's score.

Past Mead Festivals and the Traveling Festival

Tackling diverse and challenging cultural and social issues, the Mead Festival has introduced New York audiences to such acclaimed films as the Oscar-winning documentary The Blood of Yingzhou District (2006), Oscar-winning animated short The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation (2005), The Future of Food (2004), Power Trip (2003), and Spellbound (2002).

The Mead Festival has a distinguished history of "firsts," including being the first venue to screen the now-classic documentary Paris Is Burning (1990) about the urban transgender community. It was also one of the first U.S. festivals to feature "indigenous media production." A touring version of the Mead Festival begins in January, with visits to universities and film centers around the country.

American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world's preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls and galleries for temporary exhibitions, the Rose Center for Earth and Space with the Hayden Planetarium, state-of-the-art research laboratories and five active research divisions that support more than 200 scientists in addition to one of the largest natural history libraries in the Western Hemisphere and a permanent collection of more than 32 million specimens and cultural artifacts.

Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the first American museum to grant the Ph.D. degree. In 2012, the Museum will begin offering a pilot Master of Arts in Teaching with a specialization in earth science. Approximately 5 million visitors from around the world came to the Museum last year and its exhibitions and Space Shows can be seen in venues on five continents. The Museum's website and growing collection of apps for mobile devices extend its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to millions more beyond its walls. Visit amnh.org for upcoming exhibitions.

Follow the Margaret Mead Festival on Facebook at facebook.com/MeadFilmFestival. Follow the Museum on Twitter at twitter.com/amnh, on Facebook at facebook.com/naturalhistory, on YouTube at youtube.com/AMNHorg, on Flickr at flickr.com/amnh, and on Tumblr at amnhnyc.tumblr.com.

Prairie Miller is a NY multimedia journalist online, in print and on radio, and on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network's Arts Express. Read more reviews by Prairie Miller. Contact her through NewsBlaze.

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