The Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival is the largest showcase for international documentaries in the United States, encompassing a broad spectrum of work, from indigenous community media to experimental nonfiction. The Festival is distinguished by its outstanding selection of titles, which tackle diverse and challenging subjects and represent a range of issues and perspectives, and by the forums for discussion with filmmakers and speakers. The Festival was founded by the American Museum of Natural History in 1977, in honor of pioneering anthropologist Margaret Mead on her seventy-fifth birthday and her fiftieth year at the Museum. A film festival represented an especially apt form with which to celebrate Mead's life, as she was one of the first anthropologists to recognize the significance of film for fieldwork. From 1936 to 1938, working among the Balinese with Gregory Bateson and cinematographer Jane Belo, Mead produced "Trance and Dance in Bali", "Learning to Dance in Bali", and "Karba's First Years". She also produced films that examined child rearing from a cross-cultural perspective, including Bathing Babies in Three Cultures. The Festival occasionally screens Mead's films.
In 1992, the Festival developed the Margaret Mead Traveling Film & Video Festival. Each year a selection of titles from that year's Mead Festival travels to independent film and community centers, museums, and universities throughout the nation. Since 1997, the Traveling Festival has been featured at international sites as well.