Teenager Katie Crate admires her mother greatly. Susie Crate has been working tirelessly as an anthropologist focused on documenting the effects that climate change has on various world cultures. Katie often accompanies Susie on her adventures around the world – from Siberia where Katie’s dad hails from to protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline to a stint in the remote South Pacific island nation of Kiribati for the holidays – but she has little desire to follow in her mother’s footsteps and has a conflicted relationship to mom’s transitory lifestyle of constant research and advocacy. Mary Catherine Bateson can sympathize with what Katie’s going through. Bateson’s mother was one of the most famous and worldly anthropologists to ever live: Margaret Mead.
Although filmmakers Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger have collaborated before with great success on documentaries like Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie and The Linguists, the well meaning, but scattershot The Anthropologist is the first of their collaborations to actually feel like the result of three conflicting voices, four if you count the fact that most of their cues come from Susie Crate’s travels and interactions. The film never fully decides if it wants to be about father-daughter relationships and inheriting a family dynasty, a look at climate change, or a straight biopic of Crate with Bateson’s story often falling by the wayside.
There is something very interesting and poignant to be said about Katie’s experiences on the road with her mother, and how learning the cultures of others is an important part of maturation and not only educational in nature. The moments of the film that show Susie doing straightforward anthropological research and photography are also fascinating. It’s just too bad that by the end of The Anthropologist, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be taking from it.