Film: Review of “Stones Have Laws”


[Many thanks to Dale Battistoli for sharing this link.] Here is a review by Leslie Felperin (The Guardian) who describes the film Stones Have Laws as a highly compelling collaborative documentary about Surinamese Maroon people that “mixes ancient storytelling with new forms of film-making” and as a series of “captivating stories of ancestors, forest gods and modern life.” The film has already screened in Suriname and will be released in the UK on August 9.

This meditative, heart-slowing documentary gives the directing credit to trio of film-makers from the Netherlands, but the end-titles explain in some detail that the film is essentially a collaboration between the Europeans and the on-screen subjects, all members of the Surinamese Maroon community. The dialogue, spoken by unidentified members of the group, was transcribed during workshops and refashioned into the film’s script. Scenes show the participants recounting these stories, sometimes in the manner of a theatrical chorus, and are interleaved with observational footage that records them going about their daily lives. Elsewhere, there are drone-captured shots and wide-angle ultra-high-definition footage of the stark and beautiful landscape where the community lives.

Descended from African slaves brought to the former Dutch colony of Suriname in South America, this particular group adapted to life in the tropical forest after their ancestors ran away or rebelled against slave owners; those stories of defiance and bravery were passed down to the current generation, who recount some of the tales here. Seemingly animists who believe in forest gods as well as divine spirits that live within the stones and trees surrounding them, this community uses traditional techniques to chop down trees and make canoes but still use chainsaws to get the job done; they also wear a mixture of contemporary, western-style gear and more traditional cloth wrappings.

Likewise, the film itself is a mix of antiquity and modernity, blending ancient storytelling with the newest forms of film-making, right down to a delightfully post-modernist meta theme expressed in scenes where the Maroon people discuss among themselves whether they can trust the white film-makers to tell their story truthfully. It is a rarefied work intended for a specialised audience – but on those terms Stones Have Laws is highly compelling.

For original article and trailer, see

[Photograph: Van Brummelen & De Haan and Tolin Erwin Alexander/ICA.]

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