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The Desert People

David Lamelas
1974
50 min Colour Sound 16 mm

The Desert People

David Lamelas describes it as "a study on American film production". The Desert People begins like a classic road-movie.

The setting is completely familiar to us: a car crossing the desert with a group of people traveling on board. But as soon as the narration begins, it is interrupted by documentary-style interviews. Passing in this way from one film genre to another, Lamelas manages to blur the boundary between fact and fiction.

The five passengers describe their experience on a North American native Indian reservation. Each member of the group has his or her own perspective on the Papago tribe. One offers an anthropological analysis while another discusses writing a feature article for a women's magazine. They each present their version of the 'truth' about how the Papago live. Whilst they examine the tribe's social behaviour, there is little self-reflection on their own group dynamic. Ironically, numerous cuts to their car journey reveal a complete lack of interaction between the travellers.

The final interviewee, Manny, a Papago Indian, comments on the way the American influence on Native Americans is leading to the loss of his own indigenous culture. His English drifts into Spanish and then Papago, as if the meaning of what he wishes to communicate would be lost in translation. For the English-speaking viewer this shift is confusing and demonstrates the difficulty of knowing another culture from the outside. The film ends unexpectedly with a jump cut back to the feature film scenario.

David Lamelas - A New Refutation of Time, Kunstverein Munchen, Witte de With Rotterdam, 1997.

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