The Laughing Alligator

1979, 27 min, b&w and color, sound

Merging the subjective and the objective, the autobiographical and the anthropological, The Laughing Alligator is a highly personal observation of an indigenous South American culture. Recorded while he and his family were living among the Yanomami of Venezuela, this compelling work distills Downey's search for his own cultural identity and heritage through the encounter between the Western family and the so-called "primitive" tribe. Challenging the anthropological view of the Yanomami as violent cannibals, Downey focuses on the tribe's myths, rituals and ceremonies, documenting funerary rites in which tribal members eat the pulverized ashes of their dead to insure their immortality. Subverting conventional modes of ethnographic documentary, Downey participates as an active presence, "shooting" with his video camera as a means of creating an interactive dialogue between artist and subject and addressing his own "yearning for a purer existence."

Field Crew: Marilys Downey, Titi Lamadrid. Post- Production: The TV Workshop at WXXI/TV 21, Rochester, New York; The TV Lab at WNET/Thirteen.


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