London-born, Bombay-bred filmmaker Dinaz Stafford spent several months in Sadolpara, a small bamboo-and-thatch village deep in the state of Meghalaya in northeastern India. Her mission: to capture the lives of the Garos, indigenous people who have lived there in much the same manner for nearly 6000 years. The outcome is a beautifully shot — if slightly artificial — piece of ethnographic filmmaking that portrays a rich way of life and how it's now threatened by agricultural development and outside market forces. Unlike industrialized societies, the Garos live entirely in sync with their environment, building homes from local materials and carefully planning their harvest cycles around the region's unpredictable weather. The Garos grow ginger, millet and chilies, but their survival depends on the rice that has grown on their fertile hillsides for generations. But the unavoidable perils of farming in wet regions and the introduction of high-yield but fragile hybrid strains threaten the variety of rice the Garos once grew; some genetic strains face extinction. This once-stable community is also threatened by the introduction of paper currency, which has become a commodity in itself. Instead of tending to their fields, Garos men are obliged to seek paying jobs elsewhere and leave rice harvesting and the essential burning of fields to their wives and daughters, who, due to their society's matrilineal structure, actually own all the property. Some fields and their precious crops, meanwhile, simply fall into neglect, further imperiling the survival of ancient strains; once they're gone from this remote corner of the world, they'll be gone for good. Though Stafford began filming with no clear object in mind, her film is remarkably cohesive, following the day-to-day activities and fortunes of several Garos families. Stafford's interviews with two salty, elderly sisters provide structure; they remember a time when more deer and elephants roamed thicker forests, granaries overflowed with rice and people weren't as poor as they are now. Though the film is essentially a documentary, Stafford asked participants to re-create certain incidents and conversations for the camera, which probably accounts for the occasional staginess and an unnatural amount of explication. Stafford's intimate, eye-level view also means that the cameras never pull back far enough to get a more generalized picture of the Garos and their precarious place in a rapidly encroaching world.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: NR
- Review: London-born, Bombay-bred filmmaker Dinaz Stafford spent several months in Sadolpara, a small bamboo-and-thatch village deep in the state of Meghalaya in northeastern India. Her mission: to capture the lives of the Garos, indigenous people who have lived th… (more)