Greetings to the Ancestors

Ben Russell

2015 | 00:28:54 | South Africa / Eswatini / United Kingdom / United States | English | Color | Stereo | 16:9 | 16mm film

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: Animals, Experimental Film, Magic, Myth, Nature, Religion/Spirituality

Set between Swaziland and South Africa, in a region still struggling with the divisions produced by an apartheid government, Greetings to the Ancestors documents the dream lives of the territory’s inhabitants as the borders of consciousness dissolve and expand. Equal parts documentary, ethnography and dream cinema, herein is a world whose borders are constantly dematerializing.

Beginning in the seemingly infinite sprawl of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, nature resists nation as giraffe and zebra move fluidly between unmarked national borders. With the aid of the “African dream root,” the unconscious self likewise resists containment. The resulting dreams form the spiritual framework for Xhosa ancestral divination – they extend the liminal state into the waking life, moving the world further into (and out of) the self. Even white South Africans, whom the Xhosa claim “do not have ancestors,” have begun to train as sangoma healers in an attempt to divine a way forward.

In Swaziland, a country crippled by poverty and ravaged by a 25-50% HIV infection rate, the twilight state of consciousness offers another way forward. For the congregation of the Jericho Church, dreams form the word of their prophet. The resulting all-night prayer vigils serve as a vehicle for transcendence, one in which the Holy Spirit speaks through the tongue of man. Dressed in bright cloth and adorned with an array of (un)familiar symbols, their bodies twist and contort as their voices growl and sing out in ecstatic praise.

Taken as a whole, Greetings to the Ancestors draws from subjects already deeply invested in the divine power of dreams to produce a work that is at once embodied, political, and deeply hypnagogic. GREETINGS takes on the challenge that the Surrealists outlined in the 1920s – for cinema to be fully realized as the waking state of dreams, one that we all can inhabit.

Commissioned by Northern Film & Media and Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival with support from Arts Council England and the European Regional Development Fund; additional support from the MacDowell Colony



This title is the second work in a trilogy by Ben Russell which also includes Let Us Persevere In What We Have Resolved Before We Forget (2013) and Atlantis (2014).

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Prizes + Awards

Canon Tiger Short Film Award, IFFR 2015


International Film Festival Rotterdam

Exhibitions + Festivals

Melbourne International Film Festival 2015

Related Titles

Let Us Persevere In What We Have Resolved Before We Forget