Ben Hopkins – 37 Uses For A Dead Sheep (2006)

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portrait of the Kirghiz tribe, living a quasi-Iron Age existence in one of the remotest places on earth.

37 Uses For A Dead Sheep is a documentary with a sense of humour. However, as he recounts the eventful history of Central Asian tribe the Pamir Kirghiz, director Ben Hopkins stays on the right side of Borat-style ethnic mockery, treating his subjects with affection and esteem. He also turns a few of them into film stars in a range of reconstructions that entertainingly reveal the community’s journey over the last century or so.

Evocative title, that. Could the film itself possibly match it? Director Ben Hopkins finds the Pamir Kirghiz, a small Central-Asian tribe now living in eastern Turkey, and works together with them to craft a fleet-footed, intriguingly pomo documentary about this little-known group of nomads. Hopkins uses the tribes people to reenact moments from their history (shot in grainy 16mm), then shoots himself shooting them, then interviews them about it, while intercutting it all with images of their life today, in a village the Turkish government pretty much settled just for them. Oh yeah, there’s also a framing device in which the director talks to an old Kirghiz man about—you guessed it—all the things they can do with a dead sheep. It’s all very meta, but once Hopkins reveals the odd backstory of this people, pingponging between the Great Powers (Russia, China, the U.K.) who controlled their homeland at various times, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate approach to this material. The result is an inventive look at some truly unwitting victims of history’s relentless, unforgiving march. Continue reading