Feb 7, 2019 at 7:30 pm
The Modern Jungle
with Charles Fairbanks
Through the chimerical lens of a Mexican Shaman, The Modern Jungle by Charles Fairbanks and Saul Kak displays an intimate portrait of Zoque culture, commodity fetish, and the predicament of documentary. This film serves as a personal document of two people and their life in the region of La Selva Negra, yet simultaneously a story about consumerism, modernity and monoculture. The initial desire for this project was to depict Zoque culture in an honest yet dignified light. Fairbanks and Kak also hoped to show the Zoque people’s encounters with innovation and globalization.
The Modern Jungle is also about documentary. As it portrays cross-cultural encounters structured by and through the camera, our film doesn’t shy away from the messy interpersonal, economic, and social repercussions of filming in impoverished communities.
“Fairbanks is candid about the figure of the documentary director as a perpetrator of capitalism who nevertheless seeks to represent cultures caught up in faceless neoliberal regimes.”
– MovieMaker Magazine
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JURY AWARD in the FEATURE DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION at SLAMDANCE
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The Modern Jungle (La Selva Negra)
71 min, 2016
The Modern Jungle is a portrait of globalization filtered through the fever dream of a Mexican shaman, don Juan, who falls under the spell of a pyramid-scheme-marketed nutritional supplement. Juan’s neighbor Carmen lives simply, in harmony with the land her martyred husband paid for with his life. The Modern Jungle documents their struggles and encounters with outside forces: from capitalism and commodity fetish, to the culture of cinema and the directors of this film.
The Modern Jungle was made over five-years by American filmmaker Charles Fairbanks, known for his intimate and self-aware documentaries, and Mexican visual artist Saul Kak, whose art practice is dedicated to the “cosmovisión” and rights of his native Zoque people. Their film uniquely strives to document modern challenges of Zoque people in a way that conveys their unique worldview: this cosmovision.
The Modern Jungle is also a deeply engaging, critical film about documentary. It doesn’t shy away from the messy tangle of interpersonal, economic, and social relations inherent to cross-cultural filmmaking. Rather, it addresses these challenges with astonishing directness.
Charles Fairbanks grew up in Nebraska and wrestled at Stanford, where he studied Art and the History of Science. He has a MFA in Art & Design from the University of Michigan, where he also studied Anthropology and History. The founding professor of Media Arts at Antioch College in Ohio, Fairbanks has worked as a programmer and translator in Belgium, and taught videoarte and cel-phone videography in Mexico. His short films – including two on Mexican lucha libre – have shown on POV and at CPH:DOX, Images, Slamdance, Visions du Réel, and over 100 other festivals. For a retrospective screening in 2011, Anthology Film Archives wrote “His entertaining and heartfelt short films are extremely easy to enjoy and very hard to forget.” He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, MacDowell Colony, and the Wexner Art Center’s Film/Video Studio Program. The Modern Jungle is his first feature.