Film Festival Finding Fans as It Digs Archaeology out of the Academic Pit

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), April 29, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Film Festival Finding Fans as It Digs Archaeology out of the Academic Pit

Byline: Lewis Taylor The Register-Guard

In the past, The Archaeology Channel film festival was a bit of a mystery - a festival named after a channel that didn't come in on your TV set.

And just what is an archaeology film? Why would we want to watch a bunch of scientists dig holes and sift through dirt?

This wasn't about boring audiences with academia, festival director Richard Pettigrew patiently explained. This wasn't archaeology with a capitol "A." This was entertainment.

"It was time we shared what we have learned about archaeology with everyone else," he told The Register-Guard in 2003, the first year the festival was held at the McDonald Theatre. "I got tired of having my reports sitting on dusty shelves where no one would see them."

The films the first year ranged from dramas to documentaries to animated shorts to historical simulations. But some wondered whether some of the "films," which included 52-minute videos and other made-for-European TV productions, wouldn't be better off on the small screen. One reporter described it as "like the Discovery Channel run amok."

But with each passing year, the festival's identity has become a little clearer. The phrase "archaeology film" is used less in favor of terms such as "heritage film." The videos, Pettigrew told The Register-Guard in 2004, explored human cultural legacy.

Now, four years after it started, the Archaeology Channel Film Festival seems to have come into focus. Buoyed by the presence of one of the most recognizable last names in archaeology, plus a host of related cultural events - not to mention a trove of enticing films for lap-chair adventurers - the event is now harder to miss than the pyramid of Giza.

Pettigrew says the aims of the festival haven't changed much over the years, but even he admits, the public perception has evolved.

"It's grown dramatically in terms of local visibility," he says. "More and more people are aware of it. It's grown in terms of sponsors. It's grown in terms of people."

Pettigrew expects between 800 and 1,000 people at this year's event, which happens at the Shedd Institute. In addition to 21 films on everything from Homer to Hells Canyon, the festival features a keynote address by Louise Leakey, the granddaughter of the late archaeologist Louis Leakey, whose work in East Africa showed human evolution did not originate in Asia as was previously thought. A paleoanthropologist in her own right, Louise Leakey participated in the 1999 discovery of a 3.5 million-year-old skull and partial jaw thought to belong to a new branch of early hominids.

Among the films at this year's festival is "Proving Up and Settling Down," a short documentary about Hell's Canyon produced with the support of the Idaho Power company. The film examines the rich and brutal history of North America's deepest canyon, including the forced displacement of the Nez Perce tribe of Native American Indians and the massacre of 32 Chinese miners. The film title comes from the legalities of staking a homestead claim in the canyon. The Eugene showing is the film's first public screening. It can also be viewed at the archaeology Channel Web site (

Other films include "Prehistoric Saba," a short from the Netherlands about an archaeological dig on a Caribbean island; "Tibet Tibet," a Japanese production about one man's search for meaning in the Tibetan wilderness; "The Curse of Talakad," an Indian production about a 400-year-old curse rumored to have been placed by the wife of a defeated ruler; and "The Lost Ship of Venice," an American film about the 2001 discovery of a sunken galley ship filled with riches from the Far East.

You can view many of the films in streaming video format on the Archaeology Channel Web site. The Eugene Public Library will be showing films that were submitted but didn't make the cut at its "video bar," which runs daily from Wednesday through Friday.

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Film Festival Finding Fans as It Digs Archaeology out of the Academic Pit


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