Project Description

Dead Birds

Film Still from Dead Birds

Robert Gardner, 16mm film & DVD, 84 mins. (1964), (2004)

Robert Gardner’s classic film about the Dani, a people dwelling in the Grand Valley of the Baliem high in the mountains of West Irian.

“When I shot the film in 1961, neighboring groups of Dani clans, separated by uncultivated strips of no man’s land, engaged in frequent formal battles.

There was no thought in the Dani world of wars ever ending, unless it rained or became dark. Without war there would be no way to satisfy the ghosts.

Dead Birds has a meaning which is both immediate and allegorical. In the Dani language it refers to the weapons and ornaments recovered in battle. Its other more poetic meaning comes from the Dani belief that people, because they are like birds, must die.

Dead Birds was an attempt to see people from within and to wonder if they might speak not only of the Dani but also of ourselves,”
— Robert Gardner.

Selected to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Distributed by Documentary Education Resources, Watertown, MA.

Robert Gardner