Everything is falling apart. The communal sense of guilt is mixed with the deterioration of the village which is getting smaller and smaller as old ones die and new generation migrate to the city. Desperate villagers are witnessing the evaporation of their tradition and losing their sense of belonging. Faithful people are left with no priest who is to be chosen by the community. The new priest is not accepted and the boy that the community has capitalized on is unmarried because girls do not like to marry an old-fashioned bearded man. Above all is the threat of new investors who are trying to appropriate the village and are seen as the harbingers of the doom.
Bird’s way is an excellent example of observational cinema where the communal waiting for the priest, rain and absolution meets the patience of filmmakers crafted their movie piece by piece over three years. The movie betrays the ingrained assumption in visual anthropology that an ethnographic movie is usually aesthetically impaired. A mixture of the richly ethnographical account and cinematic scenes, Bird’s way reaches the level of completion.
Materiality of religion
Focusing on the religious dynamics of these people, the movie tries to contextualize the mechanisms of reproduction and change in tradition in this community. The absence of the priest gives an opportunity to contemplate the interplay between religious practices, the institution of church and the materiality of religion. The everydayness of religion is depicted along with the changes reshaping the local tradition. The contrast between the spirituality seen in the church and the mundane practices gives a sense of faithfulness and loss in this movie.
Putting religion and film side by side is not new and can be traced in an assumption that religion, like film, is in part an aesthetic discourse about the human need to articulate thoughts and feelings in metaphorical and symbolic forms. “In other words, religion is (amongst other things) a narrative producing mechanism, and in this respect can be likened to both literature and the cinema. Reading the discourses of religion and film against each other can, therefore, be fruitful, given that both seek in differing ways to make manifest the unrepresentable. “ (Wright, 2007).
The missing shot
The missing shot is a shot that obliterates the integrity of the movie and stands on its own. It, however, redefines the consistency of the scenes and offers a different perspective to the movie. Bird’s way stays faithful to the observational cinema but a shot where the children carry the tripods on their shoulder. It is the only scene that the audience notices the shadow of filmmakers. The shot follows the sentences of a woman explaining that tomorrow is the feast day and they are going to bury Jesus Christ. I would like to read this shot and the scene of burial as a revealing moment when religiosity and the abstract conception of movie intermingles. Is it not the ultimate goal of the movie that there is a need for resurrection, a new saviour to guide the lost community? Cinema fulfills the same desire. Seeing cinema in Benjaminian way, the secularized rituals in cinema offers a messianic hope that although the aura of art is lost, the masses can seek their articulation in this medium. This wishful thinking is close to the hopeful ending of the movie that new generation is to come.
What I struggled the most with in the visual anthropology course was Vlad’s insistence on having a good argument makes a movie ethnographic. Watching his movie, I finally realized what he was trying to say. I believe he needs to add his movie to the syllabus in the following years to visually proves his position-taking in defining ethnographic movie.
Wright,Melanie J. 2007. I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, New York