Flaherty – Second Glance
director   Axel Engstfeld
camera Wolfgang Thaler
sound Michael Loeken
editor   Jean-Marc Lesguillons
length   3 x 58 Minuten
format 16mm
broadcasted 22.3.97 ARTE/ 2001 WDR
Robert Flaherty -- geologist, engineer, self-taught film maker, the Memorial to ethnographic films -- done in the first half of the last century:
a film cycle on the theme of Man and Nature.

His filmed discovery travels took him from the northern polar sea to the beaches of the south seas, from the storm-lashed Arans coast west of Ireland, to the sandstorms of the Dust Bowl in the mid-western USA.
Always at the center of his interests was the question: how does Man survive in such a hostile environment?

Now, at the end of this century, I followed in the tracks of Flaherty to search out the scenes of his films once again. Again in the foreground is the theme: Man and Nature.

A voyage in film in three parts:
to the south sea island of Samoa
to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland
and through the industrialized farming community of the USA

A decade elapsed between each of those Flaherty films I chose for my trilogy. “Moana” originated in 1923-25; “Man of Aran” in 1932-34, and “The Land” in 1939-41. A significant difference can be seen in the realization of filming and the method of approach among the three films.

This three-part series does not depict Flaherty the film maker as the star, but rather the places and people that interested him at the time. At the end of the century I travel once again to the sites of Flaherty’s films, to discover what impresses on me today. Again, this is no complete sociological overview of life at these locations but rather a personal view of a film maker in specific areas.

synopsis part I SAMOA - All YOU CAN EAT

The film takes place in the town of Safune on the Island of Savaii. At the beginning of the century, Flaherty shot his film MOANA here.

The film observes the life of two Samoan families. We meet Lotto, the powerful paramount chief of the town, and Sengato, who lives in the jungle and is clearing a new plantation for his family. And we meet Pea. The small youngster in Flaherty’s film is 84 years old today and still lives in the same town. The film looks at the day-to-day in a tropical island world, where everything only seems to revolve around meals.


Flaherty shot the film MAN OF ARAN on Inish Mor, the largest of the three Aran Islands. Today, 900 people live there with fishing and tourism the main business.

Flaherty set the scenes for the dramatic battle of Man against Sea. My film observes in three narrative parts the unspectacular day-to-day of the island inhabitant. There are livestock dealers John and Marcus, who haggle day after day over beef cattle; there is Silverster who ploughs the seas with his trawler. And there is Rory building a Kurragh, the traditional boat of the west coast of Ireland. With this boat one can master the deadliest surf; it becomes the star of Flaherty’s film.

synopsis part III

A trip through the American agricultural community, a road movie, where Flaherty’s “THE LAND” is contained in 11 episodes.

We travel from the land of the monster sandstorms during the times of the Dust Bowl, in Oklahoma and Kansas, to factories in the fields in California. We visit giant beef slaughter houses in Colorado and the gene laboratories at the University of California at Davis. But primarily, the film follows the people who make their living from agriculture in the USA: the Mexican migrant worker:

--there is Jack the farmer who can still easily remember the time of the giant sandstorms, when everyone left the land, except for his own family.
--there is Mike, who works fo the Soil Conservation Service and is attempting to prevent the massive soil erosion.
---there is Joe Ahrens, a researcher at the gene laboratory and Roger Salquist from Calgene who, with the Flavor Savor tomato, brought the first genetically engineered food product to the market.
--there is Arnold the weapons dealer and Mike the undertaker, who indirectly also live off the farming community.
--and there are the innumerable Mexican crop pickers who come illegally over the border, live in shabby accommodations and bring in the harvest under the scorching sun.

A film that takes a look at an ignored, rural America.

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