* AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center

Robert Gardner Documentaries
April 20–28

A celebrated anthropologist, ethnographer and filmmaker, Robert Gardner has traveled the world in search of the universal human experience. From Ethiopia to Colombia, Gardner has fixed his camera on the customs and ceremonies of other peoples, exploring their beliefs and perspectives. But far from pretending towards objectivity, Gardner often combines these observations with reflections on Western civilization and his own sense of self.

A founder of the Harvard Film Archive and Film Study Center, his prolific career includes work in cinema, photography and literature. Lyric and poetic in both their stunning cinematography and editorial rhythms, his cinematic essays transcend traditional documentary forms and achieve their own distinct filmic language.

On April 26, Robert Gardner will be awarded the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal, joining such filmmakers as George Lucas, Jim Henson, Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood in having made “distinguished contributions to the advancement of areas of interest to the Smithsonian.”

“His camera scans with precision and feels with sympathy; the objectivity of an anthropologist and the fraternity of a poet.” – Octavio Paz

“Gardner is at once the establishment Gauguin and the avant-garde Indiana Jones.” – J. Hoberman

AFI Member passes will be accepted at all screenings in the Robert Gardner series.


In 1961, the Dani people of Papua New Guinea were among the last civilizations untouched by European colonization. Robert Gardner’s acclaimed documentary examines the daily lives of Weayak, a tribal warrior and farmer, and Pua, a young swine herder. Gardner’s stunning visuals and lyrical account of life and death in the Guinean highlands not only offers a portrait of the Dani people but also holds up a mirror to Western society. In 1998, this landmark film was added to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.

DIR Robert Gardner; SCR Peter Matthiessen US, 1963, color, 85 min. NOT RATED


Sat, Apr 20, 4:00


In the scrublands of southwestern Ethiopia, a geographically isolated Hamar village has elevated archaic traditions of male supremacy and masculine bravado into a perverse, highly performative cultural tradition. The men ritually “whip” their womenfolk; hunters drink spurting blood from freshly killed game; and decorative scarring is much in vogue. Gardner’s penetrating camera gaze keenly observes the agriculture, herding, hunting and ceremonies of the Hamar people, while interviews reveal some surprising insights and critical viewpoints among the populace. Said Gardner: “I don’t think anthropology is doing its job by being value-free.”

DIR Robert Gardner. US, 1974, color, 83 min. NOT RATED


Sun, Apr 21, 3:00

Robert Gardner: Revisions & Recollections
In person: Robert Gardner

This program of short films and works in progress includes STILL JOURNEY ON: AN UNFINISHED EXAMINATION
OF LIFE, where Gardner turns the camera inward to create an intimate meditation on creativity, friendship and self-knowledge; FORSAKEN FRAGMENTS, Gardner’s refashioning of some of the finest footage from his unfinished projects; and DEAD BIRDS REVISIONED, where Gardner explores previously unedited footage he shot in 1989 on a visit to West Papua some 30 years after filming his landmark documentary DEAD BIRDS there.

DIR Robert Gardner. Total running time approximately 105 min.


Sat, Apr 27, 4:30


Taking a meditative approach towards observing the Indian holy city of Benares, Gardner focuses on the bustling death-obsessed city from one sunrise to the next. Eschewing commentary, subtitles and even dialogue, three individuals emerge to the forefront of this participatory visual poem: a genial healer, the local boss of the cremation grounds and a conscientious priest. Each brings focus to the cycle of life and death; the ebb and flow of the sacred Ganges River. “A work of genius...
an eccentric masterwork. Gardner achieves moments of transcendence, quiet little epiphanies of the everyday.” – Los Angeles Times.

DIR Robert Gardner. US, 1986, color, 90 min. NOT RATED


Sun, Apr 28, 4:00