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Preview- The Forest of the Dancing Spirits (East End Film Festival)

Monday 9 June 2014, by Double R

Linda Västrik’s ‘The Forest of the Dancing Spirits’ is an ethnographic documentary which attempts to represent the daily life of the Aka community while resisting the urge to romanticize their beliefs or universalize their experiences.

The Aka live in the Congolese rainforest where Västrik joined them for extended periods, filming (and eventually editing) their daily lives. The film is shot without any accompanying voiceover from Västrik in order that the community represent themselves as much as is possible given they are not co-producing the film. Västrik’s presence is minimal but welcome when it arrives- not only as a recognition that the film was produced through the incursion of a white western filmmaker, but in order that the audience is confronted with the technological mediation through which the film was produced; we are not invisible witnesses to the lives of the Aka community, but film spectators and Västrik wants to remind us of the film’s madeness- “Chop now if you’re going to chop”, she tells one of the women she has accompanied into the forest, “or we’ll run out of film”.

This is an extraordinary and at times harrowing film where the subjects feel at once close and distant. There are, thankfully, few attempts to explain, exalt or decry the Aka’s social and cultural world- the villagers do that themselves, discussing how to organize their community, wondering whether women make better chief leaders and asking how to determine who will do the ‘shit work’ and the tidying up. The film is full of dancing, arguing, joking, singing and crying. Västrik has chosen to depict scenes when subjects are faced with dramatic and tragic circumstances, some of which is immensely distressing. Its difficult not to wonder if the burial of a stillborn child should be used as material for a documentary or whether the relevance of this question is culturally specific. Can we assume the grieving mother consented, without coercion, to be filmed? What were the dynamics of that conversation? The Aka are presented as a critical, reflective and expressive group of people. However, as for whether a logging company will build a road through their forest, they have ’no say at all’.

The Forest of the Dancing Spirits is a documentary which is neither dogmatic nor transparent; it is an earnest attempt to convey the dynamic life-world of a particular community and its potential destruction.

The Forest of the Dancing Spirits is screening at Riverside Studios, Thursday 12th June, 7.30pm, followed by a Q&A with Director Linda Västrik, via skype

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