Synopsis by Andrea LeVasseur
Financed by the Netherlands and the Peabody Museum at Harvard, Dead Birds is a 1961 documentary project directed by Robert Gardner. The film follows the life of a New Guinea tribesman and his war-like people called the Dani. It was filmed on-location in the Grand Valley of the Baliem in the mountains of West Irian. The neighboring clans followed a fierce system of battles and revenge. Each death needed to be celebrated, mourned, and avenged. The people believed that war was the only way to satisfy the ghosts. The people spend much of their time watching from posts high in the trees for the next enemy attack. In one particularly elaborate funeral for a fallen warrior, women are shown cutting off their fingers as a gesture of mourning. The lives of the New Guinea tribes in the mid-'60s had not changed much from the lives of their primitive ancestors. Dead Birds was added to the National Film Registry in 1998. The title refers to both the literal use of dead birds in war practices and the metaphorical links between humans and animals.
battle [war], grief, revenge, warrior
High Historical Importance