Icarus Films // 2001 // 240 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // January 27th, 2011
An homage to humanity at the start of the 21st century.
Austrian documentary filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter (Our Daily Bread) marked the turn of the century with this yearlong project visiting rural communities in the most remote places across the globe. Mounting the epic filmic trek in the year 2000, Geyrhalter's team sought to find people who were untouched by the millennium hysteria of the day. Time seems to stand still in some of the places they visit but their film is in no way a portrait of primitive cultures. Elsewhere is a testament to the human spirit and an ennobling witnessing of the salt-of-the-earth people we never hear about.
The series, spread over two discs, consists of 12 episodes running 20
minutes each. They're ordered according to the month when the filmmaking team
visited each location:
* January: Ekeschi, Ayr, Niger
* February: Karigasniemi, Samiland, Finland
* March: Ombivango, Kaokoland, Namibia
* April: Dambol Territory, Irian Jaya, Indonesia
* May: Siorapaluk, Thule, Greenland
* June: Manmoyi, Arnhem Land, Australia
* July: Umla, Ladakh, India
* August: Kantek ko jawun, Siberia, Russia
* September: Zhong shi, Yunnan, China
* October: Thárros, Sardinia, Italy
* November: New Aiyansh, British Columbia, Canada
* December: Falalap, Woleai Atoll, Micronesia
The presentation of each episode is basic. A camera observes the daily routine of the location's inhabitants. A few protagonists sit down in front of the camera to answer the questions of an unseen and unheard interviewer. Other participants may say some works about their activities. Camera set ups are primarily static or slow pans and occasionally the camera operator will travel in a vehicle with the driver. There is no narration, no music, and no formal explanations about the history of the people we meet or their customs. If it weren't for the optional English subtitles translating the various native languages, you might mistake the footage for random home videos from exotic lands.
The slowness of each episode and the no-frills presentation of each locale may make some viewers restless. That was my initial reaction while watching the first few installments for this review. However, once I was used to the pace of each episode, I found the slowness quite relaxing and somewhat comforting. For 20 minutes at a time I was transported to a time and place I didn't know existed. Glimpsing life in a remote community where time seems to stand still was very calming. The unhurried camera work definitely is key to this mood as we're able to observe the inhabitants' lives in a very matter-of-fact way. At one point during the episode in China, it's revealed that the camera is running unattended as one family member goes behind the equipment and reports what she sees through the viewfinder.
There is a sense throughout the series that we're seeing cultures that are dying out. You can't help but marvel at these people's resiliency but they'll also talk about their reduced population or the encroachment of industry onto their lands. The Russian reindeer farmers are slowly being forced out by the oil workers. The Greenlandic hunters mention how Brigitte Bardot's animal rights campaign has affected their livelihood. An elderly Sardinian fisherman expresses disappointment that his son didn't finish his education and find better work but the son can't escape the fact that he loves working on the sea. These people are certainly not ignorant of the modern world; they just aren't in a hurry to join it. It may seem like theirs is a way of life that won't last for many more generations but that's hard to accept after seeing the hardiness of these individuals.
The picture quality on this two-disc DVD set is good but not great. Recorded on HD video, the transfer to DVD is something of a compromise. Color reproduction looks very natural and the picture is usually tack sharp. There is inconsistency in the rendering of fine details that sometimes looks fantastic but every so often there is a shot where the backgrounds slightly flicker as though the video compression is affecting the image stability. The location sound recordings make for an audio track that is simple but clear.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Icarus Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Unknown, Various)
Running Time: 240 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated