Ghostland: The View of the Ju/Hoansi is a look at the Ju/Hoansi, an ancient tribal culture indigenous to Namibia, in southern Africa. In its opening scenes, the documentary displays text informing us that the Ju/Hoansi (also known as Bushmen), is the oldest culture on the planet, tracing its roots at least 25,000 years; however, in 1990, the Namibian government enacted laws forbidding them from hunting, thus shutting them out from their traditional method of gathering food. The doc doesn’t explain why they’re forbidden from their traditional lifestyle, but it seems to not be the point of the film. Instead, it focuses on a small group of Ju/Hoansi as they sustain an economic existence by putting on a show of their traditional lifestyle for European tourists.
The documentary follows, among many people, Xoan and her baby; Chau, who became the first Ju/Hoansi to get electricity and an email account; Tci!xo, who bought a double bed that fills her entire hut; Gao, who has TB and Ui, who looks after a development project for the tribe. The documentary captures many scenes that display a culture in a dichotomous cultural transition. The first scene, for example, shows Ju/Hoansi kids and teens, all of whom are in robes that display body parts (female chests and sex organs) that Western and Western-influenced culture would never allow. The kids stand in front of a chain fence while watching planes taking off from the airport. In later scenes, the adults, dressed in their traditional clothing and armed with hunting weapons, put on a show for European tourists eager to watch them. The Ju/Hoansi openly complain in their native language about feeling like they are on display.
In later scenes, some of the Ju/Hoansi are taken to Germany, where, dressed in Western clothes, the group are in dismay at the fast pace and loudness of Western culture. It’s their turn to do the watching and it’s a reversal of the film’s early scenes, except that one of the filmmakers, a balding white man with a bushy beard, accompanies them and follows them around. He may be the film’s director or perhaps its producer, but the scene in which they arrive at the airport and he shows the group’s passports to German customs officials negates the Ju/Hoansi members’ ability to watch and navigate on their own. Customs may be new to the tribe members, but it’s not as if they hadn’t had previous exposure to Western culture.
It’s a slow-paced documentary without a soundtrack or voice-over narration, although it has minimal text throughout the film (it needs a better translation from the original German). The result is a quiet, creeping film that a Canadian audience most likely isn’t used to. But that’s not to say it isn’t worth watching. If you’re fascinated by cultural differences, cultural genocide and the Western gaze, watch this movie.
Is Ghostland: The View of the Ju/Hoansi screening worthy?
This movie won’t blow you away, but it’s an interesting document of a disappearing culture and the Western gaze prominent in film.
Ghostland: The View of the Ju/Hoansi opens Sunday, Decmeber 25, 2016 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. Check their website for more information.