The Festivity of the Chicken is a mockumentary on the place where I grew up. It is an Austrian movie, however, in the movie itself we see a documentary made by a fictional African filmteam about the local people and their practices in Upper Austria. Very often in movies it is a white man from the West explaining to us the world out there, focusing on what HE saw. In this mockumentary it is the other way around, an African shows us Europe. The festivity of the chicken is a means of showing Austrian audience how it is to be filmed, to be described by outsiders, to be portrayed as one consistent unity, using the same narratives for the West, which the West often uses for Africa. So to speak my observations of the African narrator in this movie are actual comments on the Western narratives and stereotypical beliefs.
With this blog I am attempting to do a Critical Discourse Analysis. In the movie, the common narrative and stereotypes about the others, now about ,,Europeans” are pretended to be well-known by the audience and they are reflected as well as reinforced within this setting. ,,The others” are portrayed in a certain way and the audience can lean back and expect to watch and listen to the prevailing narratives, again. The italic words in brackets are the narrator’s translated words, followed by my comments.
1:16 ,,For the first time within this series we travel to Europe, into the heart of Europe. Why we chose Upper Austria is easy to explain. The neighbouring ,,tribal” zones of the Salzburger or Tiroler have become known through multiple movies all over the world. And as we have already seen in Asia, Australia and America, a very great interest of the rest of the world destroys the native tribal practices.”
1:50 ,,Upper Austria has barely caught the world’s attention so far. This is why we hope to study the unaltered behavior of the inhabitants. And many things we find here might be true for other ,,tribes’” traditions in the Alps.”
The film team is trying to study the ,,unknown and exotic”. Apparently the Upper Austrians are one point on the still-to-study-list of the filmmakers/researchers that they now try to check off. The Salzburger and Tiroler are people who got their name from the state within Austria they live in, namely Salzburg and Tirol. By referring to ,,the Salzburger” and ,,the Tiroler” he makes his point of view clear that he believes them to be one entity, one uniform category, that we have already seen sufficiently to ,,know” them. He not only reflects his belief that the groups have one identity which have already been studied enough and that the filmteam is not willing to delve deeper in it or show varieties within the group. He also reinforces it by making this unity-theory his fundament in his studies and further building on it.
2:16 ,,We have long been hesitating until we decided to travel to Europe for the first time.”
Pointing this attitude out to the audience, one could maybe recognize parallels with ,,Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad and the desire to penetrate and ,,discover” one of the last ,,untouched” corners in the world. It can be interpreted that the filmteam and the society they live in, believe, that there are still people, living deep in the woods and mountains, who now finally ,,get discovered” and their history starts now, with the discoverers who eventually write down their history.
2:21 ,,And our hope on gaining ethnological knowledge was rather small, since Europe belongs to the best documented areas of the world. Though this specific part of the world has always been depicted by Europeans themselves, so to speak from within and therefore highly one-sided and with the white egocentric manner and the unbiased view from outside is lacking completely.”
This paragraph might refer ironically to the narrators perception of the (historic) European scholars’ hegemony in writing down history and unvaried description.
2:48 ,,our expectations weren’t very big and we couldn’t guess that we would bring home sensational ethnological material.”
Maybe this refers to the superficial assumption and ideology by people in Europe believing in Africa to be already described and being unchangeable, to the belief that there is nothing beyond the already made descriptions, that these stories are unchangeably set and cut in stone. Is it further maybe a means of referring to the belittling of foreign cultures and the belief that the West knows ,,how they really are”?
3:04 ,,Austria lies on the northern end of the large middle European mountain range of the Alps, about the size of the Virunga and Ruwenzori Nationalpark combined but everything in Europe is small and cramped, often depressingly cramped.”
With the latter he takes up the stereotypical description of areas, making no distinctions at a whole continent. He might wants us to recall the picture of Africa that has been created over the years, that there is only dull desert or savanna.
3:20 ,,Often mountain ranges prevent to have a view on the horizon what can be noticed in the thoughts of local ,,tribes” and peoples. And what does the old ,,pygmy” proverb say, you can only think as far as you see.”
With this statement he shows a conceiting attitude towards the mountain people he wants to explore. He explains and holds on to the belief that people are what nature made them into and denies their farsightedness. He continues with belittling the people and is searching for a naturally given and universally acceptable explanation for their imperfection, letting the own biased view prevail.
3:34 ,,Our regular audience might know it we don’t dwell long in cities. Linz, the capital of Upper Austria, is just another city like others, as Lusaka, Mogadishu, Kinshasa or Kananga, though not that big. we are rushing into the interior, into areas where no black man has ever set foot on”
Again the certain beliefs associated with Heart of Darkness appear. The powerful side decides upon others, decides upon what is about to happen, plays with the exotic stereotype, ,,showing the discoveries for the very first time” just like Columbus discovered the ,,New World”, ignoring realities that have already been there before. In the voyage of discoveries, it has mostly been men which is also the self-image of these filmmakers.
3:58 ,,We are searching for getting in touch with natives on the second day in Austria already.”
A ,,naive and shy native” is portrayed, staring at the filmmakers. The man is portrayed as someone who might not have had plenty of experiences with foreigners but is living his monotonous life in the Alps. There is a sharp distinction between the powerful side penetrating the deep woods and surprising the locals who are given a rather passive role in this setting.
4:26 ,,That short experience does not let us wonder though the ,,tribes” in remote villages are considered as being shy”
By saying this, the filmmaker, who is in charge of telling the story, creates an image of the other, of the strange village people, summing them up in one word, falling back on and verbalizing the stereotypes that already exist in the mind.
4:38 ,,In the case of the Upper Austrians, the professional literature speaks about remarkable Xenophobia, and we will later look at the roots for it”
I couldn’t really figure out a probable explanation for this but came up with the hypothesis of a dual meaning: describing people one just saw for the first time with narratives and vocabulary that other professionals created and converting it to this specific setting. Maybe it is a means of relating to real predominant xenophobia in a region in western Upper Austria, where there is a high proportion of far right party voters prevalent.
4:51 ,,Sometimes in these days, we think we are penetrating deserted land, the natives hide from us. Often it is very spooky, you don’t hear them, you don’t see them but we know that they are here. Only seldom one reveals himself. Now we fear that we might have penetrated a hostile area but then Edith is able to make the first contact…”
The filmmakers reproduce and show the certain view of the people, them being shy and unapproachable, they have and are trying to study. Their personal feelings become integrated into the narrative. There is again a sharp distinction between ,,us” and the ,,other”. The latter are being portrayed as the mysterious people who, to the filmmakers surprise, might not want to be seen or filmed without asking but eventually ,,they could get in contact with the people” which shows the foreigners desire to close the gap they have created and strengthens the stereotypical mystical image of the other.
Only about five minutes of the movie have here been commented on. However, there are still quite some scenes to watch which will show the filmmakers attitude and how they reproduce the images in the minds and prevailing beliefs within the movie narrative. The filmmakers will be confronted with sceneries where the chicken plays a vital role. They come up with a tradition that the chicken must be a symbol of sacrifice and must have a central role in tradition, hence the name ,,the festivity of the chicken”.