In 1915, Bronislaw Malinowski set out to document the ‘exotic’ practices of a small group of islanders off the coast of Papua New Guinea. With extensive data on sex, magic and spirits of the dead, his work set the stage for anthropologists for decades to come and brought him fame as one of the founding fathers of anthropology. Four generations and almost one hundred years later, his great grandson travels to the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea and looks at the very controversial legacy Malinowski left behind - within the field of anthropology, within his own family and among the descendents of the people he studied.
The film follows a layered landscape of narrative threads: the story of Malinowski’s last surviving daughter and her ambivalence towards her father’s painful legacy; the Trobriand Islanders surprising personal relationship to Malinwoski as they witness the impact of westernization on their changing customs; and the story of Malinowski himself-- the triumphant, self-made mythical anthropologist.
The film is shaped around the filmmaker’s personal voice as he questions how did his great grandfather’s work shape the field of anthropology? What were his intentions? Was his work valuable to the Trobriand Islanders and what did he leave with them? Why was this man, a legend in his own time, buried in an unmarked grave? A meditation on the ways in which history and legacy are fabricated, created and preserved, Savage Memory asks viewers to question how we relate to our ancestors as a result of our cultural and personal experiences.