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.
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.
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: