The Society for Visual Anthropology’s Film & Media Festival screens work by students, professional anthropologists, and professional filmmakers at the American Anthropological Association’s annual conference. This year’s festival is hosted in the beautiful city of Vancouver, and I can’t wait to present my film alongside other works of visual ethnography at such a critical event. This year’s theme, “Changing Climates,” invites anthropologists and their collaborators to examine how we engage with communities around issues of change over time, including climate change, to envision and build a more equitable future.
Ghost Tape #10
About the program: Eyes and Lenses is an annual, 4-day ethnographic film festival organized by the Student Research Group of the Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology Institute of the University of Warsaw - “Etno,” and the Witold Dynowski Ethnographic Workshop Association (Stowarzyszenie Pracownia Etnograficzna). Accompanied by discussion panels and meetings with artists, an international program of shorts and features are shown in cooperation with leading centers of visual anthropology and preeminent ethnographic film festivals, such as the Royal Anthropological Institute, Granada Center for Visual Anthropology and Lomonosov Moscow State University. This year's program, June 7th - 10th, will be held at Służewski Dom Kultury in Warsaw, Poland.
Ghost Tape #10 will be screening on June 10th as part of this year’s festival.
News of my film’s first language translation outside of the United States came as a warm surprise earlier this week. Screening at the Eyes and Lenses ethnographic film review in Warsaw on June 10th, Ghost Tape #10 will accompany of a program of films “shot by anthropologists with film intent and by filmmakers with ethnographic sensitivity.” I’m honored by the opportunity to share my work with a Polish audience thanks to the "Ethno" Scientific Club of the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Warsaw, and one translator in particular, who wishes to remain anonymous. To you, I humbly thank you for your labor and attention to detail!
About the festival: “In the over 10-year history of the review, we have shown several hundred films . Among them were the classics of the ethnographic film (Jean Rouch, Jacek Olędzki ...), and the latest films shot both by ethnographers grabbing the camera and filmmakers endowed with ethnographic imagination. We try to make every next edition surprise our viewers.” (From Eyes and Lenses)
2019 screening will take place at the SŁUŻEW CULTURE CENTER - Warsaw, Poland, June 7th-10th.
It is my profound honor to count Ghost Tape #10 among the incredible, award-winning films at the 2019 Athens International Film + Video Festival. Awarded a Special Jury Prize, the “Alden Award,” from a guest panel of renowned artists and filmmakers, I was moved by this unexpected surprise early this morning. One of my favorite destinations for humane and invigorating experimental and documentary works, AIF+VF continues to inspire me with their lovingly-crafted shorts blocks, as delicate as ever, this year…definitely not to be my last! Special thanks to Festival Director David Colagiovanni and 2019 Jury Members: Laura Harrison, Lynne Sachs, Chris Sullivan & Jodi Wille.
2019 Athens International Film + Video Festival - Award Winners
Documentary Short Award: Stone Engravings and the Three-Colored Chickenpox Tale by Vinícius Lopes & Luciana Mazeto (Brazil)
Narrative Short Award: De Terugkeer van Sooi Dingemans by Marc Bryssinck (Belgium)
Animated Short Award: Egg by Martina Scarpelli (France)
Experimental Short Award: Goodbye Fantasy by Amber Bemak & Nadia Granados (Mexico)
Black Bear Award (Best use of sound): Pain is Mine by Farshid Akhlaghi (Australia)
Film House Award (For visionary filmmaking): Shooting Crows by Christine Hürzeler (Switzerland)
Alden Award: Ghost Tape #10 by Sean David Christensen (USA)
Narrative Feature Award: We Are Thankful by Joshua Magor (South Africa)
Documentary Feature Award: A Thousand Girls Like Me by Sahra Mani (Afghanistan)
Special Jury Mentions:
Fest (Animation) by Nikita Diakur (Germany)
Elder Abuse (Experimental) by Drew Durepos (USA)
I Have Sinned a Rapturous Sin (Experimental) by Maryam Tafakory (Iran/United Kingdom)
Fauve (Narrative) by Jeremy Comte (Canada)
This Friday, at the world premiere screening of my USC MVA (Masters of Arts in Visual Anthropology) cohorts' thesis films, Ghost Tape #10 will be shared with its first audience. Its screening will mark the one year anniversary of my first midnight in Vietnam, its cloak of night shrouding the miles I had left before me, miles before I could fully grasp what story I was trying to tell. The humidity was so intense that summer, the combined heat and moisture had eroded the black fabric coating my headphone's earmuffs, leaving its flakes clinging to my neck like pieces of dead skin. Each time I fished them out of my backpack to record an interview, there was less of it left, and each time, I felt like a fool.
It seemed, for a time while I was there, that everything was slowly falling apart. Deaf and dumb to the language that surrounded me, my exhaustion found new ways to undermine my assuredness, always keeping me off-balance. Thankfully, I was blessed with a remarkable group of guides, artists and craftspeople who helped me find my way, some of whom will be joining me in my school's darkened theatre on Friday. Under the mentorship of my professors who challenged me to take the right road instead of the easy one, I look back on a year and a filmmaking journey that still feels impossible. But then again, most dreams are.
ABOUT THE FILM:
Created by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, "Ghost Tape #10" was one of many tapes engineered as part of "Operation: Wandering Soul," a psychological operations campaign designed to intimidate and demoralize the North Vietnamese Army. These audio tapes would echo throughout war zones, their soundtracks consisting of actors portraying grieving family members, or voices from the dead, longing to be reunited with their loved ones. Exploiting the traditional Buddhist belief that, if denied a proper burial in their homeland, the dead wander the world aimlessly, these recordings were originally conceived of as attempts to weaponize an opposing culture's religious beliefs against them. Ghost Tape #10, the film, focuses on unearthing and re-examining this weaponization of belief through the context of modern day Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American religious practice. Through dreamlike visualizations and interviews in Vietnam and Los Angeles, reactions to this obscure piece of American propaganda lead to larger discussions about how modern day relationships between the living and the dead are carried out, and what truths, if any, still echo within this recording.
Sean David Christensen
Sean David Christensen
Translation & Transcription
Ca Dao "Cookie" Duong
Music & Sound Design
Supervising Sound Editor
Miniatures & Animation
Sean David Christensen
Jedadiah (Joseph) Cracco
Field Guides & Interview Translators (Vietnam)
Thành Hoa Nguyễn
Pham Thu Hang
Margaret B. Bodemer
The Nguyễn Family
Thich Dao Tuong
USC MVA Production Faculty
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Produced at the Center for Visual Anthropology, University of Southern California
Copyright 2018, Sean David Christensen & the University of Southern California
After clearing its final sound mix at Chapman University last week, I'm excited to begin sharing more images and sounds from my upcoming film, Ghost Tape #10, with you all. A visualization of the effects of audio propaganda during the Vietnam War, this figurine of a North Vietnamese solider (designed & sculpted by Jedadiah Cracco), represents one of the central conceits of the film: unearthing the past. Through dreamlike visuals, I hope the film can explore this connection between the living & the dead that I experienced in Northern Vietnam, and what stories still lie underground, waiting to be pulled up into the light.