Preview: Margaret Mead 2017 "Activates" Cross-Cultural Connection

Featured Critic; New York City, New York
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The Margaret Mead Film Festival, the premier showcase for documentary films in New York, returns for its 41st edition, screening at the American Museum of Natural History from Oct. 19-22. This year's typically impressive slate consists of 29 feature films and 12 shorts that span the globe, addressing urgent issues, and offering vibrant portraits of life in many cultures. 

Each year, the fest has a different theme, and this year's theme is "Activate," which expresses the aim to spark connections and conversation across culture, a perspective that is now sorely needed more than ever. As usual, the fest program also expands beyond film to virtual reality, installations, panels, and other fully interactive experiences. 

Below are a few of my recommendations from this year's program. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit the fest's website.

WE DON'T NEED A MAP (Warwick Thornton)

Celebrated Australian aboriginal filmmaker Thornton (Cannes Camera D'or winner Samson and Delilah) returns to this festival with a provocative and often visually stunning excavation of the origins of the Southern Cross constellation symbol that adorns his nation's flag. Alarmed by how this symbol has been co-opted by white nationalists, to the point where he feels it's become a "new Swastika," Thornton embarked on this project. He speaks with various tribal elders, scholars, activists, and musicians, traveling across the country to discover the Southern Cross symbol's deep rooting in indigenous culture, and how it was transformed and appropriated by the European settlers who came later, and used it to support their marginalization, oppression, and outright genocide of native people.

Even though this is a heavy subject - with obvious parallels to recent US events - Thornton leavens this with quirky, self-deprecating humor, a deceptively breezy air, and some breathtaking shots of the night sky (much of it shot by Thornton's son Dylan River).

(Oct. 20, 6:30pm)

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Margaret Mead 2017