Short Documentary Films About Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Knowledge

Our short documentary films about indigenous peoples, their traditions and their knowledge offer unique insights into these ancient societies. They are available for online viewing on our YouTube channel, where you can subscribe to receive notification each time we publish new content. Most of these short films can be viewed in up to HD (1280x720) and High Dynamic Range (HDR) format.

Living by Garbage in the Philippines (2021, 6 minutes).

Living by Garbage

This short film about the Payatas garbage dump in the Manila suburb of Payatas was first produced in 2003, based on documentary work undertaken in 2001. The garbage dump itself was officially closed in 2017. But that alone did not solve Manila's refuse disposal problem.

In this short film we travel to the Philippines and witness the inhumane conditions under which people once lived by making a living from scavenging garbage. There are still many places in the world where people do this kind of work and live in very similar conditions.

Watch on YouTube.

Capturing Carbon in Iceland to Reduce Global CO2 Emissions (2021, 3 minutes).

Indigenous Ixil Maya Migration

World leaders constantly argue about who caused the climate crisis and who should fix it. It is unlikely to be any different at the COP26 conference.

In this short film we travel to Iceland to learn how that country is already doing something to address climate change instead of waiting for any kind of consensus from world leaders.

Watch on YouTube.

Indigenous Ixil Maya Migration to North America (2021, 5 minutes).

Indigenous Ixil Maya Migration

The United States is seeing record numbers of migrants at its southern border. Some of them are indigenous Ixil Maya coming from the highlands of Guatemala.

In this short film we travel through the highland region of Guatemala and visit a few small Ixil Maya communities to see what daily life is like and to understand the conditions that motivate these migrants to risk all to take the hazardous journey north toward a better life.

Watch on YouTube.

The Coronation of La Reina de San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala (2013, 5 minutes).

La Reina de San Pedro

San Pedro La Laguna is a small Tz'utujil Maya community in southern Guatemala. Each year it honors the town's patron, Saint Peter, in a festival. The highlight of the festival is the coronation of the new queen (reina). It is attended by locals as well as visitors from surrounding Maya communities.

This short film documents the coronation ceremony from the 2013 festival.

Watch on YouTube. Watch our feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Maya.

Kazakh Wrestling in Mongolia (2018, 2 minutes).

Kazakh Wrestling

Mongolia's national sport is wrestling. But its popularity there is so widespread that its participants are not restricted to the majority ethnic Mongol people. Every ethnic group can be found hosting formal, informal and impromptu wrestling events.

In this short film we witness a wrestling competition that was held in a small, rural Kazakh community in western Mongolia.

Watch on YouTube.

The Establishment of Indigenous Customs in Southeast Asia (2010, 5 minutes).

Indigenous Customs

The indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia have had their customs for thousands of years. But why and how did these customs ever get established at all? And how have they developed and evolved?

In this short film we examine the origins of these customs and how they led, naturally, to a religious belief system known as Animism. We see examples of how Animism is still practiced today. Musical tradition, alcoholic drinks, clothing and jewelry/adormnent all play a role in defining the relationship between a people and their culture as it is expressed through these customs.

Watch on YouTube.

Establishing and Promoting Indigenous Literacy in Cambodia (2010, 3 minutes).

Indigenous Literacy

The opposite of literate is usually illiterate. But it can also be preliterate. People are preliterate if no writing system has ever been invented for their language. This is the case for many indigenous people.

A few years ago, a team of specialists was assigned the task of creating new writing systems for indigenous languages in Cambodia. We were fortunate to be among the first to document that effort. This short film captures some of our documentation work.

Watch on YouTube.

Indigenous Cultural Changes in Southeast Asia (2010, 7 minutes).

Indigenous Change

Daily life for tens of thousands of indigenous people in Southeast Asia is changing rapidly. From religion in the Philippines to corporate sports sponsorship in Laos, today's generation is experiencing a cultural revolution that is alien to its parents.

This short film, taken from our 2010 feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: Southeast Asia, explores some of the ways in which these changes are being brought about and the impacts this is having on indigenous culture.

Watch on YouTube. Watch our feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: Southeast Asia.

A Brief History of the Maya People (2016, 5 minutes).

Maya History

The Maya are often portrayed as a single, united group of people. Yet the reality is that their empire comprised multiple peoples across multiple timelines who lived in geographically diverse areas. They were often even at war with each other.

This short film, taken from our 2016 feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Maya, offers a brief overview of their history in terms of their timeline, area of dominance and their eventual decline.

Watch on YouTube. Watch our feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Maya.

The Ruk'u'x Indigenous Art and Music Festival in Guatemala (2021, 8 minutes).

Ruk'u'x Festival

Ruk'u'x (from the Mayan Kaqchikel language, meaning heart) is an indigenous art festival held in Guatemala.

In this short film we see live performances from the festival, including indigenous musicians as well as actors taking part in an ancient Maya ritual.

Watch on YouTube. Watch our feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Maya.

Halal Horse Ritually Slaughtered and Butchered (2020, 5 minutes).

Halal Horse

Warning: contains footage of an animal being slaughtered and butchered that some viewers may find disturbing; viewer discretion is advised. In rural Kazakh communities, a family's wealth is measured largely by the size of its livestock herds. Horses are prized and rarely eaten. But in preparation for a young boy's coming-of-age ritual, this short film shows a horse being slaughtered and butchered according to halal tradition.

Watch on YouTube (must be at least 18 years old). Read our travel story, Kazakh Tours. Watch our feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Altai Kazakh.

Eagle Hunting: Spend a Day with Mongolia's Last Remaining Eagle Hunters (2018, 5 minutes).

Eagle Hunting

A tradition of the Kazakh people of western Mongolia is training golden eagles for hunting. In the autumn and winter months they roam the Altai Mountains together hunting for animals such as fox and rabbit, from whose fur they make winter clothes.

In this short clip, taken from our 2018 feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Altai Kazakh, we spend the first day of a new hunting season with two brothers, their eagles and their scout.

Watch on YouTube. Read our travel story, Kazakh Tours. Watch our feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Altai Kazakh.

Timelapse Documentary in Modern Maya Communities (2020, 7 minutes).

Maya Timelapse

Using timelapse videography, this short film glimpses daily life in three different Guatemalan Maya communities. In the north, on Lake Peten, we see the Itza people. In San Cristobal Verapaz, in the central part of the country, we visit the Poqomchi people. Finally, daily life of the Kaqchikel and Tzutujil peoples is observed in Panajachel on the shore of Lake Atitlan in the south.

Watch on YouTube. Watch our feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Maya.

How to Erect a Traditional, Indigenous Kazakh Ger/Yurt/Tent (2020, 4 minutes).

Kazakh Ger

In western Mongolia, most of the ethnic Kazakh people are nomads. For most of the year they live in tents called gers (or yurts). They have to be able to take down and erect these gers very quickly.

This short film is a scene taken from our 2018 feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Altai Kazakh. Using timelapse videography, it condenses the erecting of a Kazakh ger into just four minutes.

Watch on YouTube. Read our travel story, Kazakh Tours. Watch our feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Altai Kazakh.

The Original, Ancient, Indigenous Peoples of Mesoamerica (2016, 5 minutes).

Ancient Mesoamerica

Until the arrival of the Spanish, Mesoamerican history is synonymous with the Maya. But they weren't the only — or even the first — ancient people to flourish in that part of the world. Other civilizations existed both before and after theirs.

This short film, taken from our 2016 feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Maya, chronicles the rise and fall of the other major pre-Columbian peoples in the area.

Watch on YouTube. Watch our feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Maya.

Traditional and Modern Indigenous Andean Music (2020, 8 minutes).

Indigenous Andean music

Thousands of years before the Inca and the Spanish, the Andean region of what is now Argentina had a thriving indigenous population. Over the centuries there has been so much human migration that it is no longer possible to distinguish indigenous and non-indigenous people there. But it is still possible to discern the style of the region's indigenous music.

This short film, shot in Humahuaca, Argentina near the Bolivian border, shows how modern musicians preserve the traditional style while blending it with modern influences.

Watch on YouTube.

Maya Counting and Calendars Explained (2016, 4 minutes).

Maya counting and calendars short film

At its height, long before the arrival of Europeans, the Maya civilization was one of the most advanced in the world. Their knowledge of astronomy/cosmology, mathematics and engineering was at least equal to that of any previous civilization and was far in advance of Europe. Although they are best known for their impressive pyramids, it is their calendars and the counting system behind them that reveal their ancient wisdom.

This short film, taken from our 2016 feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Maya, explains their counting and their calendars.

Watch on YouTube. Watch our feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Maya.

The First Inaugural Alma Kuk Golden Eagle Festival from 2017 (2018, 4 minutes).

Alma Kuk golden eagle festival short film

On September 24, 2017 the Alma Kuk Golden Eagle Association held its first golden eagle festival near the village of Ulaankhus in the Altai Mountains of western Mongolia. It is a unique festival in which golden eagles are released back into the wild. In the years since, it has expanded to become a regular fixture of the autumn Kazakh golden eagle festival calendar. But in the beginning its future wasn't so certain.

This short film, shot on a freezing day at that inaugural festival, is a scene taken from our 2018 feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Altai Kazakh.

Watch on YouTube. Read our travel story, Kazakh Tours. Watch our feature-length documentary, Peoples of the World: The Altai Kazakh.

Indigenous Dances of West Africa (2020, 7 minutes).

indigenous dances short film

Africa in general, and West Africa in particular, is rich in the tradition of 'tribal dancing.' Yet many people are unaware that these dance traditions embody more than mere dancing. In fact, the music, the chanting, the dance movements and even the costumes have embedded within them indigenous knowledge.

In this short film, shot in Mali and The Gambia, we see traditional dances being performed by three indigenous peoples of West Africa: the Dogon, the Mandinka and the Jola.

Watch on YouTube. Read our photoethnographic essays about the Dogon, Mandinka and Jola peoples.

A Grain of Salt: Indigenous Afar Salt Miners of the Danakil (2020, 8 minutes).

Afar salt miners

Ninety years ago Mahatma (Mohandas K.) Gandhi used salt to defeat the British Empire and win independence for India. To celebrate the anniversary we have produced a short film about the indigenous Afar salt miners of the Danakil Depression — a hot, dry desert region spanning Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

It is the hottest inhabited place on Earth. It is also home to rich salt deposits that form the livelihood for many Afar people who work all day long in the scorching heat to mine that salt using only hand tools. The salt is brought to market by long trains of camels — caravans. It is one of the most spectacular sights in the world.

Watch on YouTube. Read our photoethnographic essay about the Afar people.

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