2016 Milwaukee Film Festival – Day Ten – GHOSTLAND
Day ten drew me across town on a rainy day to the Fox Bay Cinema Grill and the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival’s last screening of the documentary GHOSTLAND to a sold out theater. It was a great testament of the power of a film festival to get people to try different films, as I’m sure a release of this in March would be met with crickets.
GHOSTLAND is basically a film of anthropology. The filmmakers follow the daily lives of the Ju/’Hoansi bushmen of Namibia. They used to be hunters, but because of a change in laws, they now earn their livelihood scavenging the kalahari and through basically being living attractions for tourism. They even remark the first time they saw white men, now a common thing, they thought they were ghosts.
That should give some meaning to the title. As an experiment in anthropology, a trip for many members of the tribe was planned to show the bushmen more of the outside world of Namibia. And later, a smaller group is taken to Europe to teach students their methods and culture. The film largely chronicles their reactions, from trying new foods, meeting new people, having fun in the pool, to seeing some of the great cities of Europe, and observing the people they encounter. Thankfully, there’s no Beverly Hillbillies type buffoonery here, but people that can understand concepts, have a point of view, and even a sense of irony. At some point, they pick up a camera and become the tourists and they note it.
I don’t think the film is too deep, but it’s full of humanity. The central thesis, not stated, is that people are alike all over the world. Yes, we may have different cultures, the Ju/’Hoansi may not understand the need for all the stuff westerners accumulate and think we’re in a hurry for no real reason, but you watch one group of children splash around in a pool, you’ve seen every child in the world splash around in a pool. You watch one tourist stop and take a picture, it’s the same as every other tourist. That humanity comes through loud and clear.
There’s not too much more to the film than that, but it makes its point, with humor, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. And the final update on what happened to the principals of the film after the filming stopped shows the powerful connection made between the audience and some strangers in about 90 minutes. Empathy and understanding can bridge the largest of divides.
There are no more showings of GHOSTLAND during the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival, but there are plenty of films screening before the festival ends on October 6th. Tickets can be purchased at Milwaukee Film’s website or at any of their box office locations.