Best Anthropology and Ethnography Films to Watch and Learn from!

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Anthropology is the most interesting social science and humanities discipline, since it is the one that most closely deals with the society, people, and cultures. And Anthropological literature turns out to be equally interesting. Just that, sometimes, it is quite lengthy and tiresome to read the fieldnotes or articles written by Anthropologists. So, in those cases, students might be tempted to use films and movies to learn about Anthropology. Some people might even say that’s what Anthropological films exist for. So that visual learners and anyone else can quickly and conveniently enjoy and learn anthropology.

Like always, Alekhni has come to your rescue and we have compiled a list of some amazing movies that can guide you through the entire discipline of Anthropology, including its cultural, linguistic, biological, and even political aspects. So, check out the list of movies mentioned below and thank us later (in the commentsūüėä).

Here you go:

1. Tales from the Jungle: BBC Four Documentaries

Movies on Anthropology- Tales from Jungle

Original Language: English

Release Year: 2006

Run Time: 3 hours (3 episodes ~1 hour each.) 

Director: Peter Oxley

What can you Learn from “Tales from the Jungle”?

Tales from the Jungle” is a 3- part anthropology documentary about the personalities who have heavily shaped the field of Anthropology through generations. There is an episode each about the lives of- BronisŇāaw Malinowski, Margaret Mead + Derek Freeman, and Carlos Castaneda. The documentary is still used in the anthropology lectures to introduce the students to the pioneers of anthropology as a discipline.¬†

The series is so apt that it does not only discuss the glorified versions of these anthropologists but makes sure to give the viewers an accurate glimpse into their character. For example, how Margaret Mead, who was probably one of the most popular and celebrated women of her times became victim of her biases in her fieldwork in Samoa, and how Malinowski was also a racist and his private life contrastingly differed from his public image. Learning about these anthropologists would help you understand the roots of this disciplines very lucidly.  


2. The Anthropologist

Anthropology films- the Anthropologist

Original Language: English

Release Year: 2015

Run Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Director: Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, Jeremy Newberger

What can you Learn from “The Anthropologist”?¬†

“The Anthropologist” is a documentary that follows the parallel journeys of anthropologist Susie Crate and her teenage daughter Katie as they explore the effects of climate change on indigenous communities. The film spans four years and covers locations such as Siberia, Peru, and the Chesapeake Bay. It gives us glimpse into the¬†the intersection of cultural anthropology and environmental science through many¬†personal narratives and interviews.¬†

The documentary turns out to be quite important for young people who are looking for practical applications of anthropology in the present day scenario. It will help them understand the importance of anthropology in understanding the human dimensions of global issues, and the role of culture in shaping resilience and adaptation. Apart from anthropological aspect of the film, there is also a personal mother-daughter connection that can emotionally enrich your perspective while watching this movie. 

3. Race: the Power of an Illusion

Anthropology films- Race

Original Language: English

Release Year: 2003

Run Time: 3 hours (3 parts ~ 1 hour each)

Director(s): Christine Herbes-Sommers, Tracy Heather Strain, Llewellyn Smith

What can you Learn from “Race: the power of Illusion”?¬†

“Race: The Power of an Illusion” is documentary especially for students interested in pursuing biological anthropology. However, it also emphasizes a lot on the cultural and historical aspect of race, so anyone interested in anthropology should definitely watch this series. The film, divided into three parts, explores the historical development of racial categories, the scientific validity (or lack thereof) of race as a biological concept, and the societal implications of race.

The documentary makes us challenge the common misconceptions about race. It demonstrates how race is a social construct rather than a biological reality. It talks about the history of racial classification, exposing the arbitrary nature of these categories. By debunking race as a scientific truth, the series makes viewers reconsider their understanding of identity and confront the social structures built around racial distinctions. 

4. Cannibal Tours

Anthropology films- cannibal tours

Original Language: English

Release Year: 1988

Run Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Director: Dennis O’Rourke

What can you Learn from “Cannibal Tours”?¬†

¬†“Cannibal Tours” is an anthropological documentary about cultural tourism. The filmmaker travelled with a group of European tourists to Papua New Guinea. This is very similar to an anthropologist doing participant observation. As the film continues, the viewers come across some really familiar and uncomfortable aspects of cultural tourism. This movie is a must-watch to learn about the commodification of cultures in our current society.¬†

The movie gives us a reflection of how sometimes we just view the natives as cultural commodities and sight-seeing specimens. This insensitive approach of modern tourists makes us reflect on some of the existing colonial practices in our society. Also, you will realize from this anthropology movie how sometimes cultural commodification also leads to dehumanization and deindividuation at both micro and macro scales. “Cannibal Tours” is such an important film in anthropology that you will often find professors using it in the anthropology of tourism classes.¬†

5. American Tongues

Anthropology films- American Tongues

Original Language: English

Release Year: 1988

Run Time: ~1 hour

Director: Louis Alvarez, Andy Kolker

What can you Learn from “American Tongues”?¬†

American Tongues is a rather entertaining documentary about diversity of American English dialects and accents. The film takes viewers on a journey across the country, from the Boston Brahmins to the Black teenagers of Louisiana, from the Texas cowboys to the New York professionals.

Throughout the film, we hear from a wide range of individuals, each with their own unique way of speaking. We learn about the history and cultural context of each dialect, and we gain a deeper appreciation for the way that language reflects our identity and our experiences.

American Tongues also tackles some of the misconceptions and stereotypes that surround different accents. The film challenges the notion that some dialects are more “proper” or “correct” than others, and it highlights the beauty and richness of linguistic diversity.

In addition to its educational value, American Tongues is also a humorous and engaging film. The filmmakers use a variety of creative techniques to capture the essence of each dialect, and they often find humor in the differences between our ways of speaking.

American Tongues might be more valuable for students interested in linguistic anthropology or the linguistic aspects of cultural anthropology. But to be sure, everyone is going to enjoy this film and learn from it. 


6. Eatnameamet ‚Äď Our Silent Struggle

Anthropology films- Eatnameamet- Our Silent Struggle

Original Language: Swedish

Release Year: 2021

Run Time: 1 hour 14 minutes

Director: Suvi West

What can you Learn from “Eatnameatmet: Our Silent Struggle”? 

Eatnameamet – Our Silent Struggle is a powerful and moving documentary about the ongoing struggle of the S√°mi people for their cultural survival. The film follows a group of S√°mi activists as they fight against the Swedish government’s assimilation policies, which have sought to erase their language, culture, and traditions.

The film’s title, Eatnameamet, means “our right to exist” in the S√°mi language. This phrase encapsulates the central theme of the film, which is the S√°mi people’s right to self-determination and their right to be recognized as a distinct indigenous group.

The documentary is narrated by S√°mi activists and leaders, who provide personal accounts of their experiences with discrimination and marginalization. The film also features footage of S√°mi traditional practices, such as reindeer herding, fishing, and joik (singing).

It is a must-watch for anyone who wants to learn more about the S√°mi people and their struggle for cultural survival. The film is a powerful reminder of the importance of respecting indigenous cultures and the right to self-determination. Moreover, anthropology students might additionally benefit from this movie by learning more about how the cultural policies and law operate in the society. 



7. We Shall Remain

Anthropology films- We Shall Remain

Original Language: English

Release Year: 2015

Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (ep. 1, 5) 

1 hour (ep. 2, 3, 4)

Director: Chris Eyre, Ric Burns, Stanley Nelson Jr., Dustinn Craig, Sarah Colt

What can you Learn from “We Shall Remain”?¬†

“We Shall Remain” is a PBS documentary series that consists of five episodes. The series provides a comprehensive and in-depth exploration of Native American history in North America, spanning from the early colonial period to the 20th century. It is an important film series for students to understand how the early colonists shaped the future of anthropology negatively.¬†¬†

Each episode focuses on a different historical period and event, featuring the stories and perspectives of Native American groups, including the Wampanoag, Cherokee, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Apache. The series aims to present a more inclusive and accurate portrayal of Native American history, challenging stereotypes and highlighting the resilience and strength of indigenous peoples in the face of significant challenges.

It is a valuable educational resource which provides us glimpse into the American history from multiple emic perspectives.

8. Whose is this Song?

Movies on Anthropology- Whose is this song

Original Language: Bulgarian

Release Year: 2003

Run Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Director: Adela Peeva

What can you Learn from “Whose Song is this”?¬†

“Whose is This Song?’ is another interesting and engaging documentary talking about cultural fluidity, diffusion, and hybridity. The film is centrally focused on the cultural significance of a traditional Bulgarian folk song that has been adopted and adapted by people from various Balkan countries.¬†

The filmmaker follows the journey of the song as she travels across borders and realizes the song’s significance for different generations, creating an interplay of cultural exchange and ownership. As she travels to various countries, she is surprised to know that everyone claims the song to be theirs, and people even have their own lyrics for the same song. For one of the countries, the song even had patriotic significance.¬†

The film then also traces the song’s transformations as it is adopted by different groups, including Greeks, Macedonians, Turks, Serbians, and even Americans. Each group adds their own linguistic, cultural, and musical flourishes to the song, creating unique versions that reflect their own identities.

This movie is quite important for every cultural anthropology student, as they can learn about the value of nationalism in the society along with cultural capital and hybridity in cultures. 

9. Nanook of the North

Movies on Anthropology- Nanook of the North

Original Language: Silent Film with English Intertitles

Release Year: 1922

Run Time: 1 hour 23 minutes

Director: Robert J. Flaherty

What can you Learn from “Nanook of the North”?

“Nanook of the North” is a pioneering documentary film that depicts the lives of the indigenous Inuit people of Canada’s northern Quebec region. Released in 1922, the film was directed by Robert J. Flaherty, who spent a year living with the Inuit to capture their daily lives and customs.

The film follows Nanook, an Inuit hunter, and his family as they struggle to survive in the harsh Arctic environment. We witness their efforts to construct igloos, hunt seals and walruses, and fish for salmon. We also see their playful moments with their children and their close-knit community.

Although Nanook of the North is considered a groundbreaking documentary, it has also been criticized for its staged scenes and romanticized portrayal of Inuit life. Flaherty admitted to manipulating the events and reenacting certain scenes to create a more dramatic and visually appealing film. 

Nevertheless, the film is very important for anthropology students to learn about the history of anthropological cinema. 


10. Qissa-e-Parsi: The Parsi Story

Movies on Anthropology- Qissa-e-Parsi

Original Language: English

Release Year: 2014

Run Time: 30 minutes

Director: Shilpi Gulati and Divya Cowasji

What can you Learn from “Qissa-e-Parsi”?

“Qissa-e-Parsi” or the Parsi story in English is a documentary about the lives of the Persian immigrants to India. Followers of the ancient religion, Zoroastrianism, the Parsis are a small and closely knitted community. Yet, they have been quite influential in the Indian society and history by contributing economically, culturally, and politically.¬†

The documentary makes sure to give us a “thick description” of the community’s values, norms, and culture broadly. Also, you will find everything covered from their jokes and humor to their rituals and bonding through this 30-minute fast paced documentary. The only complaint you will have in the end is why they did not make it longer than this. However, all-in-all, anthropology students will certainly benefit from watching this short film about a small but powerful community and how it deals with sensitive issues, such as cross-cultural marriages.¬†

We hope our extensive list could help you by providing information on some important anthropology and ethnography movies. Also check out our other movie articles on Alekhni. If you would like to us to add some more films or write an article on movies about another subject or disciplines, let us know in the comments or send us a direct e-mail at [email protected], or use our contact us page here. (We always reply to all the e-mails, whether they are suggestions, requests, or feedbacks) :).

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