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10 Years of Discovering the Best Documentaries for You

Explorers with Film Cameras


Do you like meeting new cultures, continents, worlds that are both close and remote, analogue and digital? Then drop your notepads and grab your cameras! That is exactly what contemporary anthropological research looks like in the rendition of a group of scientists, artists and ethnographers from the experimental audiovisual laboratory Sensory Ethnography Lab of the prestigious Harvard University. Thanks to our co-operation with Canada’s RIDM (Montreal International Documentary Festival), you can watch 14 original films whose makers were not afraid to create their own film language and travel to the most far-flung corners of the world; from March 16 to 29 at DAFilms.com for free!

Are you encountering the acronym SEL more and more often while attending film festivals and are you still groping in the dark as to what it means? Then do not hesitate to enter the centre of the latest anthropological research and step over the online threshold of the audiovisual platform Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL)! See how unique film accounts of the problems and phenomena of the contemporary world are made; see the alchemy that naturally blends visually attractive images and strong social stories.

MANAKAMANA, an award-winning festival favourite and winner of Locarno IFF, is headed for the top of the film selection as well as the top of a Nepalese mountain. Inside the narrow bubble of a cable car, the camera observes a diverse group of pilgrims heading towards Manakamana Temple proudly towering on the mountaintop. What are their motivations, memories of the place, themes for discussion? Teenagers, locals, musicians, even animals; on the backdrop of a magnificent natural scenery, they all travel to the holy temple of Goddess Bhagwati to tell her their wishes. Will they come true?

SWEETGRASS, too, is set in the mountains; this time, however, they are inhabited by the last real cowboys of the American West. The local herdsmen head towards Montana‘s wild mountain ranges each year to take their herds to the lush summer pastures. While they fight the elements and pitfalls of the dangerous journey, a unique film essay about the greatness of nature and time as well as the human effort to face both opens up in front of the audiences.

However, it is not just little known or inaccessible places that Sensory Ethnography Lab enters. In YUMEN, J. P. Sniadecki sets out to a former oil kingdom, the Chinese city of Yumen, telling about the ghosts of the place, its forgotten past as well as those who stayed among the ruins of vanished wealth. The contrasts of monumental China are also captured in the renowned film THE IRON MINISTRY which reveals the strict inner stratification of Chinese society during a single train ride. A specific microworld within a larger whole is explored in FOREIGN PARTS as well. In the middle of New York’s beehive, the film discovers a scrapyard that seems abandoned at first glance; however, in its viscera, one can find not only bodyworks that fell apart long ago but also life stories of those who are not going to fall apart any time soon and keep fighting for every new day in this world.

Become explorers with film cameras and do not miss the two-week journey beyond the usual perspective of the world at DAFilms.com for free!

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Films for the event


The Iron Ministry

Tie dao (Orig.) / 2014 / China, United States / 83 min

Award-winning American documentary filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki travelled throughout China by train for three years, capturing, with dazzling range and astonishing intimacy, the public and private spaces, faces and thoughts of Chinese people on the move...



Terrace of the Sea

Terrace of the Sea (Orig.) / 2009 / Palestinian Territories, United States / 52 min

Filmed in an unofficial Palestinian Bedouin camp established in 1948 on a stretch of beach north of Tyre, in South Lebanon, Terrace of the Sea uses a collection of family photographs taken over three generations as a prism through which to reflect on memory, loss and history...



Still Life

Still Life (Orig.) / 2007 / Palestinian Territories, United States / 25 min

"The Arab governments pushed us out of our homes... I was twelve years old… I've been here for 60 years." A beautiful, poignant documentary, Still Life examines the effect a collection of personal photos showing life in Palestine before the 1948 displacement have on an elderly Palestinian fisherman living in exile in Lebanon...




Songhua (Orig.) / 2007 / China, United States / 28 min

In northeastern China the Songhua River flows west from the border of Russia to the city of Harbin, where four million people depend on it as a source of water. Songhua is a portrait of the varying people that gather where the river meets the city, and an ethnographic study of the intimate ways in which they play and work...



The Yellow Bank

The Yellow Bank (Orig.) / 2010 / China, United States / 27 min

A short documentary that captures the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century, The Yellow Bank takes you on a contemplative boat ride across the Huangpu River in Shanghai, China. Filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki, who lived and worked in Shanghai nine years earlier, uses the eclipse as a catalyst to explore the way weather, light, and sound affect the urban architectural environment during this extremely rare phenomenon...




Demolition (Orig.) / 2008 / China, United States / 62 min

"If the old doesn't go, the new never comes" recites a teenager hanging out near a demolition site in the center of Chengdu, the Sichuan capital in western China. In Demolition, filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki deconstructs the transforming cityscape by befriending the migrant laborers on the site and documenting the honest, often unobserved, human interactions, yielding a wonderfully patient and revealing portrait of work and life in the shadow of progress and economic development...



People's Park

People's Park (Orig.) / 2012 / China, United States / 78 min

The film explores the dozens of moods, rhythms, and pockets of performance coexisting in tight proximity within the park's prismatic social space, capturing waltzing couples, mighty sycamores, karaoke singers, and buzzing cicadas...




Untitled (Orig.) / 2010 / Nepal, United States / 14 min

A revealing one-shot portrait of two Nepali newlyweds in a moment of rest and playful interaction, Stephanie Spray's Untitled challenges our perception of two themes at the very core of ethnographic filmmaking: human relationships and the ways in which they can be experienced by the viewer...



Kale and Kale

Kāle and Kāle (Orig.) / 2007 / Nepal, United States / 50 min

In exploring the lives of two wandering Nepali musicians, an uncle and nephew who share the same name and are featured in filmmaker Stephanie Spray's and Pacho Velez's acclaimed documentary Manakamana, Kāle and Kāle (pronounced kah-lay) exposes the rootless occupation of the Gaine caste and communicates both its joys and pitfalls - domestic, economic and spiritual - in their daily lives...




Monsoon-Reflections (Orig.) / 2008 / Nepal, United States / 23 min

A deeply felt reflection on labor, gender, and fleeting pleasures in rural Nepal, filmmaker Stephanie Spray's short but powerful documentary on two strong-willed female field hands captures the monotonous and arduous nature of their work during Monsoon season. Spray's close friendships with the women (who were also passengers in Spray and Velez' monumental film Manakamana) allows for an intimacy and honesty rarely seen in anthropological works...



As Long As There's Breath

As Long As There's Breath (Orig.) / 2010 / Nepal, United States / 57 min

In 1999 Stephanie spray began studying music, religion and languages in Nepal, and since then she has spent copious time practicing the art of “wandering” (Dhulna Jāne) with a community of itinerant musicians called the Gandharba...




Yumen (Orig.) / 2013 / China, United States / 65 min

YUMEN combines ghost stories and “ruin porn” to form a celluloid psycho-collage of wandering souls seeking connection with one another and a lost collective history among the frozen remnants of the abandoned oil town of Yumen in China’s northwest Gansu province.



Foreign Parts

Foreign Parts (Orig.) / 2010 / France, United States / 80 min

A hidden enclave in the shadow of the New York Mets' new stadium, the neighborhood of Willets Point is an industrial zone fated for demolition. Filled with scrapyards and auto salvage shops, lacking sidewalks or sewage lines, the area seems ripe for urban development. But Foreign Parts discovers a strange community where wrecks, refuse and recycling form a thriving commerce...




Sweetgrass (Orig.) / 2009 / United States / 103 min

Sweetgrass is a 2009 documentary film that follows modern-day shepherds as they lead their flocks of sheep up into Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth mountains for summer pasture. It was directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor, a Harvard anthropologist, and produced by his wife Ilisa Barbash. The title derives from Sweet Grass County, one of several in which the film was shot.




Leviathan (Orig.) / 2012 / United States / 87 min

In the very waters where Melville’s pequod gave chase to Moby Dick, Leviathan captures the collaborative clash of man, nature, and machine. Shot on a dozen cameras — tossed and tethered, passed from fisherman to filmmaker — it is a cosmic portrait of one of mankind’s oldest endeavors.




Manakamana (Orig.) / 2012 / Nepal, United States / 118 min

High above a jungle in Nepal, pilgrims make an ancient journey by cable car to worship Manakamana.





“My work has two strands: the first one deals with direct political images of violence, aggression and protest, mostly in Israeli-Palestinian context. It’s critique of news media, researching the complex, both realistic and surrealistic aspects of these images. The second strand of videos is more abstract and universal, dealing with cognitive, environmental and existential issues,” says the director about his works.

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- 16.1.2017 -

Charter 77

Charter 77

We commemorate the 40th anniversary of the founding of Charter 77 by presenting documentary profiles of the signatories to this important initiative of anti-communist resistance. Learn more about the context of this historical event by means of an authentic film experience.

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- 10.1.2017 -

Merry and Cinematic Christmas from DAFilms!

Merry and Cinematic Christmas from DAFilms!

A bonus subscription to DAFilms.com is a present you will never get tired of thanks to its diversity. You can get it for your close ones or just for yourself.

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- 14.12.2016 -

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