Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology

In Focus Film Festival Goes Virtual!

The museum will present the fourth annual In Focus Film Festival on Sunday, November 15, 2020 from 4:00-5:30 pm in virtual format. 

This year’s event will focus on one film, Bang the Drum, along with a discussion with filmmaker and CSU, Chico Professor of cultural anthropology, Dr. William Nitzky. 

Bang the Drum focuses on the cultural heritage of the Yao minority of rural southwest China. For the Yao, the sound of the sacred bronze drum aids the souls of deceased elders to reach the ancestral land. The film traces the path heritage takes in a changing China, when the drum takes on new meaning and becomes an icon for tourist performances. Filmmaker, Dr. Niztky has spent the last two decades studying the interplay of ethnic relations, tourism development, and heritage management among rural communities in southwest China.  After the film, he will share his research and a behind the scenes look at his experience with ethnographic filmmaking.  

Event Details:

Cost: The event is free and open to the public.

4:00 - 4:30pm Live Stream Bang the Drum via YouTube(opens in new window)

4:30 - 5:30pm Discussion and Q & A with filmmaker Dr. William Nitzky via Zoom(opens in new window)

For more information email

Film Synopsis:

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 protectors 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.

Directors Statement:

In 2008, I began a research project with the Baiku Yao (locally called the Dounuo), who live deep in the karst mountains of southwest Chinas Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Over the summers, I heard the sound of their bronze drums echoing across the mountains, calling villagers to honor deceased elders during elaborate funeral ceremonies. Over the years working in the village of Huaili, villagers and shamans explained to me that bronze drum was not merely an instrument, but a living spirit that communicated with the heavens to open the path to the ancestral land for the deceased soul to travel to. Over the course of my fieldwork, I witnessed changes to bronze drum culture in how it was identified as heritage worth pre­ serving and protecting by scholars and the Chinese government and as a cultural symbol of the Baiku Yao that could be exploited as an asset of tourism devel­opment. In 2016, Tanner Hansen (cinematographer and editor) and I ventured to China, traveling from Beijing to Guangxi, to capture the multiple perspectives of Chinese officials, scholars, drum manufacturers and sellers, and village residents on the changing life of the bronze drum. Documenting different claims over bronze drum heritage, we found that the bronze drum symbolizes how the Baiku Yao people are negotiating their place in a rapidly changing China.  The film Bang the Drum speaks not only to the heritage of the Baiku Yao of China, but, moreover, to how cultural heritage shapes our lives.

In Focus Film Festival details. Please contact the Museum of Anthropology at 530-898-5397 for more information.