Breaking the Narrative main content.

Breaking the Narrative

women sitting in driving seat of car wearing helmet.

Welcome to the Mead

Imagine you’re watching the news and you see the following headlines—what goes in the blanks? A group of Indigenous Australian _______a. An ultra-orthodox ________b in Israel. A young woman ________c in Saudi Arabia.

Whatever you’d typically see on that relentless 24-hour news cycle is not what these stories are about. Whether it’s breaking down stereotypes, breaking up norms, or just breaking out of the mold, this year, the Margaret Mead Film Festival celebrates all the ways that people around the world are breaking the narrative. 

This year’s theme speaks to the active disruption of stereotypical representations of cultures. It’s a recognition and rejection of the ways communities are portrayed as “other” or “exotic” on film. These stories defy our expectations and center new perspectives.

One exciting way we are bringing new voices to light and challenging traditional narratives is through the Collectively centerpiece, which highlights three unique film collectives that are empowering members of diverse communities within the United States to tell their own stories.

We are also breaking the narrative by presenting film in a diversity of styles, from immersive 360 video in our VR lounge to sweeping historical saga of American voting rights in Let the People Decide to personal diary about living with disability in When We Walk.

As the Museum celebrates its 150th anniversary, the institution is also examining the narratives represented in its cultural exhibitions—the Collaborations in Cultural Storytelling dialogue explores how the Museum is reconsidering and updating cultural representation in the Northwest Coast Hall. 

While you are here, we hope you also break up your own path through the Mead and engage in something new at the Museum—explore the special exhibition T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, check out the Hayden Planetarium Space Show, or visit the blue whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life.

Whether it’s in the movie theater, over drinks at a Mead mixer, or in one of our dynamic dialogues, we look forward to breaking the narrative—together with you—at the Mead!

Thank you,

Bella Desai

adrag queens (Black Divaz)

bfeminist (Covered Up)

cracecar driver (Saudi Women’s Driving School)


In Their Own Words 

Filmmakers reflect on the Mead’s 2019 theme, Breaking the Narrative:

“I initially set out to make Let The People Decide as an educational film aimed at shining light on some hidden heroes of the civil rights movement. The false narrative I was fed growing up revolved almost exclusively around Martin Luther King, Jr. If King was not in the story, it must not have been important. There are countless heroes that go largely unremembered, and while I could not speak with them all, I was determined to learn more about that story arc. However, the focus shifted dramatically following the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The film had a greater purpose now. I now needed to bring that 50-year-old story into the present day. In order to connect those dots, I became obsessed with context. Historical narrative without context leads directly to people retreating into ideological bubbles. Context adds perspective to history and often pierces through foggy talking points to bring clarity to a discussion. My hope is that my film will bring that context to bear on the generations-long battle over voting and race.”

— Gavin Guerra, Let The People Decide


Taste of Hope is an observational film that comes to life through a viewer’s imagination. The narrative unfolds in front of one’s eyes, influenced by individual feelings and intuition. The assemblage of images challenges the audience with unexpected storytellers: a tea box becomes the hero in a never-seen roller coaster of industrial machines, a cat makes a point, robots interrupt human interactions. The film gives insight into the complex workings of a worker’s self-managed factory, revealing beneath-the-surface patterns by focusing on its daily activities. There are no dictated ideas; multiple storylines are woven together into a multi-layered whole. Machines and humans thus tell intertwined stories that can be read as dauntingly pessimistic or as opening up new perspectives on work in a post-capitalistic world. I wanted to provide just that: a taste of hope; because documentaries can only be an invitation.”

— Laura Coppens, Taste of Hope


“Almost every documentary from Greenland starts off with a shot of an iceberg or some other dazzling scenery of nature. In Winter’s Yearning, the first scene you meet after the film’s title is a man drying his hair with a hair dryer. And this is of course no coincidence. From the very beginning it’s been our objective to come up with alternative perspectives, different voices, and therefore new stories from Greenland. We have attempted that the film should depict a high level of recognizable everyday elements from modern Greenland, leaving out what we usually see or even expect to see. And although the story is framed around the biggest industrial project in Greenland’s history, political and economic decisions, we decided never to leave the perspective of the local people and their experience of all of this. Furthermore, we certainly feel we have challenged the traditional narrative—and ourselves—in the task of telling a story about waiting for something that never happens. This challenge made us work with thematical connections between characters, and twist and turn fundamental topics such as dependence and independence on a personal level, but also on the perspective of a society and a nation.”

— Sturla Pilsko, Winter’s Yearning


“The narrative of Easter Island has always been one of collapse, destruction, and an ancient culture that has forever disappeared. By pulling the cameras away from our moai and aiming them at the Rapanui who are working on a sustainable future for our planet, we are actively changing the misconceptions of our culture.”

— Sergio M. Rapu, Eating Up Easter


“Reality, as well as art, has become a product that is sold in markets with well-defined standards. If content and form do not comply with them, they are disposable. I think that ‘breaking the narrative' is the only way to write history. I am convinced that the form indeed affects the essence and that interpreting reality does not modify it, but rather makes it powerful. Which is exactly what I intend to do with this film. Emphasizing the horror of the testimony by contrasting it with the visual beauty of the setting. Reinforced through created images. Everything is part of an organized system that becomes an aesthetic discourse. I found that the ethics of documentary filmmaking, which when I was younger appeared to be an obstacle to the creative process, now drive me towards aesthetics and aesthetics only work if I can use them ethically. Therefore, my aesthetic approach, be it by chance, by stubborness, or in order to disturb others, has been to look outside of the traditional forms in order to find a new way of telling a story, of making documentaries. A very personal search and an attempt to fight against massification, dehumanization, globalization.”

— Marcela Arteaga, The Guardian of Memory


“This short documentary film, shot in Sardinia by a Sardinian, is conceived around the concept of visual representation used as the primary means for showing how multi-faceted narratives act within the same belonging to a culture. Here, the camera is used primarily to represent how a subaltern culture produces new narratives that are far from the representations proposed by dominant hegemonies. Supper for the Dead Souls, as its title suggests, metaphysically embraces a tradition that is still very much alive on the Island, focusing on the magical and religious aspects of a local culture that is still subordinate to the dominant narrative. My liminal perspective as both “observational” filmmaker and insider of the Sardinian culture, allows me to create a cinematic dimension that does not transcend spaces and places, and spontaneously, creates a common ground where social actors are confident to talk to the camera. The main character’s actions are not staged: she performs her daily routine, including the ritual sphere. She talks about herself using her native language, without dabbling in tedious folk rhetoric. The woman establishes a deep connection with the world of the dead and does so through food, considered here as a gift as well as the key to the mystery of a possible Afterlife. This unique connection with death detracts any color from people’s faces and things’ surfaces, submerging everyday life in a livid black and white, the same tone that characterizes this film.”

— Ignazio Figus, Supper for Dead Souls


Antonio & Piti is a tribute to a white woman who had the courage to cross the border, assuming her love for Antonio, an Ashaninka from Peru. Inverting the colonial process where the indigenous women were taken by the invaders, Piti is a rare case of a White woman getting married to an Indian, and assuming the fight for Indigenous rights, even against the interests of her own White family. This inter-ethnic marriage generated a number of children who had transit across both cultures, which enabled them to lead innovative projects on environmental, cultural and political issues.

— Vincent Carelli, Antonio y Piti


“How art from marginalized communities is distributed and represented is a complicated and often contradictory subject. Several groups are involved, and although at one point they possibly have similar intentions, they each have their own distinct visions and interests. This complicates their relationships and often causes conflict. However, during the 1970’s these groups were interdependent and without them the art and its exposure to the global market would not be possible. Miguelito explores this complex narrative and how music is interpreted by global and local communities.”

— Sam Zubrycki, Miguelito—Canto A Borinquen


“Robots in documentary film are usually presented as objects of scientists and scientific research. Hi, AI breaks this established narrative and shifts the perspective. Treating humanoid robots as protagonists [characters], Hi, AI implicitly and provocatively poses urgent questions about our future lives among increasingly smarter and humanlike machines.”

— Isa Willinger, Hi, AI


“Massacre River is a character-driven documentary that takes place in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, two ethnically and culturally distinct countries that have been forced to share an island since colonial times. The film breaks the narrative as it examines the lingering effects of colonialism and racism and how xenophobia and nationalism erupt as the Dominican Republic reverses its birthright citizenship law and over 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent are plunged into statelessness.”

—Suzan Beraza, Massacre River


“History has kept indigenous people out of being the leading voice in making art and telling their stories. I remember realizing in grade school, the images I saw of Ethiopia were told by non-Ethiopians and often in connection to famine, poverty, and aid. Visuals that generalized Africa as one small insignificant nation. Visual metaphors are powerful, they form emotions and memory in connecting us to people and places. MAi is a film about five teenage girls from a rural village in Ethiopia. It was important for me to tell their story/ “Break the narrative," capture their daily lives and the land they are so loyal to in its purest form. My early childhood was spent in a rural village, and in a way I was telling my own story. I understand the joy and hardships that come with being from such an isolated and rural part of the country, the complexities of climate change, and how it really effects young girls from such place.”

—Gelila Bekele, MAi: Life is Not Honey


“The documentary The Last Male On Earth portrays the story of Sudan, the last male northern white rhinoceros who roams the earth. But rather than focussing on the rhinoceros species, the documentary actually observes the human species in this tragedy. How does the human species respond and deal with the fact that he is the last one? Through the chosen cinematic language, the documentary, where the human characters talk and share their thoughts directly looking at you, the audience, the filmmakers emphasize that the film is a mirror. Balancing the many parallel narratives of the rhinoceros Sudan’s last days in the human tragicomedy that unfolds around him, the form and structure invite you to look at your own species: Who are we? And why are we so attracted to the Last One? A difficult topic served in a light and elegant, but serious form. For even though the irony of man’s (self)destructive dominance on earth has become clear to most people, Sudan stands there heavily and majestically in the midst of it all, like a mirror image of our own megalomania.”

—Floor van der Meulen, The Last Male on Earth


“In relation to “Breaking the Narrative,” Freedom Fields is about smashing the narrative. Smashing the narrative of victim, smashing the narrative of other, and smashing the narrative of voices from the region being told through the lens of sensationalist news and a predominantly western viewpoint. With Freedom Fields we hope to unpick and reframe, to provide an alternative, an alternative that is punk, kickass, yet still tender and centrally human. In the age of travel bans, xenophobia and fear, I believe breaking the status quo and offering up nuance, tactility, community, and passion in its place is more important than ever.”

—Naziha Arebi, Freedom Fields


In Stitches follows South African vernacular comedians as they defy social and economic pressures to speak English by bringing the nation’s many Indigenous languages to the stage. In a country scarred by centuries of colonial oppression and linguistic segregation, vernacular comedy is both a rebellious and celebratory art. Bringing the healing power of laughter to new audiences by building an industry from the ground up, these comics are transforming the landscape of art and culture in post-apartheid South Africa and opening up new possibilities for non-English speaking South Africans. Laughter is the best medicine, after all.”

—Hannah Rafkin, In Stitches