Apr 22, 2008

Karl Heider gets it. From DEAD BIRDS to Osa Johnson.

Here's the invitation that went out today for a special screening of ethnographic films made in Indonesia, a screening in honor of Karl Heider.

The Orphan Film Symposium grew at the University of South Carolina, in no small measure due to his support -- and his international reputation in the world of nonfiction film. The first symposium in 1999 was preceded by a week of films shown in Columbia as part of the National Film Registry Tour. Among the titles screened was Dead Birds (1964), a watershed ethnographic film directed by Robert Gardner, with the assistance of Heider, his Harvard protege.

Karl Heider went on to make a half dozen of his own ethnographic films about the Dani, a Papuan society in western New Guinea. His name is perhaps most familiar as the author of the book Ethnographic Film (1976), which is still in print.

He will be retiring from the university soon, but continues to write, travel the world, and see lots of films. He taught some of us in orphan filmland about the odd, popular, misassessed, interesting and ultimately significant movie legacy of Osa and Martin Johnson. This husband and wife team were Kansan adventurers who took up cameras in 1917 and spent twenty years traveling to Africa and Pacific islands, presenting their films of 'exotic' peoples to American audiences. Among their ephemeral films are 16 or so pieces of Fox Movietone News outtakes from the early sound era.

A link worth noting: In 1928, Martin and Osa Johnson publicized a trip to Africa by taking along three Boy Scouts. One of the three boys who co-authored Three Boy Scouts in Africa, Douglas L. Oliver, went on to become a professor of anthropology at Harvard -- where he became an advisor to Karl G. Heider.

Karl was unable to join us for Orphans 6. But his distributor was! Brittany Gravely of Documentary Educational Resources.


Karl's father, the psychologist Fritz Heider, made a teaching film while a professor at Smith College in the 1940s. We need to find it.