In Papua New Guinea, in the coastal village of Kontu, there are men who are able to kill sharks with their bare hands. First mentioned by Abel Tasman back in 1643, the fishermen attribute their power to catch the creatures - which they believe carry the spirits of their ancestors - to magic. But as 'civilisation' gains its hold upon the village, that magic is inevitably disappearing, together with the village's community spirit. Though superbly detailed in its observation of the rituals and daily rounds of Kontu life, O'Rourke's marvellous documentary is no mere anthropological record. Refusing to indulge in paternalistic notions of the noble savage, he offers a persuasive analysis of how and why this culture is being destroyed by the outside world. Closer to, say, Lévi-Strauss than to romantics like JG Frazer or Werner Herzog, O'Rourke's sympathies are deeply political, although Shark Callers is no dry manifesto. Rather, by allowing the villagers to speak for themselves and the camera simply to reveal the remarkable nature of the men's work, he relates the spiritual world of 'magic' to more comprehensible forces with admirable lucidity.
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