Exploring Rwanda’s Creative Scene
When I first moved to Rwanda, I was not sure what to expect. It was March 2015, and I was moving in with my boyfriend in Kigali. Of course, I knew the city would be clean and green. I had heard countless success stories about economic development, and inevitably, I knew a lot about the genocide. Still, I felt like there was so much more about the city that I would soon discover… So I went with an open heart, without much expectations, ready to learn more about the local culture, and most importantly, meet the people who make the place. I let myself be surprised by the sights and smells, the colours and sounds, the foods and traditions, and the little things of everyday life.
Soon, I started meeting artists, musicians, fashion designers, dancers, photographers, and what not. What they all shared in common was a strong drive to use their art to bring about positive change in the country, a determination to challenge mentalities, move forward and grow. They also wanted to put Rwanda on the map. Most were young, and self-taught with such ambition that their presence alone made me feel inspired. Some were born in Rwanda, others were Rwandans from the diaspora who had decided to move back in the last few years. When talking about their respective art, or when practicing, they had sparkles in their eyes.
Yes, it is them who touched me the most. They inspired my writings, and made me want to grab my camera as fast as possible to create together with them. Even now, writing this article from my living room in Brussels, I am realising how much I miss them. I strongly believe that art is a universal language that brings people together. It is a powerful tool to communicate at an emotional level with the people within your own culture, but ultimately, it transcends all cultural boundaries. Art speaks directly to our shared humanity. It is through the arts, thus, that I felt most connected to the Rwandan youth.
In Rwanda, I lived the life of a writer and visual anthropologist, writing about the arts and culture scene, about the people who inspired me, and working on my baby; a documentary film called ‘RWANDArt’ that I directed and produced. This documentary is born from a strong desire to show the beauty and creativity of the people who make the place, and to document the early stages of the creative industry with all its challenges and opportunities. It is the result of my everyday interaction with young and talented Rwandan creatives defying traditional conventions through music, dance, fashion and art. There is no voice over in the film, a deliberate choice I made to give artists the space to speak for themselves. Also, I collaborated with local talents for the original soundtrack, cinematography and post-production work.
I could fully relate to what artists were speaking about as this was also my experience in the country. Challenges were shared and common in the industry. It was hard to find money for your art. Your art was not always understood. Many kept trying to convince you to get a ‘real’ job, thinking that art could only be a hobby. Professionalism was sometimes lacking, as were the schools to learn the skills, and what not. But even though challenges were real, as in any other country actually, creative entrepreneurs were determined not to give up. Where there were challenges, there were also opportunities.
The fact that the industry had just started two, three years back from the start of my filming, meant that there was so much room to create since not much had been done yet. You could do whatever you set your mind to. You could truly innovate, and see the results of your work. In fact, opportunities were endless, and outweighed all the challenges. It was incredible to experience that. The country was growing at such a fast pace. Things were truly moving in such positive ways, and the youth had understood very well that innovation and creativity are key elements in promoting a country’s economic and cultural development.
RWANDArt was completed in July 2016. It premiered in Kigali at the Rwanda Film Festival, and was then screened in other countries. I am extremely grateful for the positive feedback it received so far, but more than that, I am grateful for all the laughter, friendship and trust to enter the creative circles, the long hours of work until sunrise, and even the occasional sorrows. This documentary film is truly about the people; the Rwandan creative youth that is the new face of the country. Its heart and soul. When you look at them, full of passion, dedication and ambition, it becomes clear that the country has a great future.
Sarine Arslanian won the Hugh Brody Runner Up prize for a project on Armenian music in London that she did as part of SE555 Visual Anthropology Project.
You can learn more about what she has done since graduating with a BA in Cultural Studies and Social Anthropology on her website.
See a previous post by Sarine here.
CAREMOTION –noun- finding balance between the care of others and self, and the emotions during video making.
Etymology-(coined in Canterbury 2017) a synthesis of care, motion, emotion, motion picture and commotion.
This year’s screening and celebration of our final year visual anthropology projects was a tremendously rich experience. Many of the people in the films attended and contributed to the discussions and Q and A. After each series of projects the audience had the opportunity to share their impressions in small groups before directing attention to the filmmakers. Our discussion started from the filmmakers making observations about the connections between their films and what it was like to see it on the big screen.
This blog post includes audio of the Q and A, photos and presents the prize winning films at the end. For more information some of the films have websites. There you can explore and find links to the films.
The first series of films dealt with student life, study/work balance challenges, university choice and mutual support.
24 Hour Loan Nadia Eldekvist
A Gardener Muses Ellery Nagle
Different Strokes Helena Emmanuel
Cheers Hun Clarissa Michalitsianos
The second series of films take us into questions of identity, home and sanctuary
Recede in te ipsum Margherita Gorini
Sanctuary Katie Sharpe
From the Cubby With Love Joe Spence
The final four films are very diverse and reach out to family, friends and on issues where care and emotionality really come to the fore. They most exemplify the title of our screening: CAREMOTIONS, which we coined to communicate something of the challenge of finding a balance in video-making in care of others and self.
Life of Lili Claudia Shearman
Cooking Ghosts Catriona Blackburn
In One Vital Motion Axelle Van-Wynsberghe
Painting a Journey Evleen Price
PRIZES AND AWARDS
Professor Hugh Brody joined us again this year to award the Hugh Brody prize. In the morning we celebrated the opening of a new editing suite in the school named after him.
He awarded two prizes.
Cooking Ghosts Catriona Blackburn (Runner Up-Hugh Brody Prize)
Recede in te ipsum Margherita Gorini (Hugh Brody Prize)
This year the renowned Taiwanese academic and ethnographic filmmaker, Professor Daw-Ming Lee, joined us and awarded two prizes. This was one of the final events of his visit to the University of Kent and the UK and he was struck by how the students had managed to create such great films in only a term. He awarded two prizes.
Painting a Journey Evleen Price (Runner Up-Daw-Ming Lee Prize)
Finding me in Engrisi Kondre Rachel Gefferie (Daw-Ming Lee Prize )
The public engagement prize is based on the combination of website and public value of their film. It was awarded by Alan Bicker for the Lynn Bicker Foundation.
In One Vital Motion Axelle Van-Wynsberghe (Public Engagement Prize)
The Audience prize was awarded on the basis of 1st and 2nd place votes of audience members.
Life of Lili Claudia Shearman (Audience Prize-Runner Up)
From the Cubby With Love Joe Spence (Audience Prize)
After the screening we all went to the Gulbenkian foyer to share food provided by the students.
Robert Frank commented that ‘photography must contain the humanity of the moment.’ What better combination then than photography and anthropology? In their final term year some visual anthropology students at the University of Kent have combined the two to explore different aspects of contemporary life, from the experience of refugee children in Kent, the use of body art as political expression, and the movement of seafood from ocean to stomach. With unique insights into aspects of life, these projects explored the humanity of the moment, a selection of which is displayed below.
The photographs are part of the wider exhibition of visual projects that came out of Kent this year, and continue the tradition started by previous year’s projects: Inter-reflexions; Peopling Places; and Self Spaces. You can scroll through the photos and project descriptions by clicking on one and then using the arrow keys to navigate.
“Film can rescue anthropology and deliver it from its confines.”
By James Kloda
The introduction from film-maker Hugh Brody to this year’s screening of ethnographic projects made by the undergraduate and Master’s visual anthropology students suggests a liberation of authorial voice to articulate its subject through a cinematographic medium: indeed, many of the shorts that were screened were free from an imposed agenda, telling moments revealed through shrewd observation and unforced technique. Charlotte Austwick’s Welcome To The Country looked at the rural community that she grew up in, and the reaction of locals to the increasing influx of urbanites relocating there and the prejudices they hold against parochialism. There was a pleasingly sardonic wit expressed by the film-maker (an interviewee bemoans city slickers invading the countryside that cuts to an axe chopping a log), and her father proved an eccentrically entertaining character, sighing when he recognises the look of piqued curiosity exhibited by outsiders toward them (“Oh, they’re going to want to talk about the locals again…”) and recounting tales of their prurient fascination at seeing such ‘marvels’ as peas growing in the wild. But, despite justified grumblings from the villagers, there was admitted compromise in the fact that those accustomed to city ways are more prepared to pressurise local councils regarding maintenance of facilities. Austwick’s film could have perhaps benefited from the point of view of an interloper, to see what visual and behavioural contrasts exist between the two types of inhabitant, but, overall, it was a work of warm confidence.
Communities featured prominently in the next array of films, from the University’s diverse religious fraternities to a busy indoor market in Leicester, via a Cosplay conference in London. Kate Al-Khalili’s The Community Within Religion observed ritual, be it a baptism or Muslim prayer session, with intimacy, her camera genuflecting with prayer-goers and close-framing the various groups, highlighting the bond between them. Yet there was also the occasional flash of the pragmatic limitations of open-armed welcome: the RC chaplain at the University of Kent opines that he couldn’t physically cope if too many students came to the institution for Catholic foundation. Anastasia To’s Muchly Needed captured the multicultural diversity that still thrives in a fish market with a vibrancy of colour and contrast, reflected in the choice of interview subjects and close-ups of the wide variety of fish for sale. The choice of location was inspired, as many customers related to the piscine wares as a connection to home, a demand for domestic staple fuelling supply of increasingly exotic fish, which led many to recount family anecdotes of fish preparation and styles of cooking to the camera. Cosplay, filmed by Harrison Holt, asked a number of people why they participate in costuming: a means to overcome shyness; an antidote to bullying; providing outreach for disadvantaged community groups. What was striking was the static poise that cosplayers exhibited when Holt filmed them, as if waxworks in a gaudy gallery. And there was something sneakily subversive about including footage of them drinking Coca Cola or eating a Subway: for all the flamboyant esotericism on display, the cosplayers still chow down on junk food, a symbol of homogeneity if ever there was one.
The next collection of films were individual portraits that often revealed more about the film-maker than their subject. Hannah Evans’ About Dad fulfilled a desire that most of us have: to put our parents in the spotlight at the mercy of our interrogation. But her father Jeremy proves an elusive figure, disarming Hannah with a banality of recollection when she asks him what his favourite memories are of her or matter-of-factly recounting details of his brother’s death, a story that an audibly upset, off-camera Hannah hears for the first time. If the presence of a camera can open up its subject, the revelations that this affords are not always easy to swallow. With Time To Use also focused on a father, one who has taken an early retirement yet is becoming increasingly restless. Alex Astin’s frustrated insistence that his father sit back, relax and enjoy his well-deserved fallow period instead of obsessively busying himself subtly articulated an irreconcilable generational divide, made poignant by inserts of the tide ebbing and flowing on the beach that Astin Senior’s house overlooks, potent metaphors for what time there is to use. Lucinda Newman’s Portrait Of A President followed the student president of Canterbury Homeless Outreach as she discussed the voluntary work that the group do. Impact softened by prolonged imagery of the subject smoking and playing guitar in the sunshine, presumably to suggest what a free spirit she is, and no footage of or interviews with the people she helps, the film nevertheless provided a saddening exposé of NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) council attitude, that homeless people should be moved on to another place for someone else to deal with. This revelation was all the more powerful for its organic emergence in Newman’s conversational approach.
The peripatetic subject of Anna Bettini’s Reflessioni On The Go ambled around Canterbury’s Westgate Gardens and High Street, as his thoughts on the differences between his native Sardinia and Britain were narrated through voiceover. Whilst delineating the British stereotype that he has experienced, his comments reinforced popular notions of the Italian temperament, whether announcing that “British people give credit to our level of learning and knowledge” with blithe hauteur or detailing how quick his fellow countrymen are to make a scene in the workplace as opposed to the polite placidity of their UK counterparts. If the imagery often seemed superfluous to the pre-recorded interview (frustratingly we do not hear his comments when in front of an Italian war memorial in the city), Bettini revealed her strategy in the closing moments: since staying in Canterbury, and despite the cultural differences good or bad, he feels a closeness to his current location, as a ‘second home’ to the one of his birth, the constant roving reflective of this transition.
With so many quiet epiphanies, the final three shorts displayed a direct confidence with both style and examination. Rachel Downes’ Cirque de Curiosité had little to say about its titular cabaret company, their filmed acts intercut with rather conventional interviews. However, the acts themselves were a marvel of montage and colour, the febrile intensity of performance captured through swathes of neon, pulsating editing and multi-angled curiosity. And, for the interviews themselves, Downes made dramatic choice of camera position, filming jugglers from a high gantry or, bravely, right underneath them, the camera lens in danger of destruction should a ball stray from its controlled rhythm. Telling Secrets began with its maker and subject, Simon Holt, attempting to light candles on a birthday cake that become continually extinguished: in a droll cut, it is revealed that this is because the table is positioned next to an electric fan. Holt chose to make a film about his prior struggles with depression and is candid on camera about his feelings. But it is the facility with visual metaphor that distinguished this piece, that opening image profoundly resonant through its deadpan simplicity. A therapeutic experience, for both Holt and the audience.
Wrapping things up was Joe Spence’s Our Patch, a documentary about a farm in Herefordshire that doubles as an animal rescue shelter and a centre for people with special needs. Spence’s warmth and empathy with his subjects was touching, his camera drifting out of focus briefly as the owner of the farm becomes moved to tears, a moment of discretion to his subject but one that also elicits a similar response in the audience, the image welling up through a subtle lens shift. It is moments like this that film does not only rescue anthropology, but delivers us all from the confines surrounding us, be they social, emotional or familial.
Resolation Prize Winners
HUGH BRODY VISUAL ANTHROPOLOGY PRIZE: Our Patch– Joe Spence
RUNNER-UP: Welcome To The Country– Charlotte Austwick
DAVID PICK DOCUMENTARY PRIZE: Telling Secrets– Simon Holt
RUNNER-UP: Muchly Needed– Anastasia To
PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT PRIZE : Telling Secrets– Simon Holt
RUNNER-UP: With Time To Use– Alex Astin
AUDIENCE AWARD: Our Patch– Joe Spence/Telling Secrets- Simon Holt
RUNNER-UP: Muchly Needed– Anastasia To
CSAC SPECIAL DISTINCTION PRIZE IN TECHNICAL & CINEMATOGRAPHIC CREATIVITY & DIGITAL STORYTELLING: Cirque de Curiosité– Rachel Downes
[All the screened films can be accessed through clicking on the links above]
With the support of the Center for Public Policy Transformation, Sarine Arslanian explores through documentary the social and economic dynamics of life in the slum areas of Bukit Duri which have been overlooked in the current relocation strategy implemented by the government as a measure for flood prevention. Her documentary also examines the bureaucratic and environmental challenges, and alternative approaches to make the plans more sustainable on the long term.
Sarine won the Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Runner Up prize for her film ‘Connecting Strings; Armenian Spirit in Music’.
Since graduating from Kent in 2012, with a degree in ‘Cultural Studies and Social Anthropology’, my passion for travelling, discovering new cultures, learning about people, languages, customs and cuisines has taken me to various places around the world.
For 15 months, I travelled throughout Latin America and South East Asia, where I was trying, as much as I could, to experience new places the way the locals do.
Taking an anthropological perspective in producing development-related documentaries has been something I have been aspiring to ever since I took the ‘Visual Anthropology’ class in Kent.
Hence, I decided to return to the UK to pursue a masters degree in ‘Development Studies’ at the University of Cambridge.
After graduation, I moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, where I have been living since. I am now working as a researcher for a local think tank called Transformasi, exploring the socio-economic impacts of public policies in the country, through visual means.
A year ago, if you had asked, I would never have thought about Jakarta. But the think tank I work for has some connections with the Centre of Development Studies at Cambridge and I received an email about this position a little before graduation. The job description looked amazing, especially as it involved producing documentaries based on my research. So I thought, why not move to Jakarta? 🙂 I wasn’t expecting to love the city so much! It’s a hectic city with a lot of pollution, and traffic, but there is always something interesting going on. The movement, colours, smells, people, food, cultural diversity etc. definitely make the place for me. I have had countless amazing experiences, especially with people in rural areas and slums, but also more ‘disturbing’ but memorable ones, such as experiencing kerokan; a traditional massage to let the wind flow out of your body – someone rubs a coin across your back so hard that you end up with ‘tiger’ stripes, having my roof fall in my room and my room flood, also pushing a bike through flood water, etc. It’s basically a love and hate relationship that is making me love the city even more.
I have produced the documentary ‘The Reality of Ciliwung People in Jakarta’, which explores the social and economic dynamics of life in the slum areas of Bukit Duri which have been overlooked in the current relocation strategy. It also looks at bureaucratic and environmental challenges, and alternative approaches to make the relocation plans more sustainable on the long term.
I could never be thankful enough to Mike and all the wonderful people I met in my ‘Visual Anthropology’ class at Kent. The experience I gained both in the classroom and while filming and editing my first documentary ‘Connecting Strings; Armenian Spirit in Music’ is invaluable. It taught me culturally sensitive research skills, and the more technical and practical aspects of filmmaking that I am now applying in my current job.
I will be working here until the summer, and planning to produce one or two more documentaries until then!
(You can see her prize winning film in SELF Spaces)
@Porchlight1974 @KentSAC @CTunaker @Pelaris
Carin Tunaker is a PhD student in social anthropology at the University of Kent. Her research examines the conditions and circumstances that contribute toward LGBTQ youth homelessness in East Kent. Carin and the co-director for this project, Prem Konieczny from Porchlight, used participatory film-making as a research tool for this project. Below she explains the process and the outcomes both for the young people and for her own research.
The film was a project by and for young homeless people living in Porchlight’s young persons’ services in Canterbury and Tonbridge. It follows three young people, Josh, Shaunagh and Michael, through their journeys as homeless youth living in hostels in Kent. In making this film, they wanted to show people that being young and homeless isn’t always what you think it might be; they wanted to challenge negative stereotypes of homeless people and show what the ‘reality’ of homelessness is, for them.
There were never any grandiose intentions for this film project, it simply started out with me, as a Support and Resettlement worker in Porchlight, asking the residents in the project where I worked, to sit down and brainstorm with me about perhaps making a film on homelessness. I had little hope of engagement and excitement about the project, because engaging young people who are going through a traumatic time in their lives in something as time consuming as making a film, seemed a distant and optimistic idea. But after a few false starts, one young person, Shaunagh, who had done a course at college in film, decided she felt confident enough to take the lead and motivate others to join in too. All in all, around 15 young people from Porchlight took part in the process of making this film. There was one simple guideline: the film had to be about homelessness. The rest was up to them.
After careful consideration, the girls decided that they wanted to make a film about youth homelessness, to show people what it’s REALLY like. They often hear homeless people described as rough sleepers, dirty beggars, drug or alcohol misusers and generally a drain of society’s resources – descriptions that they felt do not fit them in any shape or form and they wanted to challenge this. So then they had to figure out HOW to make their point. Initially, they thought that just filming different activities and doing a general tour of the hostel would be enough, but it wasn’t long before they realised that they needed some hard evidence of people’s ignorance and misconceptions. Reluctantly, all agreed that they would need to go into town and ask the general public for their opinions – on film!
We borrowed equipment from the Visual Anthropology programme at the University of Kent, but at first, nobody wanted to touch the camera and nobody wanted to be ON camera, which gave a bleak outlook for the entire project. To take the pressure off, I decided to keep the camera in the hostel’s office and told the service users that they could wait until something ‘interesting’ happened and come and get it when they felt inspired and wanted to use it. Eventually they did take the camera away and returned to me with it full of footage of interviews that they had done with each other on their ideas of youth homelessness. Most was not useable because of issues with sound and/or image, but because they had now broken down the barrier of fear of the camera, the film project could now mature into something that they felt capable of taking ownership of.
Week by week, they got more and more confident with the camera and eventually we could have a session talking about HOW to use the camera, what to think about in terms of positioning of the subject, background noise and other technicalities. Keeping the camera on site for ‘interesting’ moments turned out to be a much better idea than trying to produce interesting moments on demand, so this is how we proceeded. All the service users taking part were dealing with issues of their own during this time period, such as difficult family relationship problems, depression, self-harm, problems in college, trying (and mostly failing) to find work, relationship problems and so on. These, of course, took precedence, so finding ‘good’ days to film was always a challenge.
Eventually, despite personal fears and inhibitions, a group of our young service users took to the streets of Canterbury and bravely approached strangers to ask them what they thought a homeless person looks like. The replies were shocking and showed exactly the kind of negative stereotypes that they were expecting to hear – and worse! There were comments such as homeless people are dirty, disgusting, smelly, have a lack of personal hygiene, and (a personal favourite), they always have long hair (!). While filming in Canterbury town centre, I started out as the cameraman, since nobody else dared to do it, but after a few of our interviews, confidence grew in the group and eventually everyone had a go at either asking questions or holding the camera.
Film as Method
Most of the filming was done by the young people, but my colleague Prem Konieczny (who edited the film) and I also did some. I took the camera with me to any activity I did with the service users and rigged it up for some group discussions as well, for which I asked the questions. I had my own agenda for this film project: I wanted to get the service users to engage in meaningful conversations about their ideas of what ‘home’ is to them, and what ‘homelessness’ actually means, which in turn would inform my own research into youth homelessness. A lot of the conversations ended up far less serious than intended, with more banter and jokes than thoughtful ideas; breaking through this hurdle of protective chitchat was quite challenging. One of the more successful ideas was to put the questions up on the wall behind the camera and allow the service users to speak freely about them, rather than me probing and asking questions directly to them. This somehow seemed to give them more power over the conversation and removed the teacher/student aspect that can sometimes feel more like an interrogation.
By allowing the service users to be in charge of this project, not only did they get a huge confidence boost themselves and learned a great deal in the process, but it was also a method for me to open different channels of thought and reflection from them, as opposed to normal casual conversations or interviews. As an anthropologist in the hostels, I had spent significant time trying to get them to talk about these concepts in general conversation and interviews, with mixed results. Suddenly, with them in charge of the camera and their own voice, they felt the need to put words to their thoughts in a way that was never necessary in my previous inquisitions as ethnographer and fieldworker. Rouch, in his 1973 essay ‘The Camera and Man’, couldn’t be more right when he said that “The situation is clearly this: the anthropologist has at his disposal the only tool (the participating camera) that offers him the extraordinary possibility of direct communication with the group he studies-the film he has made about them.”
I never had any intention for ‘true objectivity’ or a search for the ‘truth’ for this film, if ever such a thing existed (Pink outlines this debate well in the introduction to her book Doing Visual Ethnography). As Vertov’s concept of the ‘cine-eye’ dictates, my own intent and actions inevitably shaped this film. However, as Rouch advocated, I did engage in ‘audiovisual reciprocity’ where the participants were a part of the process, from start to finish: the service users that took part in this project had a say in what the film should show; the participants “staged” the reality that they wanted to portray publicly. In a way, it feels like fulfilling the dream of Jean Rouch, when he said that this type of ethnographic filmmaking will help us make a ‘shared anthropology’; “Which is to say, the time of the joint dream of Vertov and Flaherty, of a mechanical cine-eye-ear and of a camera that can so totally participate that it will automatically pass into the hands of those who, until now, have always been in front of the lens. At that point, anthropologists will no longer control the monopoly on observation; their culture and they themselves will be observed and recorded. And it is in that way that ethnographic film will help us to “share” anthropology.”
Once the filming was done, Prem and I started the painstaking process of sieving through hours of footage, much of it unusable, to find the hidden gems – footage of the service users interviewing each other and thinking seriously about their own situations, about homelessness, about being young and living in a hostel, about their potential futures, hopes and dreams. We constructed a rough draft of the clips and invited the service users to the Visual Anthropology lab at the university to watch the draft film and comment. They deemed the film inconclusive, and a bout of new shooting ensued. They had a clear idea of the direction they wanted the film to take, so they constructed interviews with each other targeting the information they felt was missing. This part of the project was truly inspiring, since at this point the service users had really taken charge of their own film and displayed a proud ownership of it.
The young people that joined us in the Visual Anthropology lab had mostly never visited a university and never thought they would ever do so either, and after the end of this some had grown aspirations for taking up study and possibly even continue onto university to pursue a career in filmmaking, grades permitting. Seeds of hope and possibilities were sown and self-esteem grew and blossomed in a way that you could almost see and feel. It all culminated in a cold but sunny afternoon at the UKC campus, where some final shots were done in the UKC campus’ labyrinth.
I was a mere bystander while Shaunagh walked through the labyrinth, making her way to the centre, through the maze of paths, filmed by her friends from the hostel. The shot captured the apogee of the film project, where the service users thoughts and realisations met in the middle of the maze, expressed by Chelsea who exclaimed in realisation: “Hey, the maze totally symbolises everything about this film, about us and what it is we want to say!”
Finally we added the music. Porchlight had for some time collaborated with an agency called Rhythmix, who visited our hostels to teach our young people to make their own music. Michael (a.k.a. ‘Ike Boi’), who appears in the film as one of the main characters, provided most of the music that he had created together with Rhythmix, and another service user Amy provided the songs for the start and end credits with her own wonderful talent.
It took over a year for the film to make its way from the end of filming to the finished product. In that year, our service users moved on, moved out, and quite possibly forgot temporarily about their experiences as filmmakers. Unfortunately some made themselves un-contactable as well (purposefully or un-purposefully), so they missed the opportunity to see the film in its finished form, screened at the Lupino Screening Room at UKC in November 2014. Those who came told us they felt very proud to have taken part in something like this. They spoke of their hopes for futures in the film industry – they want to send the film to the BBC and E4, and some hope to start careers in singing and/or film. In the least they want to pass the buck to other young homeless people now living in Porchlight’s hostels, for them to continue with ‘Episode Two’ of Homeless Youth!
Former MPhil student Elif Eda Tibet tells us about her latest documentary.
Amchi is an observational road trip documentary, about an idealistic Tibetan doctor Amchi Karma Chodon journey with her five month old baby Teljor into the Himalayas of Ladakh.
In the film Amchi Karma goes to Zanskar, the most remote region in Ladakh, to give a final revision class for her graduated students on women and child-healthcare. Before she reaches to her final destination she stops by at Tso Moriri, the highest lake in Ladakh near Korzok village to find the Changpa nomads so to give them an awareness campaign on preventive women and child healthcare. The film raises concerns over the protection of the medicinal plants which are under great threat due to climate change, overgrazing, unscientific exploitation and questions the future of the young amchis, as Tibetan Medicine if not supported by the government and its own people, is a tradition under the threat of extinction.
Amchi Karma Chodon a Tibetan refugee and a prior nomad herself, holds the Katchupa diploma (Tib. dka’ bcu pa), which she received from the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Choglamsar. She is the main professor during the Dusrapa training (4 years education program for Tibetan Medicine) at the NGO where she currently works for in Ladakh Society for Traditional Medicines (LSTM). She has been a social worker for the last thirty years of her life, in which in between she ran a clinic for sometime in Leh. Her skills and knowledge have given her the opportunity to travel to England, Switzerland and France, where she has given lectures and treated European patients as well.
It was during my time at the NGO (2012) where I was assisting the program coordinator on financial and administrative issues where Amchi Karma suggested that I come and travel with her, to understand better what they do. I was delighted by her offer and made some funny dance moves out of joy. Amchi and her eldest son, a 14 year old Monk who came for a visit from DehraDun, laughed out loud. She observed that I was just like her son.
This little brief dialogue was the beginning of my very meaningful friendship with this very intelligent and courageous woman, who’d play a major role in my spiritual, mental and personal development in the following months.
I felt extremely fortunate, that I was there with her to film events as they happened. As a team in LSTM we had the idea to use some visual clips for fundraising purposes. Also, Amchi Karma Chodon wanted to interview her students’ for their feedback on the courses she had given to them and she wanted them to raise their voices on the difficulties they faced while treating patients. So initially we used visual material solely for research and documentation purposes. Although I did not speak and understand a word of Bhoti language, I had this strange instinctual feeling that I should be filming any detail that I was allowed to by the Amchi, students and the people. We actually had no time to even set up a tripod, as we were on a constant move and had lots of work to do to carry out the awareness campaigns. We would carry them out in two to three different villages a day and would go to sleep by midnight and wake up early the next morning, to carry on.
After a very challenging, exhausting and yet a life changing experience of 15 days travelling in Zanskar (October 2012) together in very difficult conditions. Horrible roads and flat tires were the least of the challenging issues we faced. On the way back I got extremely sick. Amchi Karma diagnosed me with a minor inefficiency problem in my left kidney that was probably triggered by the high altitude, an illness that was hidden in me for long.
After a week of trying to recover in Leh, which was quite difficult as the weather got extremely cold, dropping down to minus 15 degrees at nights, I had to fly back to Delhi, and later on had to go back to my home in Istanbul. I insisted on using Amchi Karma’s prescribed medicines for 52 days, and I was entirely cured within two months. The doctor in Istanbul couldn’t believe how effective the medicines she gave were, in the beginning the doctor just laughed at me, and insisted that I take Western medicine just in case.
But I knew that this was not a mystical recovery, the medicine I used was based on a thousand year old heritage, and on medicinal plants that would grow only on the high altitude of the mighty Himalayas, ancient scripts based on astrology, prayers and hundreds of trials and enhancements made on it. There was nothing for me to be surprised about. The surprised doctor keenly watched the film and admitted that there was a lot for him to learn from holistic medicine, which is exactly what LSTM strives to achieve by bringing together Tibetan Medicine with Allopathic medicine in India.
So after I became better, I sat down to watch the recently transcribed material we had, and I could not believe my eyes that there was a very satisfying and natural scenario to it. After asking for the full consent and permission from Amchi Karma I proposed to turn it into a film. All I did was to bring things together as they happened and ask to my favorite two-world famous Tibetan musicians Tenzin Choegyal and Ani Choying Dolma for consent four soundtrack to their beautiful songs. Both said yes, and have granted their music with great generosity.
It actually took me a whole year to decide what to do about the film, whether I should have gone back to Ladakh to improve the film or should I just be going on with what I was gifted for the time I was granted there. I followed my inner voice and decided that I should follow the amateur in me. I decided to keep the film as sincere and simple as possible and let go of my desire to improve it artistically. That would have been another year of struggle, and might have complicated my relationships with the people out there if I went with a professional team of cameramen.
After I made up my mind, it took me only four months to finish the editing myself. I needed no color or sound correction as what I had was absolutely beautiful thanks to the serene landscape and good fortune we had while filming randomly.
It was also remarkable that I finally recovered from my illness during the post production process so I decided to put an explanatory sentence under the title AMCHI, “on the path of Sowa Rigpa, the way to healing…”
I then submitted the the film to various festivals. It recently won two awards of excellence for the best original song and filmmaker of inspiration, and two honorable mentions for best originality/creativity of the story and best cinematography from Indonesia’s prominent International film festival of Jakarta (June 2014). The awards were given by the health minister of Indonesia. We have also been nominated for the best foreign documentary film by American Online Awards (Dec.2014) and have been officially selected for a showcase in Lucerne Film Festival in Switzerland (Oct 2014).
Aside from raising awareness and advocating for the recognition of Sowa Rigpa around the world, opening up conversation among the prominent amchis to consider women and child healthcare more in depth within the discipline, our other major aim continues to be to find the right sponsor for LSTM. I believe the film can play an important role in this goal.
Our film was also reviewed by The Tibetan council for Medicine and gained approval from the prominent amchis from Men- Tsee Khang in Dharmsala which was established by his Holiness the 14th Dalai lama during the 50’s after establishing his government in exile there in India. The film was then screened at the Tibet festival of the people of Himalayas organized by the Tibet bureau of his Holliness in Paris on the 14th of June in 2014, followed up by a conversation with Amchi Tsamchoe.
Very soon Amchi will be distributed by a professional distributor and all the royalty rights will be dedicated to Amchi Karma and her social projects on women & healthcare. After all, participatory and shared anthropology should not just remain as an approach for the making of the film and the post production process but should be there as a concern for after what happens also.
I believe filmmakers should share their earnings with the people they film as they are the reason for their films to come into existence in the first place. It was saddening for me to read just recently that the lead Nepalese actor today , who played at the inspiring film nominated for Academy Awards, Himalaya by Eric Valli is still penniless and struggles for survivor. I dreamt of becoming a filmmaker after seeing that film.
It is very upsetting to see that the industry and agents between the broadcasters and filmmakers are making things very difficult, and that is why I decided to remain out of the industry. I managed to make my way into being even more creative and productive while producing really low budget films that got into festivals and Tv broadcast, as I collaborate only with the like minded people. As we live on the cutting edge of technology, it is certainly the time for independent documentary filmmakers and visual anthropologists to establish their vision more widely.
One should recognize and admit that the making and the destiny of a film is beyond the filmmaker herself, as the universe may have better plans with it and it would be a pity if one blocks good things from happening with unnecessary limiting self interests, as for me there is nothing so important about “the self” if compared to the amazing life stories we have luckily access to film.
So, I suggest 7 epistemological and ideological ideas to guide ethical visual anthropological film-making. I find them to be very rewarding and am determined to follow them in future work. I gathered these principles from my personal experiences and from literature, particularly the book edited by Pink , Alfonso and Kurti on “Working Images: Visual Research and Representation in Ethnography” (2004);
- The film’s main characters should become full members of the research and film-making process.
- There should be the desire to reach and work towards social change leading to a fairer society based on self-management and solidarity among persons and groups.
- There should be a (Self-) critical passion for revealing hidden aspects of our society and ourselves.
- There should be a conviction that social change will only follow individual transformation, and can be best achieved through group work and equal participation.
- To ensure that the achievements of our individual and group subjects work to reduce negative entropy.
- In order to work this way it is imperative that no person or institution, including film / research team, NGO or association sets the agenda on the basis of their financial contribution. It is a prerequisite that our documentaries are majorly self funded- and visuals are strictly protected and not shared other then education and cultural use with third parties.
- That all the earnings from awards and royalty rights of the distribution of the films or images shall be shared equally between the filmmakers and the main characters.
To learn more about the film:
Official Web Site: www.amchithefilm.com
To learn more about Eda Elif Tibet’s latest productions:
Reflexion– expression without words; a remark expressing careful consideration; a calm, lengthy, intent consideration.
Inter– Between, among; mutually; reciprocally
Marlowe Lecture Theatre 1, University of Kent, Tuesday, 3rd June, 1-7pm
This year’s screening and exhibition of third year visual anthropology projects was titled Inter-Reflexions. The organisation of the screening programme made more explicit how our students’ projects speak to each other as much as they do to the wide issues they engage with. They testify to the processes of collaboration and feedback they followed and inspiration they took from teaching in visual anthropology theory in the Autumn term.
In this yearly event we celebrate our students commitment to creative use of photography and video that takes visual anthropological methodologies into engagement with the issues and interests that inspire and fascinate them.
For the screening we started with the body’s most symbolised extension into the space that surrounds us in Matthew Neale’s Hair, a critical exploration of the meanings of hair and hair products. The student experience also featured strongly in Hollie Goman’s intimate enquiry into what university means to students, in The Art of Growing Up. In an altogether more imagined and playful space of magic and alternative use of university spaces, Jake Conley and Chelsey Jacobs, entered into the games of the Harry Potter inspired university club, The Hogwarts Society. By contrast, Liam Dorr took us off campus in an ethnofiction inspired film on one student’s plan for the perfect party. Ongka’s Big Moka was the inspiration, but Joel’s Big Party is a lot funnier.
From the student ‘hair’ and the now we moved to the theme of eternity and longevity in shorts that tackled religion, activism and laughter. Christiane Howe deepened our appreciation of arranged and sometimes fortuitous marriages in The Unification Movement. Annabelle Spooner travelled to South Korean churches in the UK to see the challenges they face in Yeswhonim.
In Of Families and Eternity, Robert Malin delivered new insights from behind the doors of the Mormon church. In fighting for the continued use of their skatepark on the Southbank, the activists that Henry Worger collaborated with in Culture with a Capital U, also desire a sense of continuity and longevity. Troy King’s The Act of Laughter delved deeply into the challenges of being a stand up comedian and found strong links with anthropology.
Dr Oliver Double, who starred in Troy King’s film, dropped in to contribute further insights into stand up comedy.
In the break we had the opportunity to look at the photographic exhibition. It covered similarly wide-ranging topics, exploring a range of photographic techniques within anthropology as well as diverse visual subjects. From the performance of gender and sexuality, to the effect of moving into a retirement home, to the emotional journey of a mixed-martial arts fighter as he prepares for, and takes part in, the biggest fight of his career, the photographic projects asked how, as researchers, we can explore and depict the encounters with life that make up the human experience using photography. This year’s photographers were: Alice Keegan, Lewis Batterham, Jamie Baird, Ayla Jay, Joanna Jones, Sarah Graham, Thomas Lindsay, Rebecca Scutcher, Keira Henderson, Daven Nijran-Talwar, Lydia Hill and Monique Dray.
We returned from the break to the themes of home, place and identity, linked in a series of shorts that travel from Cornwall to Canterbury’s Good’s Shed, to London protests against homelessness, to a novel exploration of the idea of stress and ending with one man’s fight with mental illness. Jesse Tomlinson tested claims for Cornish identity in Ve Bos Kernewek in a short in which he was also tested. In Localised, Oliver Seary took us to the heart and soul of local produce, through evocative visual portraits of traders from the Good’s Shed. Experimental in format with a challenging message, Mike Cadby, delivered a novel framing of the challenge of homelessness in Life’s a Beach. Scott Skinner addressed the question of how the idea of stress effects us using a key TED talk as a vehicle propelled by anthropological interest in the reception of media. A Stressful Perception aims to transform the audience’s perceptions. In Fragments of a Life, Simon Schwarz took us into the home of one man and their journey of facing mental illness through the camera.
Our final group of films shifted more deeply into the theme of reflection. In A Journey Into Landscape & Tourism in Aljezur, Alex Woodcock, journeyed to Portugal to meditate on a village where most of the population now live in cities.
In Transient Reflections, Becci Geach translated the experience of being human in moving trains into a visual aesthetic that linked us to fellow passengers. Piano Talk, focused on the destination. Helen Peek explored the reasons why people come from far and wide to play the pianos in King’s Cross Station. Naomi Webb’s Running Monologue, was a strikingly personal portrayal structured by a powerfully moving motif. Sam Parsons’ gravity defying film, Leave it on the Ground, opened up the social and personal motivations of sky divers and concluded our afternoon.
This concluded the screening part of the day.
This year we welcomed back Professor Hugh Brody to award the prize in his name. We were also excited to learn how the Tracks Across Sand project has developed since last year. Tracks Across Sand is a major video project that looks the history of the first indigenous land claim in Africa. Last year he started a major fundraising initiative to fund the dissemination of the film and to create an online resource. This year he confirmed that he has got funding to screen the film all over the African continent and to set up an archive at the University of Cape Town.
This year we also welcomed a new judge for the screening to award the David Pick Documentary Prize. In a career spanning more than three decades, David Pick produced and directed hundreds of television programmes in the UK, mainly for ITV. From science magazines (The Real World) to religious/ethical affairs documentaries (The Human Factor); from a twice-weekly live soap opera (Together) to filmed family comedy (Worzel Gummidge); from documentaries like The Tigers’ Tale, chronicling the excavation of The Channel Tunnel, to The Hannibal Test, which followed Ian Botham and elephants on a charity trek across the Alps.
Are Mothers Really Necessary?, a seven-part series for Channel 4 on the work of the controversial child-psychiatrist, Dr John Bowlby, was focused on three of his major studies: Attachment, Separation and Loss. The filming presented many practical and ethical challenges to the documentary-maker: in a residential unit for children suffering the effects of severe emotional and/or physical abuse; in day-care centres for babies and toddlers; in a preparatory boarding school; in the mother-and-baby units of British and American prisons; in the cancer wards of children’s hospitals; and with grieving parents in a children’s hospice. Since retiring from TV, David has studied Creative Writing, taking two modules of a part-time BA at UKC before joining the MA programme at Christ Church Canterbury, where he gained a distinction. His first novel, Mrs May: A PsychoSexual Odyssey, tells the story of a primary schoolteacher’s mission to redeem a teenage thug, once a delightful child in her reception class. Mrs May is available as a paperback or e-book on Amazon.
In the dialogue between Hugh Brody and David Pick we hoped to find the creative tension and possibilities between the increasingly blurred boundaries of ethnographic and documentary filmmaking.
The photography prizes were judged by Glenn Bowman and Maria-Paz Peirano. Maria-Paz Peirano is a PhD student researching Chilean cinema. Glenn Bowman is a reader of social anthropology at the University of Kent, Director of the Liberal Arts programme and a visual anthropologist who uses photography extensively in his research in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories of Palestine, Macedonia and Cyprus.
To see photos of the day please click on our Flickr photostream.
Photography prizes went to the following:
Most innovative use of photography: Sarah Graham for ‘Threads of History’
Anthropological Vision: Jamie Baird for ‘The evolution of Murals in East Belfast’
Best overall photographs: Joanna Jones for ‘Timberlina: an anthropological case study of a contemporary drag artist’
The photography exhibition can be viewed online here.
David Pick Prize –Fragments of a Life – Simon Schwarz
Peter McCulloch, the key protagonist and collaborator in Simon’s film received the prize in his absence.
David Pick Runner Up- Localised– Oliver Seary
Special Commendation- The Unification Movement– Christiane Howe
Hugh Brody Prize –Running Monologue–Naomi Webb
Hugh Brody Runner Up Prize- Joel’s Big Party – Liam Dorr
Audience Prize-Fragments of a Life–Simon Schwarz
Photographs by Caroline Bennett and Mike Poltorak.
The screening and exhibition of third year anthropology student visual projects took place over a long afternoon in Marlowe Lecture theatre. The event was attended by a large group of students, staff and people who had featured in the films. We were especially happy to see Caroline Grundy, a longstanding member of staff who had recently retired. For many years she had wanted to be present for the whole event.
This year’s photographic display covered a wide range of themes, demonstrating a common desire among students to engage with people in the local area and explore anthropology’s relevance for making sense of cultural difference in Southeast England.
Topics covered include the Kurdish Newroz (New Year) celebrations in Finsbury Park, sexuality, tattooing, Canterbury and its cathedral, cultural greetings, Canterbury markets and more. Photographic work by Katie Bowerman, Bianca Corriette, Helen Delmar, Myrthe Flierman, Sophie Giddings, Tabitha Hamill, Ville Laakkonen, Sarah O’Donovan, Sophie Tyler, Emma Ward and Matt Weston was exhibited in the Marlowe Foyer. Glenn Bowman judged the three photography prizes.
The theme of people’s engagement with place was also very strong in this year’s video projects. The Cathedral featured in two meditative films by Charles Beach and Claire McMurtrie.
We were extremely happy to welcome Professor Roger Just back this year. His popularity and inspiration in the year of his retirement had prompted the students that year to suggest a prize in his name. This was the last year that students taught by him were still at Kent. We were very happy to welcome a longstanding friend of the school Professor Hugh Brody, and previous Stirling Lecturer, to award a prize in his name. He took time from a intensive schedule of screenings of a groundbreaking film project that documents an indigenous land claim in South Africa.
In 2011 he gave a retrospective of his work at Kent. Our third judge, Dr Kate Moore, is also a documentary filmmaker and had recently been awarded her PhD in visual anthropology for a project in collaboration with the Powell-Cotton Museum on their Angolan collection that led to a major exhibit, ‘TALA! Visions of Angola’ that gained widespread acclaim. As the teacher of the course last year, we were especially interested to hear her opinion of the changes in filmmaking styles and focus from last year’s cohort, screened as ‘Self Spaces’ .
We reflected on the students last year and what were they doing now. Nazly Dehganiazar and Harriet Kendall won the Roger Just and Hugh Brody prizes last year for their films ‘Canterbury’s Buskers’ and ‘Voices from the Back Seat’ and we were all very moved to watch their video messages from Holland and the US. Nazly is now doing an MA in Social Anthropology, while Harriet is using her anthropological skills, in the year before going to film school, as the cultural adviser in the English Village in Disneyworld.
Films were grouped into themes related to peoples’ engagement with space and introduced by the teacher of the video project, Mike Poltorak. After the screening of a group of films, the directors came to the front for a Q and A. If you’d like to make your decision about your favourite film please feel free to view and read about them before you read the judges’ choices below.
Noisy Neighbours Michael Selmes
Why Whitstable? Anastasia Sotiriou
Discontinuous Space Claire McMurtrie
Ethnochoreology Shaheen Kripalani
Cathedral Triptych Charles Beach
More Human Kane Taylor
The 1882 Movement Harry Farrell
Using the Stour Michael Bonnington
Starry Chi-An Peng
6 Miles Southeast Oliver Hall
The Lives We’ve Lost Bhokraj Gurung, Danny Mahaffey
Anglo-Deutsch Edward Coates
Under My Skin Olivia Maguire
From East to West Carmen Yam, Thomas Slatter
The Art of Being Lost Elinor Turnbull
Hugh Brody spoke about the high quality of films this year and how so many of the films deserved a prize. He reviewed all the film drawing attention to particular things he liked in each film. The judges’ decision however was unanimous. The Hugh Brody Prize went to Charles Beach for his film ‘Cathedral Triptych’. The runner up prize was awarded to Olivia Maguire for ‘Under My Skin’.
The Roger Just Prize for Visual Anthropology went to Chi-An Peng for ‘Starry’ and the runner up prize to Harry Farrell for ‘The 1882 Movement’.
The Audience Prize was voted on by a large audience of students, visitors and staff. It went to Elinor Turnbull’s ‘The Art of Being Lost’. The runner up prize went to Carmen Yam and Thomas Slatter’s ‘From East to West’. It was a close vote with the difference between 1st and 2nd only one vote and closely followed up by Bhokraj and Danny’s film, ‘The Lives We’ve Lost’ picking up a large number of second place votes.
The prize was awarded by Alex Woodcock, representing our very active student group TRIBE, and Kate Moore. TRIBE organised the first ever undergraduate conference (Breaking Bubbles) in anthropology in the UK.
For the photography prizes there were three categories and a special mention.
Katie Bowerman won the prize for Innovative Photography.
Tabitha Hamill won the prize for Best Set of Photographs.
Ville Laakkonen won the prize for Best Anthropological Content and received a special mention. As a visiting student from Finland, Ville was particularly happy to receive this accolade and commented on how studying at Kent had been an incredible beneficial experience.
The three prize winner’s work is currently on permanent display outside the visual anthropology room in the Marlowe Building.
Students and staff joined together to thank the teachers of the visual anthropology projects course this year, Matt Hodges (Photography) and Mike Poltorak (Video), for their inspiration and considerable work that went into preparing the exhibit and screening. Mike Poltorak thanked the students for their energy and creativity and expressed the desire for them to keep in contact after graduation to help inspire future generations of visual anthropologists.
You can see photos of the event here. You can also see all the films and read more about them in the dedicated blogs above.
We’d love to read any comments in this blog or in our facebook group, UK Visual Anthropology especially related to how these films can be useful more broadly. Please post the films you like on your networks so that our students get the wider recognition they deserve.
Video Prizes Awarded
Cathedral Triptych Charles Beach (Hugh Brody Prize for Visual Anthropology)
The 1882 Movement Harry Farrell (Roger Just Runner-Up Prize)
Starry Chi-An Peng (Roger Just Prize for Visual Anthropology)
Under My Skin Olivia Maguire (Hugh Brody Runner Up Prize)
From East to West Carmen Yam, Thomas Slatter (Audience Runner Up Prize)
The Art of Being Lost Elinor Turnbull (Audience Prize)
Third year undergraduate students have the opportunity to do a Photographic or Video Project in Visual Anthropology in the final Spring Term. For the video project the course begins with students making symbolic cameras that represent their own unique involvement and creativity in their projects. These cameras (see right), remind them of their artistic and creative visions during the trials and challenges of the collaborative process. The resulting videos are screened in the Summer Term to an enthusiastic group of staff, students and visitors. Two prizes are awarded. The first, the Roger Just Visual Anthropology Prize, is awarded by Professor Roger Just, much admired by students for his inspirational teaching. The second prize is voted on by the audience. This year the judges decided that Runners Up prizes were also awarded. Below are the projects, click on the link to see some of the films and learn more of the projects.
Sarah Molisso The Bubble (Runner Up Roger Just Visual Anthropology Prize)
Joanna Turner & Rose Delamare Young at Heart (Runner Up Roger Just Visual Anthropology Prize) Rosemary Headland & Dulcie Ruttley-Dornan Naughty Legs Becca Toop Homeless but Not Helpless (Runner Up-Audience Prize) Julian Warner Who Arrested Will and Gregg
TRANSPARENCIES 2018 celebrated the creativity and initiative of our students, how they gave of themselves and collaborated to be able to realise the films they wanted. This year we awarded five prizes, each with distinct criteria. Professor Hugh Brody awarded the Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Prize.
Professor Paul Allain awarded prizes for films that uniquely revealed presence and embodiment. Yasmin Fedda awarded the New Horizons Prize. A Public Engagement Prize in memory of Lynn Bicker and Martin Ripley was awarded by Joe Spence. Visiting Alumni, Charlotte Austwick, Hannah Evans and Alice-Amber Keegan awarded the Alumni Audience Award. You can read more about the prizes and what stood out in the films that were awarded below. The prizes give recognition to exceptional projects, but they also extend the audience and reach of the conversation the films initiate as audio visual gifts. The alumni lunch was an opportunity for current students to hear from alumni what new horizons are open to them. You can view below the video messages from Christiane Howe in Australia, Ruth Krause in Germany and Soffia Kristinsdottir in Costa Rica.
The cultural association of film with entertainment means we are very used to consuming documentaries and then moving onto the next one. While the documentary may seem to be the end result of the process of the filmmaker, for us the viewing can be the start of a journey. All the films screened today have emerged out of unique personal histories and intentions. They are the media manifestations of personal research journeys that gives us cause for conversation and reflection. The symbolic cameras (see below in brochure) was one artistic way that the students communicate this is in a material form. They speak to the issues and concerns addressed in the films while revealing or hinting at the personal intentions of the filmmakers. That is why it is really important to see the films as the start of a conversation, as an audio-visual gift to us and wider audiences, to reflect and learn more about our place in the world and our aspirations for the world we want to live in.
The Q and A after each series of films was an opportunity to start that conversation by exploring how the films spoke to each other. Another opportunity are the interactive websites in which you can learn more about the intentions of the films and how they are located within visual anthropology and social anthropology more broadly. The Public Engagement prize is explicit recognition of the interactive website and its ability to reach out to wider audiences. To view the films and learn more about the projects through the interactive websites click on the links below. We encourage you to make comments on their websites to reciprocate the audio-visual gift.
With thirty one films Transparencies 2018 was the largest screening of visual anthropology projects in the long history of visual anthropology at Kent. It necessitated two parallel screenings in the morning, in the Gulbenkian Cinema and Marlowe Lecture Theatre 2.
1. GULBENKIAN CINEMA
Our first series of films explored the challenges of migration and the current refugee crisis. For Alex Douglas Bailey her Jamaican father is the focus of her exploration. Shalini Arias Hurtado travels to Berlin to try and meet refugees in the Tempelhof refugee centre. Ellie Bush travels to the Calais jungle refugee camp to learn about the life of volunteers. Liam Rowan takes us on a powerfully visual journey, pregnant with repeating motifs, that force reflection on our engagement with migration as we join Liam on a walk to Dover.
Images from WENDEING, were used for our poster above.
These three films use artistry as their methodology or focus of exploration. Sophie Bell’s focus is her sister’s band and their inspirations. Judith explores sexuality and art practice in a creative and inspirational way. Aadam Khan richly produced soundscapes and pointed interviews encourage us to better feel and understand anxiety.
Nature is explored in three very distinct ways in these three moving films. In Forest Alone, Georgious Ntazos, makes us aware of the forest in and around campus and the politics and effects of coppicing. What do the trees think is his underlying question? Liona Jupolli narrates a mystical exploration into her experience of Jungian synchronicity. The future of the planet and climate change is explored through the motivations of Miguel Alexiades’ Anthropocene module, in Liam Hodgetts film.
2. MARLOWE SCREENING ROOM, MLT2
From the mysteries of mapping, via the creation of community in Margate and ghosts in Canterbury to the five rings of combat, these films take us on a journey of simulation in and around Canterbury.
These three films that encourage our appreciation of the inbetween. Andrew Brittain, explores the political situation in his native Ashford, Derya Iyaz, goes on a journey to Whitstable with a local busker and Alice Brucass counterposes two different ideas of masculinity.
These films demand our attention to their desire for change. Just Listen is Aisha Al-Abdallah’s creative exploration of young women of colour, their voices are powerfully critical and emotive. Rowan Mohammed asks for an appreciation of what it means to be non-binary. Danielle Fletcher, takes us on her journey of transformation to her new found activism.
ALUMNI LUNCH AND MESSAGES
We were very happy to welcome alumni to the lunch and to screen messages from visual anthropology alumni. Our current students wanted to know where current alumni are and how they got into their current jobs.
Ruth Krause now works at a video journalist, Tv reporter and producer for DW, the German International TV station. She mainly covers environmental topics in Latin America and Africa.
Soffia Kristinsdottir. won the Hugh Brody runner up prize in 2016 for ‘Asocial‘. She sends her message from the Pura Vida Hostel in Costa Rica.
A local gaming store is the focus of Jess Moorhouse’s loving examination of Canterbury’s haven of gaming. Thomas Hessom meets Japanese young people and journeys with them to understand their idea of home. Cafe des Amis will never be same after you go behind the scenes with Adrian Cotkova’s roving camera. Gabriele Zukauskaite’s focus is home education, we meet those who were home educated, those who home educate and those who intend to.
OUT ON A LIMB
These films go out on a limb. Johannes Walter travels to the Orkney Islands, to reconnect a Ni Vanuatu woman to her family with photos and video of her family. Surviving is powerfully truthful, ironic, cathartic and inspirational. It confronts us with our assumptions ‘We are all suffering, let’s be honest’. Madeline Spencer tries to understand her brother and mend the relationship in this moving journey to the past. We are left uplifted.
These four films subtly suggest solutions to the challenges of being active in the future. Furusato focuses on a Zen Buddhist Japanese temple in London. Emily Malkin takes us on a deeply personal journey of activism in three parts, each a different facet of our need to act for change. Ellie MacPherson uses the camera to better know her grandfather, whose ailing eyesight means he will never see the film. Milly Wernerus takes us to a snowy forest to understand the joys and possibilities of living off-grid.
Current SAC PhD student Joe Spence showed a trailer and gave an update on ‘From the Cubby with Love’ which won the Audience Prize last year in last year’s Caremotions. He then awarded the prize for public engagement in memory of Lynn Bicker and Martin Ripley, one of the subjects of ‘From the Cubby with Love’. This award was funded by Alan Bicker.
Public Engagement Prize
Jack and I, Madeleine Spencer
Madeline Spencer, in her film “Jack and I”, charts the changing relationship between her and her brother through childhood and up to the present day. This deeply intimate and personal account accentuates the fragilities of family life whilst softly voicing the importance of reunification and forgiveness in the wake of rupture. Spencer’s project is especially courageous given that it not only engages, but attempts to reconcile through film making, painful and potentially unresolved tensions between loved ones. As the credits rolled her audience appeared moved, perhaps guided to reflect on their own lives and family trajectories; emboldened even, to account for lost time and rectify ‘the gap’ (as Spencer puts it) in those relationships. In accompaniment to her film, Spencer offers a well-structured and easily navigable website, populated with a variety of audio/visual materials and engaging reflexive commentaries as to the production process. This is a film for anybody who has known separation in their family, and a hopeful reminder as to the possibility of reconciliation. (Joe Spence)
Glass Walls, Danielle Fletcher
Danielle Fletcher, in her film “Glass Walls”, sets out on a mission to an Essex Pig Save event to discover for herself, whether popular media perceptions of animal rights activists are justified. The film maker takes centre stage, declaring her biases at the outset and expressing humility to reconsider her opinions based on her observations. This reflexive approach successfully engages popular audiences, who are encouraged to remain similarly open minded to new ways of thinking. In contrast with many films on the topic of animal rights, which rely on authoritative and grotesque images to force messages across (for example see Earthlings 2005), Fletcher employs powerful subtlety and restraint. Much is left to the audience’s imagination, and it is this clever omission of ‘shock tactics’ which creates room for more productive dialogue across ideological divides. In addition to the film Fletcher offers a website where video diaries draw audiences deeper into the production process, and a directory of activist resources implore continued engagement with the subject. All considered, Fletcher serves up a masterclass in public engagement. (Joe Spence)
Paul Allain Prize
Winner The Paul Allain Prize
Go Kambak. Johannes Walter
‘This film won because of its capacity to shift time and space as film can do as well as its moving content. Its main focus was on a young mother looking at photos of her extended family, taken by Johannes, now separated by years and 1000s of miles – from Vanuatu to Orkney. Johannes, as filmmaker, was the catalyst that collided these things together. The impact on the film’s protagonist was extraordinary for how she reacted: laughing, crying, swearing, gasping, often all at the same time. The camera just watched, impassive. Her reactions revealed the pain of separation, the joy of discovery, the celebration of memories which coursed through her body and voice as she grabbed at and drunk in the photographs, presented to us witnesses by being overlayed on to the film. Although not technically perfect, it demonstrated the power of the simplicity of allowing a remarkable human story to be told through film.’ (Paul Allain).
Synchronicity, Liona Jupolli
‘Liona was brave and bold in all her choices and was so actively engaged both with and in her film. It was creative and risky, sometimes beautiful. It didn’t always work, yet was pushing at what was possible and, as a result, I immediately wanted to see it again, to understand more. Why were she and her group dancing in the streets and underpasses of Barcelona? What did her dance through Canterbury bluebells tell us about her simple one word title, her theme? Her own investment in her work somehow made us seek our own synchronicity with it. Such attempts and creativity are surely to be celebrated.‘ (Paul Allain)
New Horizons Prize
The New Horizons prize was awarded by the award-winning documentary filmmaker Yasmin Fedda, whose films have focused on themes from Edinburgh bakeries to Syrian monasteries. Her films have been BAFTA-nominated and screened at numerous international festivals including Sundance. Her undergraduate background in anthropology and master’s training in visual anthropology at Manchester was inspiring to many students.
Winner: Being There by Jess Moorhouse
Runnner up: Breaking the Binary by Rowan Mohammed
“Breaking The Binary (‘We do not exist!’) was a conversation starter on the existence of gender non-binary people. That is, people who are neither strictly man nor strictly woman, but any combination of between, both, and not. Mostly it was a snapshot of non-binary individuals as real people (wild, right), with a splash of the fact that there does not yet exist any formal legal structures that recognise the status of being not of the binary. The fact that this film cannot be shown without worry is point towards the precarious situation non-binary and other trans people may face. There is, however, increasing material out there on the existence of non-binary people, and it is with my hope that films like these may be shown freely in the future.” Rowan Mohammed
Alumni Audience Award
This award replaced our previous audience prize and acknowledges the importance of our alumni’s engagement and support of our students in making the next step in their journey as visual anthropological filmmakers and researchers.
Charlotte Austwick won the Hugh Brody Runner Up Prize for her film ‘Welcome to the Country’ that was screened in Resolations 2015. She recently worked as a film co-ordinator for the Kenya Quest Expedition, a wildlife conservation and humanitarian aid expedition. Hannah Evans screened her film ‘About Dad’ in Resolations 2015. After graduation she worked in the Campaigns Teams at Restless Development, the youth- led International Development Agency, drawing on her experience volunteering at Amnesty International UK. She left Restless to be a Team Leader with the Youth- Citizenship NGO Pravah, in India, supporting a team of young people in a community engagement programme in Rajasthan. She is now working as Programme Coordinator for Wikimedia UK- focusing on their diversity target to make Wikipedia a more diverse source of open knowledge. Alice-Amber Keegan graduated in 2015 and after teaching English in China for a year is now doing a funded PhD at Durham University on birthing centres and parenting.
Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Prize
In November 2017 Professor Hugh Brody received an honorary doctorate at the University of Kent in recognition of decades of research and work with indigenous peoples. You can view his inspirational speech to graduands at the Graduation Ceremony in Canterbury Cathedral from 6.00.
Professor Jim Groombridge, our Head of School, introduces him at the beginning of the clip.
Unfortunately Professor Hugh Brody was not able to join us in person, but he viewed a selection of films and made comments on them. Dr Rob Fish, our Director of Research, stepped in to share Hugh’s comments and make his own comments of the day. He speaks about how the screening served as an introduction to the department and how the films speak to you in your own experiences.
Gabriele Zukauskaite. – Boats And Forests
‘The narrow boat gliding along a canal is captivating, and the interview that sets up the first part of the film is beautifully shot. I loved the image of the young mother filmed from a low angle, standing up against the sky, the sun and its beams of light behind her head. She stood there tall and strong, with strong and clear words about life and children. I also liked the way tight shots were used – the tying up of the boat, for example, to create a sense of watching closely, of being there. Then the fade out at the end of the boats section and cut to the children and then a wonderful shot of two feet at each side of the frame, and a fallen tree, the forest, holding the centre of the image. And the final line is so great: ‘Don’t have children if you can’t be nice to them. It’s not that hard.’
Adriana Cotkova – Of Sizzlers and Men
‘The restaurant, the place where “an intimate art should be shared in lightly” – that’s a great thought to set up the feel as well as a theme of this film. I was fascinated by the place itself, the work, the energy and enthusiasm. And the images worked brilliantly to take us there and hold us. The camera work is so good, as is the sound quality; and I liked the flow of the edit, the use of such strong material to make it even stronger. I thought that the mix of interview with fly-on-the-wall observation was very skilfully done. Everyone seemed so at ease with the presence of the camera. Classical documentary being done well!There are many powerful images, but I especially liked the shot through the window, with cacti in the foreground and an outside world beyond. Also the window cleaner, at that same window – wonderful! A very compelling and elegantly made film.’
Ellie Bush – We are Here
‘This is a film close to my heart – I spent some time at that warehouse in Calais a couple of years ago, and it was a treat to be taken back there. And a treat to see how this film reminded us that the refugee problem at Calais did not go away just because the authorities there brutally cleared the Jungle camp. The opening of this film is especially strong, I thought, both for its images of posters and the intensity of the sound-track. I found the shot of the two people in the front of the car, driving along and sharing thoughts about wha they are doing to be very compelling. Light problems within the warehouse were obviously quite a challenge, but the interview with the organiser there is still compelling. It was good, and important, to be in Calais, realising that the refugees are sleeping rough, having their tents wrecked or impounded by local police. Many thanks to Ellie Bush for this.‘
Emily Malkin – Respect Existence or Expect Resistance
‘What a great title for a film! And it is a great film – impressive in many ways, but especially because it takes us to a flow of protests. I was particular impressed by the NHS demo sequence, knowing how hard it can be to get voices from within a large and noise event. Each face seemed to be a reason for hope. The cut to the plastic sequence was wonderful, and the sudden appearance of a beautiful beach, and then the image of the bits and pieces of plastic that had been gathered and, as someone says, begins to look like an art work. But the powerful surprise in this film was the shift to the father-daughter relationship, the two of them sitting together, a little self-conscious – not because of the camera, I thought, but because that’s the way it often is between fathers and daughters: the image, the set up, the way the camera was placed, captured something so true and somehow magical. And crucial to understanding the genesis of this film, and of resistance itself. And then the final shot, of the lorry loaded with pigs heading into the abattoir – expressing both failure to save the pigs and a continuing resolve to resist. This is a strong and powerful film.’
Johannes Walter – Go Kambak
‘I loved this back and forth between Vanuatu and some cold northern part of the British Isles. The contrasts of climate, pace, voice. The earlier footage, giving glimpses of Vanuatu and of the people we meet, is fascinating. Even the speeded up and blurred quality – creating a paradox: the place where life moves slowly is rushing along – making a point about memory perhaps; but making me think. I found myself very much liking the film-maker as gentle source of reminders – questions, interest and then photographs. Then the astonishing sequence when Donnelyn is laughing and weeping, all at the same time, in a single complicated burst of feelings, when looking at photos of those she loves who are far far away. I also liked the way some of the stills she is looking at are set into the left side of the frame, so we see the image and her. The final images, carrying the end credits, are unforgettable: using a horizontally split screen to show the two roads, the one in Vanuatu, the other where the family now lives…. Wonderful. Then the last words: ‘I have sent the film back…’Maybe this breaks the rules on length, but it’s a pleasure to watch!’
Francesca Tesler. – Furusato
‘ I very much liked the way this began with a screen split into three, and then resolving into just the one. Then the move into a Buddhist ceremony – we don’t know where we are, or what is going on…. All this shot with elegance. The interview with the Buddhist priest is wonderful – the way he holds a sheet of paper, his notes for what he wants to tell us perhaps, but never looks at them… His quiet dignity. This interview set a tone for the film – this is about something of such deep importance to all who are part of it. And it is a celebration of culture carried by the strength of the images and the quality of the sound. (Though I was sorry that the long prayer did not get translated and subtitled.) As I began to realise that this was culture in exile, the film became more and more compelling. And the wonderful, central thought: cultural practice can be sustained, and given all kinds of new intensity because it is not taking place ‘at home’. So the commitment to what we see is coming from having left where it originated. The shots of the box and the cupboard at then seemed to be full of poignancy. The whole film fascinating and beautifully made.’
Jess Moorhouse – Being There
‘This is perhaps the most surprising of the films I saw: people playing board games….I very much liked the way the film shows us games and the way they are played with very strong and fascinating images and glimpses of all the strange complexity of utterly unfamiliar rules and counters and dice. And I liked the way we went from evening to evening, with a sense that each was special. The camera work to show all this is strong and clear. But for me the power of this film came from something else: as I watched I was suddenly very moved by what it meant for these young men and women to gather together and play games. I felt I was being taken to a powerful if underlying issue of loneliness, and the combating of loneliness. There is a quality to this film that is gentle and respectful – for me, it is these qualities that gave it its strong and surprising intensity of feeling. A fascinating piece of work.’
Milly Wernerus – Off Grid – A day in the life
‘The snow is a character in this film – I loved the way it seemed to be happening in some very remote northern world. Was I being transported to the Canadian subarctic? This made the idea of living off the grid so real and especially compelling. I very much liked the sequences that showed the working of wood. These are beautifully shot, and I thought I could watch forever this remaking of the natural world to meet everyday needs. The splitting of a log into roof shakes is wonderful. I was also very struck by the decision by the film-maker to include herself in shot as a mix of interviewer and conversationalist. And to leave her appreciative laughter on the sound track. Then the final shot, with the film-maker getting up from an interview and walking towards the camera – to switch it off, to end the film. That was a very nice touch.’
Maddie Spencer – Jack and I
‘A snowy day, a young may playing a guitar… The film begins with strong and mood setting images. Then the box of letters. I thought the way we saw and heard bits of a letter was very powerful – drawing me in, giving me a sense of great reality. I found every moment of this film compelling. And it built the story the blend of history ad memory, with great skill. The pieces are put together – Jack’s difficulties, the difficulties these present to the family; the father who is so loving and so absent; the pain of memory and the use of exploration of time to deal with pain; the resolve of the sister to get her brother back. The stills, showing old photos of the father, the family, happy times; and the surprising scenes from some old video footage. These were cut Ito the live-action footage to great effect. I had a sense of being taken right into the lost time. This film seemed to me to be utterly honest, a sharing of a story with us that was very much theirs; and the skillful way the shots and interview materials build the story meant that I was held every moment by being allowed into something so personal. Yet it also resonated – and I am sure that many many families can watch this and see some part of themselves.’
Hugh Brody Runner Up Prize : Jack and I
I choose this for its combination of strong film making skill and remarkable emotional power. It is wonderfully personal but also has large and wide resonances. I think that this is a remarkable achievement – and a tribute to everyone who is shown. The openness and honesty; and the skill with which it is shot and edited. There are many reasons for admiring this film. And one of them is that, for all the difficulties it spells out and owns up to, it delivers a message of hope. The film-maker takes us to lost time to make sure no more time is lost. Thank you for a great piece of work.
Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Prize: Furusato, Francesca Tesler
This is a beautifully made film that takes us to a culture in exile. It is rich with images and compelling sound. It delivers something special and surprising. The central interviews are straightforward and powerful. The feeling it gives for Buddhism, and for culture in exile, seem to me to be remarkable. There is also great subtlety in the film making. The pacing of interviews, the way the light plays, the mix of shots, and even the wonderful formal garden that so well symbolises the large being retained and caught for its essence in the small. As documentary film must aim to do – so we are reminded that film itself is the Japanese garden. This is a film that gives rise to and allows space for many kinds of thought and appreciation. A great treat to watch. Thank you!
After a long and inspiring day, we all exited to the Gulbenkian bar for drinks and to continue the conversation.
May 25, 2018
Dear students, friends, alumni and supporters of visual anthropology at Kent,
Please join us for the biggest student screening event in the history of visual anthropology at Kent. We have 31 short films screening during a full day event.
To celebrate alumni will be joining us, in person and through video messages. We also have new prizes to reflect the shift in visual anthropological aspirations.
Professor Hugh Brody returns to award his annual prize. He recently received an honorary doctorate at Kent, where he gave a remarkable and inspirational speech about his research in Canada. We hope he will tell us more of a recent visit he made to the people he worked with for his influential book, Maps and Dreams.
Hugh Brody is an anthropologist, writer, director and lecturer. He currently holds a Canada Research Chair at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia, is an Honorary Associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge and since 2010 he has held an Honorary Professorship in the School of Anthropology and Conversation at the University of Kent.
He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford. Working as an anthropologist in Ireland in the 1960s contributed to the book Gola, The Life and Last Days of an Island Community. He worked with the Canadian Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, and his report Indians on Skid Row led to changes in government policy, especially in relation to Native Friendship Centres. He did extensive field work in the Arctic, living with the Inuit in the communities of Pond Inlet on Baffin Island and Sanikiluaq on the Belcher Islands, writing The People’s Land, Inuit and Whites in the Eastern Arctic. He supported the land claims of displaced San (Bushmen) in South Africa and was an adviser to the Mackenzie Pipeline Inquiry, a member of the World Bank’s famous Morse Commission and chairman of the Snake River Independent Review.
He has directed films on many other topics, including the documentaries England’s Henry Moore and Inside Australia, about Antony Gormley’s installation of his sculptures in the Western Desert. This year he was awarded the Royal Anthropological Institute Life Achievement Award.
New this year, is the Paul Allain prize, awarded by Professor Paul Allain for a film that present research as practice, embodiment and presence. He writes:
‘For nearly two decades now Practice as Research has been welcomed as a legitimate mode of publication within the performing arts. Unfortunately, it has taken too much of this period for it to become accepted culturally and across all institutions and mechanisms of research and evaluation, but the war has by and large now been won. Skirmishes still occur and lively debates continue about terminology (Performance as Research in the US, Practice-led research, artistic research in continental Europe, and most recently Practice Research without that troublesome separating qualifier). At its core though and semantics aside, this shift has enabled practitioners not just to teach within universities but also research and reflect on their practice, to the benefit of everyone. Former binaries between theory and practice and (at its crudest and most reductive) between those who do and those who teach, have increasingly eroded. Publishing practices have shifted accordingly, supported by rapid developments in digitization. For a discipline like theatre that depends crucially on its liveness this has not been without its problems, but it has certainly challenged and even revitalized our field which emerged initially out of literary and dramatic studies in European languages and English literature especially. Explorations in using film for documenting, explaining and showing performance practice are just at their beginning, perhaps as they are in other disciplines. Exciting times ahead. I am very happy to be part of this movement and to join you today to celebrate this potential.
Professor of Theatre and Performance
Dean of the Graduate School
A New Horizons prize will be awarded by the wonderful filmmaker , Yasmin Fedda, who has made recent films on Syria.
‘Yasmin Fedda is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose films have focused on themes from Edinburgh bakeries to Syrian monasteries. Her films have been BAFTA-nominated and screened at numerous international festivals including Sundance. She has also made broadcast films for the BBC and Al Jazeera. Yasmin has a PhD in Transdisciplinary Documentary Film, and is also co-founder and programmer of Highlight Arts.’
There will also be the Public Engagement prize in memory of Lynn Bicker and Martin Ripley. Martin Ripley featured in Joe Spence’s film, From the Cubby with Love, last year and sadly passed away last January.
Please invite friends and interested students through our live facebook event.
It starts at 9.30 and finishes at 7, but you can also dip in on the hour for different themed combinations of films.
From 2 to 5 we will be altogether in GLT1 and the films have been chosen to reflect that.
It will be a real celebration of our students and their engagement in the world.
See you there.
May 18, 2017
CAREMOTION –noun- finding balance between the care of others and self, and the emotions during video making.
Etymology-(coined Canterbury 2017) a synthesis of care, motion, emotion, motion picture and commotion.
Please join us on the 31st May for a screening of visual anthropology projects that demonstrate the remarkable creativity and engagement of our visual anthropology students at the School of Anthropology and Conservation.
The twelve films will be shown in three thematic parts, after each there will be a opportunity for discussion and Q and A.
Professor Hugh Brody continues his long support of visual anthropology at Kent and will award the Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Prize.
We welcome visiting Professor Daw-Ming Lee from Taiwan who will award a prize in his name. He is a reknowned academic and filmmaker and will be
giving a talk about his work on the 24th May.
The Lynn-Bicker foundation led by Alan Bicker will award a Public Engagement Prize. There will also be an audience prize.
After the event we will move to the Gulbenkian for post screening drinks and pot-luck.
Screenshot from Painting a Journey (Evleen Price)
Painting: Andrew Price
May 20, 2016
Portrayal – a depiction of someone or something in a work of art or literature; a picture
Trail – a mark or a series of signs or objects left behind by the passage of someone or something.
Join us for the screening of final year visual anthropology projects. Students focussed on a remarkable diversity of themes this year with a strong common focus on the portrayal of groups or particular people.
Four prizes will be awarded this year
The Hugh Brody Visual Anthropology Prize
The Virginia Pitts Prize
The Public Engagement Prize (The Lynn Bicker Foundation)
All audience member will be able to vote for the audience prize but only if they have viewed all films.
Picture Credit-Lissa Davies (The Cast)
In December 2015 the School of Anthropology and Conservation was privileged to welcome alumnus Gonzalo Chacon for a screening and discussion of the award winning documentary ‘The Silence of the Flies’ for which he was co-executive producer. Guest contributor James Kloda reviews the film below. All images included are courtesy of NorteSur Producciones.
“Silence is golden/But my eyes still see.”
This refrain from The Four Seasons’ song is both haunted and haunting, its stated serenity mere illusion. Similarly, Eliezer Arias’ documentary, The Silence Of The Flies, has a lingering disquietude hanging over its subject of multiple suicide, predominantly amongst young adults, in rural Venezuela. Organised by Dr Caroline Bennett, the School was delighted to welcome the film’s executive producer, MA in Visual Anthropology alumnus Gonzalo Chacon, to introduce the screening and participate in a Q & A session, proving to be an engaging, thought-provoking evening.
Arias follows the stories of two ladies, Marcelina and Mercedes, whose daughters tragically took their own lives. One, María José, was a spiky, rebellious character who despised the inherent chauvinism of the society surrounding her, defiantly coming out much to the disgust of her father: the other, Nancy, remains far more enigmatic, any allusions to troubled personality reflected in the figure of her devoted sister, who herself tried to commit suicide when she was eight months pregnant. The dichotomy of silence is drawn thus: present absence and absent presence. And silence is very much the thematic heart of the film, for what typifies this seemingly phenomenological outbreak of self-sacrifice is the cloak of hush wrapped around it.
Similar to Joshua Oppenheimer’s recent documentary The Look Of Silence, which followed an Indonesian optometrist confronting the perpetrators of his country’s 1965 genocidal purge, the precise challenge of Arias’ film is to dramatise that dichotomy of silence. Stories are heard in voiceover against images of their narrators, silent in frame but always staring into the lens, searching it, and us, for answers or a means to express their private tragedies. The effect of this disconnect is persuasive, a voice only able to be candid when disembodied from its speaker.
The images themselves are desolate, vast pockets of empty space pushing compositional detail to the fringe leaving a void centre-frame: figures are almost exclusively shot in isolation and, when a group is seen together, it is always from a distance. Perhaps the most striking articulation of the palpable absence at the heart of these communities is of a frozen photograph depicting María José filling the screen as the sound of her brother scrubbing down walls prior to decorating scratches metronomically on the soundtrack: a face etched domineeringly in close-up to the tune of attempted erasure.
The Silence Of The Flies is not always this gracefully lyrical. Indeed, some of its more stylised imagery seems too studied: dew drops fall from drooping leaves as Polaroids of victims float down streams. And whilst the lack of objective narration allows us to relate directly to troubled biography, it sometimes becomes difficult to understand whose story we are now following.
Yet there is so much to tell, clamouring to get out to reach some form of resolution, that confusion is perhaps inevitable. With questions still so present and answers wholly absent, The Silence Of The Flies ends with a montage of faces now with eyes closed, meditating, perhaps beginning to find some kind of peace now that hush has been broken. For a brief moment, silence is golden.