DELIVERY FROM THE PAST - David Hilbert
Cevin hastily pulled his car to the side of the road and jumped out. He was blocking traffic at the corner of 42nd St. and Fifth Ave. during rush hour, and taxis were honking. I'd taken a break from my editing gig at a nearby office and was rushing up the sidewalk to meet him. Neither of us could afford time to visit, although he'd driven all the way from South Carolina just to see me. I imagined we were being pursued, and that it wouldn't be much longer until we were both caught. The paper bag Cevin gave me contained several professional format videotapes from the Avery Research Center. They were the original transfers of unique footage shot in northeastern Uganda during the mid-1960s, which had been lost for many years. Someone had borrowed them from the Smithsonian Institute once upon a time, and then they were gone. But now they were mine. I'd read Turnbull's book, The Mountain People, only a month before and had believed every word. He wrote in elegant, confident prose, unambiguous in meaning. It wasn't until I put the book down that I began asking questions. Turnbull was also a decent amateur photographer, like so many of us were before digital cameras and videotape, but he was not a filmmaker. He wasn't interested in telling a story. He brought his 16mm camera to Ikland simply to make an ethnographic record. His lack of aesthetic posed a special problem for me when I unpackaged the tapes because, as a filmmaker, I did want to tell a story. And I was interested in things like composition and style and that sort of thing. Screening those tapes was a rare chance to view the Ik as Turnbull did - to see the very sights he saw, looking through his viewfinder. Stories are nothing but a collection of impressions, carefully arranged within our minds. The impressions were Turnbull's - which Cevin handed off to me - but beginning that day, the story would become our own.