2009 Da Feast!. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources.
Notes: DVD, 21 minutes
Reviewed 12 Jul 2010 by:
Jack David Eller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Community College of Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA
Medium: Film/Video Subject
Da Feast! celebrates a very special day in the life of the Giglio, on its 100th anniversary in the streets of Williamsburg. More than a block party or a church social, the Feast continues to unfold on personal, political, communal, familial, and cosmic levels in this constantly changing community.
ABSTRACT: This very short film takes a familiar, even mundane, topic—a street festival in an ethnic neighborhood in the United States—and gives it the serious and loving treatment that such an event deserves.
The film “Eight Million Gods” depicts a street procession called the Matsuri festival, involving a large float that is carried through the neighborhood by exuberant men and women. People look forward to the event, train for it, and view it as a pleasant and important expression of and source of their identity. Why mention the Matsuri festival in a review of “Da Feast!” The reason is that the Matsuri festival seems remote and exotic to a typical Western viewer, while “Da Feast!” portrays a celebration that seems if anything too familiar and common. However, if we can develop a different perspective—an anthropological perspective—then Matsuri suddenly becomes less exotic and the “Da Feast!” event suddenly becomes less taken-for-granted.
The film opens with text interspersed through black-and-white still photos. The text reads: “Every July local residents of a tranquil block in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn turn their lives upside down for two weeks to host a centuries-old religious pageant.” It continues, “Southern Italians from the Campanese village of Nola, who emigrated to Williamsburg in the 1880s, brought their blessed saint statues, fig trees, and traditional values to New York.”
The feast in question is dedicated to the hometown saint, St. Paulinus. Like the Matsuri festival, it involves a float: an 85-foot, 3-ton obelisk known as the Giglio carried on shoulders of 100 men. In the film an old man from the neighborhood recalls making a Giglio back in Italy. Then the presentation turns to the Giglio and the street fair that accompanies it. The scene will be familiar to anyone who has ever attended an American fair or carnival, especially but not exclusively an ethnic/historical one. But that is precisely the genius of the movie. Various men discuss their experiences with and participation in past and present festivals. Speeches are made honoring Paulinas and explaining the event and the neighborhood’s history, with a local young priest taking part. Then we see men carrying the Giglio: the act of joining hands, they say, makes the carriers feel unified and strong (interestingly, this is discussed over theme from “Rocky”). A narrator also tells the story of Paulinas, renowned for his self-sacrifice in facing the Turkish sultan). Several men offer discussions of older processions and of the physics and management of lifting the float, which represents and honors those who came before. We also get a brief tour of the storage area for float materials. Finally, we see the evening fair, with its rides, food, and games, and folks leaning up afterwards.
In some ways, “Da Feast!” is remarkably mundane, but I think that is partially if not entirely the point: the familiar, mundane doings of a fair/carnival are culture too, and for a 22-minute production, it is very successful at portraying the color of such events. It is a slice of real life that Americans take all too casually, when the street fair deserves as much attention and analysis as any procession in Japan, Bali, or India. Exactly because it dwells on the familiar and does so in a highly visual and sensory way, it makes an important contribution where, quite frankly, most people would probably assume that there is nothing to contribute at all.
The package contains a CD of music from the film, in addition to the DVD of the film itself.
Level/Use: Suitable for high school and for college courses in cultural anthropology, anthropology of ethnicity, anthropological studies of art or ritual or processions, and American studies, as well as general audiences.