The Laughing Alligator

Juan Downey

1979 | 00:26:30 | United States / Venezuela | English | Color | Mono | 4:3 | Video

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: Diary, Documentary, Expedition/Travel, Family, Film or Videomaking, Indigenous, Mental Landscape, Religion/Spirituality, Ritual

The personal odyssey recorded in The Laughing Alligator combines methods of anthropological research with diaristic essay, mixing objective and subjective vision. Recorded while Downey and his family were living among the Yanomami people of Venezuela, this compelling series of anecdotes tracks his search for an indegenous cultural identity.

This video was made after the 1973-1975 Video Trans America series. Downey, trained as an architect, was interested in the funerary architecture of the Yanomami, who ritually consume the pulverized bones of their dead in a banana soup, giving rise to outsiders' claim that they are cannibals. A curious incident occurs while hiking through the jungle. Downey looks through the viewfinder of his camera and turns to see his Yanomami guides pointing their weapons at him, acknowledgin--seriously or playfully?--his camera as a weapon. Downey participates in the theater by continuing to shoot video. In his documentation of the tribe's use of natural psychedelic drugs for healing, Downey mixes in image processed allusions to the North American urban psychedelic and underground scenes.

This title is only available on Surveying the First Decade: Volume 2.