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Advanced Laboratory for Visual Anthropology

Bang the Drum

2020 / 28 minutes / Directed by Will Nitzky

In the remote ethnic Yao village of Huaili, deep in southwest China, large bronze drums are alive. They produce a sound that speaks to the heavens, opening the path for the souls of deceased villagers to reach the ancestral land. Beyond the funeral, bronze drums are valued by the Yao for their anthropomorphic role as a protector of the household. When the Chinese government steps in to protect this sacred heritage, the life of the bronze drum takes a new turn. Huaili and the ethnic culture of the Yao fall under the tourist gaze and the bronze drum transforms into an icon for tourist performances. The Yao are forced to navigate the pressures of the government and the tourist market to uphold an unbroken tradition. Bang the Drum traces the path heritage takes in a changing China.

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