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Dead Birds

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School Bd/College/University DVD: $350


Grade Level: Coll-Adult
Producer: DER
Closed Captioned: No
Running Time: 146 mins
Country of Origin: United States
Study Guide: No

Copyright Date: 2004
Available in French: No

“Dead Birds is a film about the Dani, a people dwelling in the Grand Valley of the Baliem high in the mountains of West Irian. When I shot the film in 1961, the Dani had an almost classic Neolithic culture. They were exceptional in the way they focussed their energies and based their values on an elaborate system of intertribal warfare and revenge. Neighboring groups of Dani clans, separated by uncultivated strips of no man's land, engaged in frequent formal battles. When a warrior was killed in battle or died from a wound and even when a woman or a child lost their life in an enemy raid, the victors celebrated and the victims mourned. Because each death had to be avenged, the balance was continually being adjusted with the spirits of the aggrieved lifted and the ghosts of slain comrades satisfied as soon as a compensating enemy life was taken. There was no thought in the Dani world of wars ever ending, unless it rained or became dark. Without war there would be no way to satisfy the ghosts. Wars were also the best way they knew to keep a terrible harmony in a life which would be, without the strife they invented, mostly hard and dull. Dead Birds has a meaning which is both immediate and allegorical. In the Dani language it refers to the weapons and ornaments recovered in battle. Its other more poetic meaning comes from the Dani belief that people, because they are like birds, must die. In making Dead Birds certain kinds of behavior were followed, never directed. It was an attempt to see people from within and to wonder, when the selected fragments of that life were assembled, if they might speak not only of the Dani but also of ourselves.”
— Robert Gardner

NOTE: The special edition 2-disc DVD includes the remastered Dead Birds and the following extra features:
  • 6 sequences of edited scenes cut from the first answer print of Dead Birds with original narration and a commentary by Robert Gardner and Lucien Taylor.
  • An audio track of commentary by Robert Gardner and Ross McElwee.
  • A French language track narrated by Jean Rouch.
  • A gallery of photographs shot during the making of Dead Birds and accompanied by excerpts read by Robert Gardner from his field journals.
  • An excerpt from a television interview featuring a conversation about Dead Birds between Octavio Paz, William Alfred and Robert Gardner.
  • 2 sequences from a black and white print of Dead Birds made at the time of the film 's release. These are accompanied by a conversation by Robert Gardner and Lucien Taylor.
  • Previously unreleased outtakes from the archive of footage shot for Dead Birds.