Shaping Culture and Identity through Visual Anthropology: Two Films from Appalachia and Nigeria

  • 01 Oct 2013
  • 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Sumner School

Shaping Culture and Identity through Visual Anthropology: Two Films from Appalachia and Nigeria

"We Remember Grundy"-- Memories of a Town No More
“Sons of the Moon” -- Lunar Observatories and Festivals in Nigeria

: Russell Belcher, Deirdre LaPin
Date: Tuesday, 1 October 2013
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: Sumner School, Rotating Gallery G-4

Pre-meeting get-together, 5:30 pm Beacon Bar and Grill


How does film record and shape identity and culture? This evening explores visual anthropology as a tool for preserving and sustaining cultural identity in two very different contexts: Rural Virginia and Central Nigeria.

Documentary filmmaker Russell Belcher takes us to his remote Appalachian home town of Grundy, Virginia, to reveal the drastic changes that it has undergone as a result of geography, economic and environmental exploitation, and the new realities of the global economy. When increasingly devastating floods roared through the town in 1957 and 1977, the townspeople were forced to search for a way to prevent the town from dying. A final, almost unimaginable, solution was found to safe keep the town and give it hope for the future. The price in the end was the loss of the town’s rich history, the weakening of a close-knit community, and a blow to the distinctive local culture. A very short trailer of the video can be found at http://arclampproductions.com/.

Cultural anthropologist and author Dr. Deirdre LaPin will screen her Margaret Mead nominated film “Sons of the Moon,” and discuss how harvest symbols seen in festivals such as Halloween can recur in many cultures ... some as far away as Africa. Commissioned four decades ago by the Nigerian government for broadcast on a local television channel, the film shows the influence of the moon as it regulates the rhythms of life during a single growing season. A ritual called "Shooting the Moon" uses unique traditional observatories to track the time and position of the new moon at harvest time and initiates a celebration of the first fruits and a new agricultural year. These structures may be the last traditional observatories, like ancient Stonehenge, which are used regularly for ritual purposes up to today. More information about the Ngas “lunar identity” and a trailer of the film and can be found at http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/cosmos/sonsofmoon.html.

About the Speakers:

Russell Belcher is a part time filmmaker with a master’s in medical anthropology and part time carpenter and contractor originally from the far southwestern part of Virginia. He has filmed many political and cultural events in Washington,D.C. and in his native state of Virginia. In addition to the social and cultural film on Grundy, he has recorded the recent Occupy movement in NYC and McPherson Square in DC., and is now filming the life history of Elder Frank Newsome, a 2011 NEA award winner and minister in the Old Regular Baptist church, who lives in Haysi, Virginia. Videos of Elder Newsome can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXoOa5ihW_Q .

Dr. Deirdre LaPin is an anthropologist and international development specialist with experience across academia, government, multilateral agencies, and the private sector. She is currently a Senior Associate in the Africa Center at the University of Pennsylvania and a consultant. In 1974 she began a year-long collaboration with the late ethnographic filmmaker Frank Speed to create a unique record of the rituals and lunar observatories that are still used among the Ngas of Nigeria’s central plateau. Her research for the film “Sons of the Moon” is the basis for an article appearing in the catalogue to the exhibition “African Cosmos: Stellar Arts” mounted in 2012 at the National Museum for African Art. A pdf copy of the study guide for the film can be found at http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/cosmos/sonsofmoon.html.

Meeting:  Charles Sumner School, corner of 17th St and M St NW, Washington, DC

How to get there:  The Sumner School is located at 1201 17th St NW (corner of 17th St and M St NW).  The entrance to the meeting area is on 17th St under the black metal stairway. Directions from Metro Red Line: From Farragut North station, take either L St exit, walk one block east to 17th St, turn left and walk 2 blocks north.  Enter the building through the double doors under the black metal staircase.  MEETING ROOM:  Rotating Gallery G-4 (ground floor)

Pre-meeting:  Beacon Bar & Grill (one block north of Sumner School)

How to get there:  The Beacon Bar & Grill is in the Beacon Hotel located at 1615 Rhode Island Ave NW (corner of Rhode Island and 17th St).  Directions from Metro Red Line Farragut North station: take either L St exit, walk one block east to 17th St, turn left and walk 3 blocks north (one block past Sumner School).  All are welcome.

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