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Documentary showcases unvisited nooks of the world

Paris: In the mountains of central Nepal, two men with a young boy in tow take cows and goats to graze on verdant slopes, huddling under an umbrella when the summer showers come.

At the village in the folds of a valley a woman argues with her neighbour that he is digging too close to the wall of her stone house and then complains about the excrement in every corner of the dirt streets.

Such are the ways of the world here, says a documentary shot by a lone anthropologist who stumbled upon a rural village in Nuwakot, Nepal.

“I go walking.... and there`s a moment. I don`t pick a place, I end up there,” says Stephane Breton, who made the film in Nepal last year and has put together a collection of documentaries from several international film-makers called “L`Usage du Monde” (The Ways of the World).

The less than an hour long films give a personal glimpse of people in usually unseen corners of the globe – from the forests of Gabon, the coal mines of northern China, a far north Russian village on the White Sea, to an old Spanish community in New Mexico.

The films were showcased this week at the Musee du Quai Branly, a cross-cultural centre in Paris featuring arts largely from the non-Western areas of Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas.

The idea of the documentary collection is not a scientific or strictly pedagogical experience of another culture, but rather going to a place like a traveller with eyes open to render a film that is the fruit of a personal experience, according to Stephane Martin, president of the museum which partly sponsored the project.

Breton`s documentary “La Montee au Ciel” (Ascent to the Sky) captures moments in the lives of the people of Nuwakot through eyes of the 51-year-old film-maker. There was no script, no storyboard, no political message.

“I do everything alone, it`s just myself being with them,” Breton says.

“Since I am an anthropologist to begin with, being there is what my job is all about.”And like the anthropologist the viewer spends time with the Nepalese people observing how they go about their lives, answering the question “how do you behave in (your) society,” adds Breton.

After discovering the Nepalese village, Breton explained that there was no forcing the camera in people`s faces or surreptitious shooting of the footage.

“I stick around for a while,” he says. “They have to agree with my being there.”As he is allowed in, the villagers largely ignore his camera, except for some children who stare quizzically into the lens. Their conversations are in the local dialect, which Breton later had translated for French subtitles. (The forthcoming DVD collection of the documentaries will also be in English.)

The film follows from the dirt-poor village the herders and the boy with their cows and goats as they climb higher and higher in the breathtaking mountain scenery of Nepal, the Himalayan country dubbed the rooftop of the world.

The curiosity of the fresh-faced boy contrasts with the weather-worn old man who yawns, plagued with tiredness, as he coughs and puffs up the mountainside to what seems like walking into the clouds.

“The purpose is being there... the sharing of an experience for 52 minutes (the length of each film), a little piece of time,” says Breton, who has worked with the Musee du Quai Branly on anthropological exhibitions since 2006.

He has another documentary in the collection called “La Maison Vide” (The Empty House) which looks at a Spanish community dating from the early 19th century that hangs on in the dusty countryside of the southwestern US state of New Mexico.

The other three films in the collection are “L`Argent du Charbon” (The Money of Coal) which follows truck drivers transporting their cargo from China`s northern coal mines. “Les Hommes de la Foret 21” (The Men of Forest 21) enters the camps where loggers and their boy apprentices go out to chop down the immense trees of Gabon`s forestland.

The documentary “Lumiere du Nord” (Northern Light) goes to a village a thousand kilometres north of Saint Petersburg which seems to live in suspended time – the Russia of Chekhov, still happy though slightly falling apart, and cold.

Bureau Report

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