The Relationship Between Visual Anthropology and Documentary Film

Anthropology (the study of cross-cultural human sociality) has only been made possible with the expansion of transport and communication links that allowed the first Anthropologists to research and study other cultures. As a result of this, Anthropology is a relatively young subject, being first taught in the late eighteenth century. The subject developed during a time of industrial and technological expansion that some Anthropologists embraced. Some of the early ethnographers such as Evans-Pritchard used photography to illustrate and enrich their work. Since the cost and access to film has become more available an increasing number of Anthropologists have begun to utilise film in their research which has created an off shoot of Visual Anthropology.

The use of film in social research raises ethical and theoretical issues such as the power relations between the filmmaker and the participants, more specifically if the camera is an instrument of surveillance. Does the filmmaker have the right to videotape indigenous communities? Issues of misrepresentation of certain communities could unintentionally cause harm. There are problems of translating anthropological abstract concepts, such as kinship onto film. Many Anthropologists dismiss the use of film in their work as it raises too many epistemological problems for them. However, these concerns can be reduced if ethnographers follow certain guidelines when producing films. Anthropologists can use a framework that some documentary filmmakers follow.

Documentary filmmakers such as Spectacle Productions ascribe to ethical guidelines that aim to respect the subjects in the film. This means to be responsive and respectful of what people want and do not want filmed as well as working collaboratively from a grassroots stance point to give the participants a voice as well as representing the film’s subject’s in a way they want to be presented.

The issue of power relations with filmmaker and participants can be solved through participatory and collaborative film making. Filmmaker and participants make decisions together on what they shoot, the access allowed and the content filmed. Another approach is to give the participants being filmed the cameras which is a form of community video. Many indigenous communities, especially those in the Amazon have utilised film for land rights activism or to promote their cultures to a wider audience.

Misrepresentation as a potential problem can be solved again with participation from the communities by having a pre-screening of the film with a representative with the community being filmed. If this is not possible due to distances or other obstacles another way is to speak with the participants during the filming explaining and demonstrating transparently what your aim of the film is.

 On a theoretical note, while to film the abstract notion of ‘culture’ is beyond difficult one can film the material and visual world that can convey aspects of ‘culture’. Filming events such as religious rites, celebrations and every day life help to build a picture that conveys lived-in cultural experience.

The idea of creating a totally unbiased and objective ethnographic film is problematic as it will always be framed by the filmmakers prejudices, as with any ethnographic write-up. One cannot escape this fact, therefore the best way forward is to realise these limitations and to go forward to create the film.

The benefits of including ethnographic films can significantly add depth to social research. Anthropology can use film to showcase elements of culture hat are sometimes overlooked, for example nuances in speech and movements that are not always written about in ethnographic monographs. Film can be utilised in a variety of ways: as reference material for write-ups, examples or illustrations of particular concepts, as well as bringing ethnographic data together in a tangible and understandable format that can be understood by a wider audience.

Anthropologists and social researchers wishing to make ethnographic films can look to Documentary Film as a model to answer some ethical and aesthetic problems that the film format raises.

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For more information on Spectacle’s training courses for Documentary Film Making

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Spectacle Training: Final Cut Pro Weekend Training Course- March

Final Cut Pro Weekend Training Course

Saturday & Sunday March 24 & 25 2012 10.00 to 16.00

This is a practical hands-on evening course aimed at people who want a fast way to acquire detailed and concise editing skills. It is particularly useful for aspiring documentary makers, journalists who want to expand their skill set and voluntary sector workers who want to edit their own films.

The short, condensed and effective course will give all participants a solid foundation of practical knowledge and a working understanding of editing software, from importing, marking, logging and editing, to adding soundtracks and effects.

We allow one person per computer, giving everyone extensive hands-on experience.

Completing this course will guarantee you a work placement opportunity with Spectacle.

What you will learn:

– Overview of Final Cut Pro
– Editing basics, cutting, moving and arranging clips
– Transitions and effects
– Use of logging, key words and database to organise your edit
– Creating titles
– Using sound
– Importing and exporting media
– Uploading on-line, basic intro to codecs and formats

Price

£200.00 + VAT = £240
Concs.: £100.00 + VAT = £120

Special discounts

– Bookings for three to five people: 10% discount
– Bookings for six people or more: 20% discount

Click to find out more and to book.

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Seeking actors. The Audition at Battersea Art Center.

Para leer este blog en español pincha aquí.


After  making the storyboard, all of us have a clear idea of what we are looking for. We have decided the shots, the camera angles, the atmosphere, the sound and the characters all we need to make the project real. Now we need to choose the real actors and we start thinking about the casting.

After publishing the advert on the internet, we receive lots of emails from people from different backgrounds and nationalities interested in coming to the casting. We went through all the applicants and decide the day the audition will be held.

Battersea Art Center.

Actors waiting in the entrance. We give them the script and the treatment and the audition starts. Different people in the same room moving all around, falling in different ways, showing different expressions in front of a camera, trying to be someone they are not..difficult task! Everybody seems to be having fun and enjoying the audition. That is good!

After the audition, there is only one more difficult thing to do…Choose the actors and be chosen from them…

If you want to get more information about the project “Speak out against discrimination”, click here.

For more information about Spectacle, click here.


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