“But is it Local? Local Culture and World Heritage”

The 4th Foça International Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Documentary Film Days is now accepting submissions in the categories of “Documentary Film”, “Student Documentary Film” and “Documentary Photography”.

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Globalization in the 21st century has led to concerns that unique local cultures are disappearing, only to be replaced by a monolithic, commercial culture of consumption. Efforts to preserve local monuments and traditions that are considered to be of universal value are nearly always accepted as praiseworthy: heritage conservation is an undoubtedly positive activity, as acknowledged by the countries of the world through their participation in UNESCO and other international bodies focused on world heritage conservation.

Despite the best intentions, however, unique examples of how human beings have interacted with their environment over the course of history are now under pressure from political, economic and social phenomena such as war, overdevelopment and an international “culture of modernity”.

Beyond the obvious physical heritage that is tied to a specific location – pyramids and cave paintings spring to mind – the term “local culture” also encompasses what is generally referred to as “intangible heritage”, i.e., knowledge residing within the members of a local community that represents “ways of doing” things that have been tied to the life of a particular place, often for centuries. Intangible heritage can include everything from skills related to traditional crafts and professions to ways of celebrating seasonal holidays and rites of passage.

When talking about the culture of a particular place, we should not neglect another type of local knowledge, namely the knowledge of specific, shared experiences that are important to the local population and form part of a local “collective memory”. Locally significant events can include everything from major earthquakes and floods that make international headlines to smaller occasions that are important for only “the locals”. Such occasions tend to be featured in tales recounted by residents of a place and include phrases like, “Remember when…” and “You had to be there.”

The most obvious examples of “local culture” that have gained renown beyond local borders can be found in the culinary arts. What visitor to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul would refuse a cup of Turkish coffee? What traveler could pass through Naples without ever sampling the local pizza? Certainly, no one would interrupt their enjoyment to point out that the ingredients found in these “local” delicacies originated continents away (coffee from Africa, tomatoes from the Americas)?

Perhaps here it is worth pointing out that it is not just the local delicacies that have their origins “someplace else”, but “the locals” themselves: Moving from one place to another has come natural to our species ever since the first humans walked out of Africa and into the Fertile Crescent. At a time when the media is filled with news of migrants fleeing war, economic deprivation and the devastating effects of climate change and politicians who take advantage of our natural fear of “the other”, it is well worth remembering that human history is a history of migration, both voluntary and involuntary. But how long does it take for a person to “become” a local? Is there a threshold in years? In generations?

Over the past year, with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, people around the world have been largely confined physically to their own locality; however, internet connectivity has made it possible for many of us to travel virtually across local borders in a way that would be impossible in “real” life. Like many cultural events, Foça Film Days went on-line in 2020, with a free program of documentary film screenings and talks with directors, allowing these activities to be accessible by people around the world, and allowing us to reach audiences in a way that would be impossible with a live event.

In 2021, Foça Film Days plans on presenting a hybrid program of free documentary film screenings and related events to be held both on-line and outdoors in Foça. The program will be structured around the theme of “the local” in an effort to understand what we actually mean by this term. Within this framework, our aim is to create a program that introduces our audience to a rich variety of local cultural traditions from across the globe. We are looking especially for films that films that present well-known cultural traditions from a new or unusual perspective; examine the historical origins of local cultural traditions from Foça, Turkey, and around the world; and films that investigate cross-cultural traditions.