I’ll bet you’ve never heard of German “Indianthusiam”. Aside from being a mouthful, the term quite adequately describes a historical fascination that the German people have held toward the indigenous people of the Americas. Beginning with the imaginative (and totally erroneous) writings of novelist Karl May, Germans adopted the image of the Native American “noble savage” to represent their desire to get back to the simplicity of the premodern world. Who would have guessed that even Hitler and his right-hand Goebbles adopted idealized Native American imagery for their Nazi propaganda campaigns? Even to this day, German Indianthusiasts self-declare themselves tribesmen and adopt goofy “indian” names to seal the deal.

Yet, as was usually case with colonial-era European societies, this naive fascination with the heroic Indianer really just amounts to another racist appropriation of a culture about which they knew very little. For this reason, the Berlin Film Festival’s recent initiative “NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema” holds particular weight in its stated mission of allowing indigenous peoples to tell their own stories, on their own terms. Series curator and New Zealand native (that is, born in New Zealand), Maryann Redpath has even brought on consultants from various indigenous groups to help shape each year’s programming with the utmost care.

Still from Madeinusa

Launched in 2013 with a focus on native peoples of Oceania, Australia, North America and the Arctic, this year’s edition of NATIVe will focus on our beloved Latin America, with a total of 18 narrative and documentary features and shorts. Kicking off February 6, with opening night film and 2014 festival-darling Eco de la montaña (Echo of the Mountain) by Nicolás Echevarría, the programming features films from the Southern Cone, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Mexico made over the last 20 years.

In addition to modern classics like Claudia Llosa’s Madeinusa or Paz Encina’s Hamaca Paraguaya, there will be world premieres of Mario Crespo’s Lo que lleva el río (Gone with the River) and a restored digital edition of the 1986 Argentine doc Gerónima, directed by Raúl Tosso.

Big ups to the folks at the Berlinale for constantly expanding our view of the world and the possibilities of cinema. Click here for the full list of this year’s films.

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