Primates Like Us
In the summer of 1998 a group of primarily American undergraduate students from Central Washington University went to Bali as part of the university’s first Balinese Macaque Project field school. The goal was to experience Balinese culture and study macaque monkey behavior and document the entire six-week process with on-location video footage. After compiling and reviewing more than 50 hours of video footage, however, it became clear that what was actually captured was an ethnographic account of a group of undergraduate anthropology majors who were experiencing simultaneously a new culture, the rigors of anthropological fieldwork, and the conflicts of living and working with each other as a team.
This fascinating and multifaceted documentary explores the students’ experience and examines it in a variety of contexts. The film consists of twelve segments, each of which reflects specific aspects of the field school experience — ranging from students’ takes on various elements of Balinese culture to interpersonal conflicts to the actual methodological aspects of the field school practicum. By envisioning the experience through the “eyes” of the students themselves, the film provides a unique perspective on such issues as U.S. cultural attitudes, contemporary undergraduate learning, and the challenges of undergraduate research and fieldwork.
While the direct voices of the Balinese are not emphasized, the impact of Balinese “place” is evident throughout the students’ comments. By the end of the film it is clear that the macaques were not the only ones exhibiting interesting primate behavior.
“Primates Like Us” will stimulate discussion and reflection in a wide variety of anthropology courses. It was produced by Agustin Fuentes, Assoc. Prof. of Anthropology, Univ. of Notre Dame, and directed by Devi Snively.