Accepted paper:

Tsumkwe, Namibia: the Stone Age film set


Aglaja Kempinski (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Where John Marshall foresaw a “Plastic Stone Age” for the San, Tsumkwe has turned into a Stone Age film set. Reversing what has been their passive relationship with film leads to the realisation that while film has consumed Tsumkwe, this Stone Age film set abides by distinctly San rules.

Paper long abstract:

Tsumkwe - the administrative center of an area which used to be referred to as "Bushmanland" in Apartheid Namibia - is steeped in a longstanding engagement with film, ranging from John Marshall's famous documentary "The Hunters" (1957) to comedy feature film "The Gods must be crazy" (1980) and a whole range of BBC documentaries. These have contributed to an environment which is heavily romanticised by tourists, San, researchers and film makers alike. An attempt to reverse what has been a passive relationship with film shows how the place itself has turned into a film set in which the roles played by different actors are heavily prescribed by the processes governing the maintenance of San identity. The focus of this research is an indigenous filmmaking project (CEDU). Fieldwork has been conducted throughout its establishment, negotiation with parties who resisted it, some of its successes and ultimately its failures (while also considering finshed film products) The qualitative data obtained shows that Western notions of "real" versus "fake" in relation to film material are misguided avenues of assessing Tsumkwe and its development (or lack thereof). Rather, we need to understand that while Tsumkwe has embraced the medium of film and itself become a film set in many ways, the rules which govern this space are still distinctly San. The biggest challenge to the San making films is an epistemological system which understands a fetishized relationship the San have with nature to be incompatible with active use of modern filmmaking technology.

panel P30
Creative horizons: steps towards an ethnography of imagination