‘Ghostland’: Film Review

Simon Stadler’s documentary ‘Ghostland’ examines the culture clash between African Bushmen and Europeans.

What are hunter-gatherers supposed to do when they are no longer allowed to hunt? The question forms the heart of Simon Stadler’s documentary about the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen of Namibia. Since killing wild game was banned by their country in 1990, the nomadic tribespeople have had to make a living by becoming a living tourist attraction, entertaining and selling trinkets to tourists from Europe and America. At times resembling a more sober, documentary-style version of The Gods Must Be Crazy, Ghostland is an intermittently entertaining but ultimately facile ethnographic portrait.

The Bottom Line

Plays like a real-life ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy.’

The film, currently receiving its U.S. theatrical premiere at NYC’s Film Forum, begins with scenes of the indigenous people interacting with visitors whose white skin prompts the Ju/’hoansi to refer to them as “ghosts.” Singing, dancing, teaching archery and selling homemade jewelry, the natives prove genial hosts, cannily aware of the financial value of their exoticism to the visitors. Many of them display considerable fluency with the English language.

A trip to a Namibian city provides the opportunity for the filmmaker to document the Bushmen enjoying new experiences, such as marveling at the vast amount of food options at a supermarket and the children enjoying their first experience swimming in a pool. On the bus ride home, they hungrily eye a herd of giraffe, prompting one of them to comment nostalgically, “The young ones have very soft meat!”

But it’s the film’s final segment that provides the most amusingly off-kilter moments. Four members of the tribe are invited to travel to Europe, Germany and Denmark specifically, where they are not surprisingly often amazed by their surroundings.  

Unfortunately, Ghostland never delves too deeply into its subjects’ thoughts and feelings other than in brief sound bites, with the situations often smacking of contrivance. Lacking narration and failing to provide sufficient context, the film has an unintendedly exploitative feel that leaves a sour aftertaste.

Distributors: Cargo Film & Releasing, Autlook Films Sales
Director-producer-director of photography: Simon Stadler
Co-director: Catenia Lermer
Screenwriters: Simons Stadler, Catenia Lermer
Editors: Andre Broecher, Markus Frohnhoefer
Composer: Matthias Raue

Not rated, 84 minutes