Encounters on the Milky Way

Jørg Neuenschwander
1 hour and 34 minutes

The film compares milk production in Switzerland, Burkina Faso and Mali.

Encounters on the Milky Way shows in a keen and humorous way the contrasts and dialogues between milk producers from Switzerland, Burkina Faso and Mali.

It employs one of the proudest methods of ethnographic description, comparison. It constructs a double narrative simply by cross editing. The aim is to render one agricultural system in terms of the others and establish criteria for mutual evaluation. This creates a lot of funny contrasts and encounters. But it also reveals the sad undertone of hopelessness in the global world order with its development programs and the whole super structure of bureaucratic modernization machinery. In a scene two representatives from Africa drive through the serene Swiss landscape and realize that the rich countries in the North possess wealth and technological power they can only dream of. The one culture will never be developed to become like the other. At the same time it reveals in a striking manner that economic systems operate within local historical and cultural contexts and is not readily translatable to the other.

The film challenges the political correct cultural relativism of most professional anthropological viewers. One is almost forced to admit that the one techno-economic rationality is superior to the other. There is no doubt that the representatives from Mali are envious of the volume of production they have achieved in Switzerland. They have tried the same but are not successful by far. The one system is quite simply unsuccessful compared to the other. Also, we are informed by a local figure in Mali that camel milk makes people more aggressive, which is the reason for all the wars and political conflicts in Somalia! No doubt, the Nordic viewer trusts the Swiss farmer more that the African. Through its consequent comparative gaze, the film challenges a whole series of the most central anthropological conventions in a way that an analytic texts would not. In addition, it is funny and entertaining. Laugh and learn.

Other keywords: 
Comparative method