Out of the Past
Old tales and new in archaeological film
BY MOLLY TEMPLETON
This year, The Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival has a new home in The Shedd’s Jaqua Concert Hall. But as usual, the festival encompasses more than just movie screenings; a guided tour of Cascadia Cave with Tony Farque and a free symposium on heritage film at the Downtown Library, both on Friday, are among the additional events.
The chosen films for the May 1-5 festival span an ever-changing world of archaeological findings, from newly discovered writings from the Middle Ages to now-vanished native cultures in Utah, and appear in a range of formats, from glossily produced TV series to labor-of-love shorts such as the Oregon-set Echo of Water Against Rocks: Remembering Celilo Falls. From France comes Unearthing the Lost Kingdom of Aratta, a fascinating exploration of a recently discovered site in Iran that predates anything found in Mesopotamia. The hour-long documentary is precise and affecting as it shows how every tiny piece of evidence from the site tells a story. Fossilized seeds, fish bones, shards of pottery and pieces of brick come together to build a full picture of a 5000-year-old civilization. (Celilo, 11:54 am Saturday; Aratta, 7:20 pm Friday)
Two entertaining selections come via television: In BBC Four’s Journeys into the Ring of Fire: Peru, the camera follows chipper Scottish geologist Iain Stewart as he explores the kingdom of the Incas, with special focus on how they built such an expansive empire in such hostile terrain. Stewart’s a jovial host who gamely pokes at a cooked guinea pig (but notably never eats it on camera) and occasionally makes a limp joke as he tours through Peru, explaining how Incas grew and stored food, traveled from city to city and built structures that could withstand the region’s earthquakes. (6:30 pm Thursday, May 3)
The History Channel’s Secrets of Stonehenge Revealed, from the “Digging for the Truth” series, is hosted by a cheery American, Josh Bernstein, who’s prone to wearing a rather Indiana Jones-ish hat. Bernstein gets down to business with the experts he meets, using a flint axe to fell a small tree, an antler pick to dig at chalk and strips of nettles to make rope. Stonehenge is written with an eye to keeping your interest. Pieces of information follow one another smoothly; when one expert mentions a large amount of flint near the Stonehenge site, it’s mere minutes before Bernstein is investigating why flint would have been important in ancient times. The program takes viewers through Stonehenge’s every fascinating phase — right up to a recent summer solstice celebration — offering an entertaining example of how archaeology, though it explores the stories of the past, ultimately tells us something about our modern selves. (12:15 pm Saturday)