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Shamans of the Blind Country

Special Screening

Saturday, April 12, 2014
4:00 PM–6:00 PM

1980, West Germany,Michael Oppitz, 223 minutes (U.S. Premiere of restored version)
Presented with the American Museum of Natural History
Without doubt the most important German ethnographic film ever.
Werner Petermann (et al.): Die Fremden Sehen. Ethnologie und Film, 1984: 207.
Part I (97 minutes) at 3:00 PM
20 minute intermission
Parts II (127 minutes) at 5:00 PM
Q&A with the filmmaker 7:00 PM
A landmark in anthropological filmmaking, Michael Oppitz’s fully restored epic of the rituals of the Magar people of Nepal features narration by William S. Burroughs. Unfolding over nearly four hours, a sacred landscape of knowledge of the secret practice of magic, of the healing virtue of Himalayan herbs, and of the alternating beats of the pulse and the mind is revealed. The film is shown in two sections, at 3 and at 5 p.m. The filmmaker will be present.
Social anthropologist Michael Oppitz travelled to the Magar in Nepal three times in the late 1970s to research their form of shamanism. Accompanied by a small film team, he discovered the camera was an excellent companion for the ethnographical gold standard: field research.
After each three-month stay with the Magar in the Himalayas, the team would then wait in Kathmandu for the 16 mm footage that had been sent to New York to be developed. The resultant 35 hours of material were later edited down into an almost four-hour film. Oppitz referred to his work with this material as ‘ethnography in the darkroom’, with the film footage serving as an initial aid to his research. Yet the concept of ‘assistance’ seems like an understatement here in view of the film. It is not only its subject matter that made it swiftly advance to become a classic of visual anthropology, but also its sense of precision and rhythm and diligent treatment of language. The shamans’ magical healing methods attracted attention far beyond anthropological circles. We are happy to be able to present a restored digital version of Schamanen im Blinden Land long after its landmark premiere in 1980.
For further details about the making of the film and its subsequent restoration download this pdf.

About the Director

Michael Oppitz was born in 1942 in the Krkonoše Mountains of Silesia, Poland. He studied anthropology, sociology and sinology and earned his PhD with a dissertation on the history of structural anthropology. Along with guest professorships in England, France and the United States, he was a professor of anthropology at Zurich University and the director of the university’s Ethnographic Museum. Starting in the 60s, he carried out extensive fieldwork in the Himalayas. He is the author of numerous publications on anthropological and ethnographic subjects and has made several short films. He returns to the Rubin after having presented at the Naxi conference in 2011.