Posts tagged ‘ethnographic film’
June 13, 2018
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.
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.
July 17, 2012
Not too long ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to be a discussant at the Göttingen Ethnographic Film Festival Symposium, Participatory – what does it mean? Participatory cinema and participatory video under consideration. Participatory is a word we hear with increasing frequency in visual anthropology, particularly in relation to filmmaking (indeed I have used and written about participatory video on this blog). But the word is often bandied about with little consideration to what it actually means, either in theory or in practice.
During the GIEFF symposium we spent three days talking about this term, and its practical applications. Turns out there is almost no consensus on how the term is used, with just about everyone using and understanding the term differently: from hardcore believers who advocate no input in the video / film-making process themselves, to others whose use of the term relates only to their seeking feedback from certain participants. To still others anything anthropological is participatory, because anthropological knowledge is built through intersubjective relations with others, and thereby participatory in their very nature. Neither did we come to a consensus on the term during the three days. But we did have a lot of interesting debates, some of which were fairly energetic, particularly those concerning whether the methods robust enough to be used in academic research?
Participatory video and participatory cinema essentially have two different theoretical foundations, but as time goes on and their popularity grows, the terms are becoming increasingly blurred. Evolving out of Development, Participatory Video (PV) is about working as a group to solve a problem. It assumes an issue to be dealt with, and insists on limited or no video-making from the ‘facilitators’, but on all elements of the video-making process being done by the participating community. But there are many issues caught up in these assumptions: to assume a problem in a community inevitably creates one, although it may not be the one that is the most important or pressing to various people in the group. To assume that a group or a whole community is inherently honest, cohesive and homogenous is both unrealistic and problematic. To insist that communities would be video-making if only they knew how, and we are the ones who can teach them that is both paternalistic and derogatory.
Participatory cinema meanwhile was a term initially developed by David MacDougall in opposition to Observational Cinema: participatory cinema encouraged an active participation from the film’s subjects, although mostly with the control being maintaining by the director / film-maker. It shares some intellectual concepts of Jean Rouch’s ‘shared anthropology’, not least in that in reality the levels of participation are somewhat limited and in some cases appear to be more a wave in the direction of a contemporary buzzword.
Narratives on participatory methods tend to be celebratory. Many filmmakers and researchers (myself included) have been somewhat over simplistic in their discussions on the subject, and whilst the positive aspects of the methods have been repeatedly emphasised, there is almost no critical discourse on the subject. It does exist (for example Wheeler’s (2009) article on her work in Brazil outlined several issues) but it is hard to find. One of the subjects that repeatedly arose throughout the symposium was the potential of participatory methods in anthropological research. Anthropology is about learning about other peoples’ worlds. This might be explored through participatory methods, but can we really learn the intricacies and nuances of life in a group? Anthropological knowledge is built on intimate relationships of trust, which are invariably built up one-to-one. How do you build trust and intimacy in a group? How can you avoid ‘invisible’ power relations from acting? Can you get to the discords that are so telling about informants’ lifeworlds? What about the missing voices: who doesn’t take part and why? Do participatory methods encourage a simplified version of events that ignores the complex nuances of community issues? Is a film made using participatory methods really any more ‘honest’ and ‘authentic’ than a more traditional film? What effect does the participatory method have on the actions and attitudes of the community?
The disjunctures that inevitably exist within communities, and the nuanced complexities of life are rarely (if ever) made apparent in participatory film or video, which almost exclusively present communities as cohesive, homogenous groups with shared aims and desires. As anthropologists we should be careful of presenting such simplified stories. On the other hand, good anthropology includes reflection by the researcher on their position, assumptions, presentation of the other, and effect on the research. Participatory methods potentially help this reflection, especially where participants have active control of the media: by enabling people to present themselves, participatory methods encourages the researcher to question their presentation of others, and it potentially can encourage a more collaborative, inter-subjective building of knowledge. In addition, using methods such as PV may allow us to align our research interests with the concerns of the community, which is an ideal ethical position.
To really explore the potential of PV as a research tool we need to push beyond the celebratory nature of most presentations and critically analyse both the potentialities for use, and our motivations for using it. We need to avoid the assumptions and paternalistic approach that so often accompany discussions on participatory methods: that they avoid hierarchy and power relations; that the story heard is the most important one; that everyone who wants to be involved is able to; that visual methods are the best (or automatically culturally appropriate) mode of exploration.
This post may sound extremely critical of the use of participatory methods. That’s not my aim: I think there is a strong potential in their use both as a research tool and as a means of encouraging collaboration and a more engaged, public anthropology. But before unquestioningly adopting these methods, we have a duty to ourselves, our discipline and, more importantly, to our participants to question our motivations behind their adoption, and to assess their place in our work. Only when we have asked these questions of ourselves, and addressed our concerns, should we jump in to participate.
February 23, 2012
Ever wondered what visual anthropology is all about? What does it include, and what sort of research is conducted by visual anthropologists? We thought you might, so we’ve put together a short video compiling some of the work from the MA programme at the University of Kent, UK.
The programme teaches students a range of visual techniques to allow students to explore the world of anthropology – techniques ranging from still photography, to digital video making, to social media. With a number of external experts teaching on the course (for example the photographer James Kriszyk, the editor Alan Miller, campaign filmmaker Zoe Broughton to name but three examples), as students on this course we learnt a huge amount, not just about the academic applications of visual anthropology, but also how it can feed into the wider world at large, and ultimately therefore a more publically engaged anthropology. As a result our final projects have ranged from exploring life within a community of people with and without learning disabilities in Kent, to documenting threatened traditional medical systems in Ladakh, to looking at the impacts of their work on human rights workers, and much more besides. But enough from me: watch the video and explore what visual anthropology is all about yourself.
November 4, 2011
The use of visual research methods is often celebrated as a useful method in participatory research. But what happens when the research centres on vulnerable people, including people with quite profound learning disabilities? How can you conduct participatory research in these communities? Are visual methods appropriate?
During the research for my MA dissertation I had to confront all of these issues. I spent the summer of 2011 with the community of L’Arche Kent as part of the research for my MA thesis. My research explored concepts of home and community, and how it is within these structures that the community enables an environment of acceptance and equality for people with learning disabilities that is so rarely achieved in the wider society. The final product of my research was a dissertation in two parts: the film Living Together (above) and a written thesis (read it here).
Who are L’Arche Kent?
Part of the wider L’Arche International community (5,000 people in over 130 different countries), L’Arche Kent is a community of over 100 people with and without learning disabilities living in six houses across Kent. The severity of disability in the community varies from mild with only minimal support needs to profound with intensive one-to-one, or sometimes two-to-one 24-hour support needs. The ages in the community range from 0 – 60 something, and right now there are people from 17 different countries in the community.
Evidently, if I wanted to conduct inclusive research in such a community I had to use a method which not only cut across age barriers, but which was also understandable to people from different countries as well as accessible to people of many differing abilities. Which meant I needed a very accessible research methodology, something that would enable participation by even the most disabled people. And so I decided upon video.
Video lent itself to this research because of its flexibility and the number of ways it encourages participation between the researcher and the people they are collaborating with. It also meant I could produce a final version of the research which was accessible to the community. Video really lets people take part in a way that more traditional research methods do not. This is especially true with people who are non-literate and / or non-verbal, or with learning disabilities of varying degrees, who may not be able to undergo long conversations or interviews.
Cameras, video and TV are a part of everyday life here in the UK, and as such are understood and understandable to the majority of people. Add to this the flexibility that filming provides and we start to see some of the advantages of using this method: I had people filming me, filming themselves, filming each other, putting on plays for the camera (alone and in groups), directing me and each other, interviewing me and each other, helping in the editing, taking part just by being in the room and occasionally shouting suggestions. People borrowed cameras to film their own lives; some people simply enjoyed watching what was going on. The beauty of a camera (both still and moving) is the number of people who want to take part. And because people were having fun it made my research really easy – I had no issues with access, no problems with getting people to take part and most importantly no issues of people feeling disconnected and therefore exploited by the research. This also meant that the community had equal ownership of the project. All of these meant that most people within the community wanted the project to succeed as much as I did, which made a huge difference, and helped balance the ethnographer – informant relationship in their favour.
Using Steady Wings to improve accessibility
One of the major factors helping make video accessible in my research was the use of Steady Wings. Designed by filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich, Steady Wings are an amazing piece of equipment which offer a range of filming possibilities outside of the traditional norms. You can see them in use during Sarah’s portions of Living Together – nearly all of her filming was done using this equipment. In my research they helped make a camera easy to use for less mobile people, and less intimidating for many others – having the camera mounted on a set of Steady Wings allowed people to easily hold and move with the camera, pass it amongst themselves, or simply explore different angles and views – offering different views of the world, smoother movements, and the freedom to play without worry. They took the worry out of handling unfamiliar equipment and made it fun, and ultimately led to a much greater involvement by some of the disabled members of the community than I originally imagined possible.
Of course as with any research there are some aspects of using film that need care and consideration: informed consent was a concern; ensuring people understood what was happening was sometimes challenging, although not as challenging as managing the expectations of some members of the community who thought they were going to become famous Hollywood stars following my time in the community, and the one problem that I did not forsee was the difficulty in getting back some of the borrowed cameras at the end of the research period! Whilst some have argued that any research with vulnerable people is exploitative, I personally believe that so long as proper care and consideration is taken, these issues are no more complex in conducting research with people with learning disabilities than with any other group, and in fact film offers quite the reverse, allowing people to speak for themselves, rather than have others speak for them.
I really enjoyed my time with L’Arche Kent. As well as being integral for my MA thesis, the filmed work has enabled me to produce a number of shorts which L’Arche Kent are using on their website, and I continue to be involved in the community. My findings on home and community made a contribution to the literature, but in the end the learning I will take away from this was that research in difficult circumstances becomes, if not easy, then at least possible, if you use a method that allows people to be involved as much as possible and to feel really involved. I’m not sure there is a better method than video for this, but that point remains open to debate.
October 6, 2011
Ouzoud is a village undergoing rapid change. Once a quiet Berber community in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, the last 10 years has seen it become one of Morocco’s major tourist destinations, receiving between 70,000 and 80,000 visitors a year. The main attraction: the Cascades d’Ouzoud, a spectacular set of waterfalls in the centre of the village, mentioned in popular guidebooks and advertised in Marrakech tour company windows. Two years ago, in the sweltering heat of mid-July, I traveled three hours from Marrakech in the back of an old Mercedes taxi to visit a Dutch friend who had recently bought a guesthouse there. But, upon my arrival in Ouzoud, I was surprised by what I saw. The waterfalls were beautiful and the landscape was impressive, but what about the large pile of smoldering rubbish? What about the dirt tracks that villagers used as roads? Surely, this was not typical of a major tourist destination that seemed to promise tranquility and natural beauty. I began to wonder how I can answer these questions and how I can better understand the complex relationship between tourists and locals. So, I returned to Ouzoud this spring to conduct fieldwork and produce a short documentary film as part of my MA dissertation project in Visual Anthropology, allowing me to explore these issues in further detail.
My film, entitled Ouzoud, addresses many of these issues in the anthropology of tourism, complementing the written dissertation. But, it was also conceived as an experiment in ethnographic cinema, to find an engaging and appropriate technical, aesthetic and theoretical form that such a cinema could take. I began with the premise that all films, including documentaries, are “created, structured articulations of the filmmaker and not authentic, truthful, objective records.” Just like tourists seeking some form of visual authenticity and, at times, perhaps even believing they have found it, documentary film often pretends to show the truth when, in fact, it is portraying a heavily mediated version of reality. By making full use of thematic and dramatic editing techniques, I deliberately brought out the contradictions of tourism and the irony of many statements made by participants. I edited the film to reveal, through a variety of interviews and scenes of Ouzoud, the hosts’ and guests’ differing conceptions of tourism (at times echoing the ironic undertones Dennis O’Rourke uses in Cannibal Tours). Imagery such as a young child riding a donkey as a modern car drives next to him and Doug exiting his shiny Land Rover followed by a shot of a beggar, combined with engaging music and dynamic editing create a film that makes powerful comments on the nature of tourism. Ultimately, I share Jean Rouch’s enduring belief that ethnographic films should not be confined to the “closed information circuit” of academia, but that, ultimately, “ethnographic film will help us to ‘share’ anthropology,” through the use of such techniques. Hopefully, the film has done that.
In the end, Ouzoud finds itself as a village at the frontiers of mass tourism, where a problematical course of change is currently unfolding before our eyes. Scattered with holiday homes, guesthouses and campsites, its markets sell souvenirs and postcards, while countless restaurants serve couscous and tagine to tourists. Even now, just months after leaving Morocco, I have learnt of a new, Western-style supermarket being built in the center of the village. But, most importantly, Ouzoud is just one of thousands of villages like it, undergoing similar changes all over the world. It is now up to visual anthropologists and other social scientists to document, interpret and present these changes in new and effective ways. Throughout my written dissertation, I asked how tourism in Ouzoud can be defined, how it broadly affects the village community and how hosts and guests perceive one another. Meanwhile, if tourism really does have the potential to catalyze such immense global change then, through the film, I have explored whether a more visual, even cinematic, study of tourism will help illustrate that.
Watch the film below or on Vimeo here!