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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Accuser les victimes: La version française de La Vérité Meurt à Rostock ressort en DVD

Rostock, ville portuaire d’ancienne Allemagne de l’Est, un week-end de l’été 1992; face à des conditions économiques rudes et un taux de chômage grimpant, de jeunes néo-fascistes s’amassent en bas de barres d’HLM dans le quartier isolé de Lichtenhagen et tournent leurs frustrations vers un groupes de travailleurs immigrés. La nuit tombée, la tension monte et les perturbateurs empoignent des pavés pour briser les vitres de l’immeuble, visant en particulier le refuge des demandeurs d’asiles (en grande partie originaire du Vietnam).

Les émeutes dureront trois jours, jusqu’à l’incendie du refuge au cocktail Molotov par les émeutiers, provoquant l’évacuation de ses habitants. La réaction de la police est inadaptée, presque conciliante envers les néonazis; sans intervenir franchement, les policiers encadrent les violences pour éviter les débordements, mais aucune arrestation n’a lieu. De la même manière, près de 3000 spectateurs assistent aux événements, certains en tant qu’observateurs passifs, d’autres apportant leur soutien aux casseurs en applaudissant leurs actes. Durant ce long week-end, une manifestation antifasciste est organisée par des habitants de Rostock; les forces de l’ordre préféreront arrêter ces pacifistes plutôt que les insurgés néonazis. Résultat : 60 des 80 individus détenus au cours du dimanche soir sont des manifestants antiracistes.

Juste après les émeutes, le parti Démocrate Chrétien modifie la Constitution et une des lois piliers de l’après seconde guerre mondiale, rendant désormais possible l’exclusion des démendeurs d’asile politiques  hors du sol Allemand. Plutot que de s’en prendre aux causes des événements de Liechtenhagen, les hommes politiques se sont attaqués aux victimes; après avoir eu leurs habitations temporaires pillées et incendiées, les travailleurs immigrés vietnamiens se trouve désormais menacés de déportation.

La Vérité Meurt à Rostock montre les évènements de ce pogrom de manière chronologique, tels qu’ils se sont déroulés. Des images amateurs filmées par les immigrés, barricadés dans leurs appartements, témoignent de l’agressivité ambiante; elles sont accompagnées de séquences au plus proche des violences, tournées de nuit par les réalisateurs du documentaire Marc Saunders et Siobhan Leary. Enfin, des interviews exclusives avec des participants aux émeutes, des réfugiés et des membres de la police présentent un tableau complet de la situation, des mentalités, et permettent au téléspectateur de mesurer la portée du racisme dans une Allemagne à peine réunifiée. Le documentaire, commandé par la chaîne Anglaise Channel 4, est un parfait exemple de journalisme d’investigation basé sur l’expertise d’une communauté.

Problèmes liés à l’immigration, contexte de frustration générale aboutissant à la montée des extrêmes, inefficacité ou indifférences des forces publiques, les questions abordées dans ce film sont autant de thèmes qui resurgissent actuellement dans les débats publics en Europe. Compte tenu des résultats records du Front National au premier tour des élections présidentielles, rééditer  La Vérité Meurt à Rostock en 2012 en France prend tout son sens. Loin d’être comparable d’un point de vue politique, des parallèles peuvent êtres tracés entre les angoisses et les tensions de 1992, et les préoccupations populaires d’aujourd’hui.

À l’occasion du vingtième anniversaire des émeutes de Rostock, Spectacle Productions ressort la version française de La Vérité Meurt à Rostock. Le DVD d’une heure vingt est disponible en vente ici.

Cliquez La Vérité Meurt à Rostock pour plus d’articles sur le blog

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Storms brewing over REO personnel?

You’d think that with debts up to their eyeballs, and Wandsworth Borough Council’s decision on planning permission still in the balance, the owners of Battersea Power Station would have enough to worry about.

But now new allegations have arisen in the Irish media about certain figures involved in REO, the property firm that owns the site.

The Irish Independent has reported that Willie McAteer, formerly finance director of Anglo Irish Bank, which loaned money to REO, also owns a stake in the company.

McAteer was also arrested and questioned by the Irish fraud squad in March 2010 following his resignation from the board of bailed out bank Anglo Irish in 2009.

Meanwhile accusations of irresponsible behaviour are in the air directed at Johnny Ronan, one of the owners of Treasury Holdings, REO’s largest stakeholder, with an opinion piece in the same newspaper accusing him of reckless spending. Mr Ronan’s children’s ‘lavish birthday parties…costing hundreds of thousands of euro’ come under fire.

This only adds to speculation on the propriety of his behaviour – in March the Irish Times reported that he was ‘standing down’ from his position for a few months, following embarrassing revelations about his love life.

It seems Mr Ronan had been embroiled with arguments with a former girlfriend after being found taking extended lunches and private jet trips to Morocco with a former Miss World.

Not responsible behaviour, some might say, for a man whose company has debts funded by the Irish taxpayer to the tune of more than a billion euro.

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How much is Battersea Power Station worth?

Detail of a slide from REO's presentation to the Battersea Power Station Community Group

Even if you take the question in its strict financial sense, it’s not as simple as you might think.

Property consultants King Sturge valued the site at £388m in February of this year. But read the small print and you see that this value depends on some factors which are still in flux: the obtaining of planning permission, the extension of the Northern line to Battersea, and the availability of funding for REO’s huge debts.

To take the first issue of planning permission, that’s a decision that’s going to be made by Wandsworth Borough Council later this summer.

And it might not be as cut and dried at the developers hope: several groups are opposing the plans, including the Kew Bridge Engines Trust, 20th Century Society, Battersea Society, SAVE, and the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society. The Victorian Society have also made a formal written objection and recorded an interview with Spectacle on their attitude towards the developers’ plans.

Even supposing the planning proposal is given the go-ahead, it’s unclear how valuable the site will be, given REO’s reluctance to say what proportion of the site will be made up of affordable housing.

Even now, when the site has none of the “essential” planning permission in place, the valuation of £388m suggests a value-per-acre of £10m. A little high, perhaps, given that Capital & Counties exhibition centre in Earls Court, which already generates income and has ready transport links, is valued at £6m per acre.

This second point of transport links, and the extension of the Northern line to Battersea, is also up for discussion.

No public money is being put towards it from either the mayor’s office or the Department of Transport, so it looks like it would have to be privately funded. The REO’s estimated cost at the moment is £200m – seen by some as a hopelessly optimistic figure.

And even if the price of building the tube link remained on target, it’s uncertain where REO would find £200m, given the company’s unfortunate financial position and hefty debts.

It’s hard to see how a valuation of the Battersea Power Station site, and of its worth to the developers, can be at all conclusive. £388m is an attractive figure for a company mired in debt, but to anyone else it looks optimistic at best, and at worst completely unrealistic. It is also £12m less than REO paid for the site.

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Battersea Power Station owners deep in debt

REO co-owner Rob Tincknell

Property firm REO, whose portfolio includes Battersea Power Station, owes millions of euro to its banks, and to the Irish taxpayer.

The company owes a total of €2bn to its banks. This includes nearly €1bn owed to Nama, Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency – set up by the Irish government to take on the debts of banks bailed out in the financial crisis.

With a property portfolio valued at €1.3bn (including the Battersea site, whose valuation is problematic in itself), the company’s debts now far outstrip its assets.

That’s not the end of REO’s problems: it recorded a pre-tax loss of £900m for the 14 months to February 2010. The announcement of those accounts, in June this year, caused a 50% fall in the company’s share price, taking it down to just 8 pence per share, and a market value below £40m. The company is not in good financial health.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that REO are looking to separate the potentially lucrative Battersea Power Station site from the company as a whole. They hope to draw off the property into a separate company, and list it on the stock market before the end of the year.

Investment partners are being sought to help fund the project, with international property groups and Middle Eastern wealth funds thought to be expressing interest.

But these grand plans could be brought to a halt if Wandsworth Borough Council decide not to grant planning permission. Elsewhere on the Spectacle Blog you can find out more about the historical preservation groups who are opposing the developer’s plans for the site.

You can also watch our interview with Alex Baldwin of the Victorian Society and other clips about the power station in the Spectacle video archive.

Click Battersea Power Station for more blogs
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.
See our Battersea Power Station project pages for more information and videos.

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Well London Media Project Rolls On

Dear Well London participants and those yet to take part,

As part of the continuing Well London initiatives across London, over the next month we will be conducting what may be our final filming events and workshops in Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and Hounslow, starting tomorrow with a second visit to Notting Barns gardens. As always we are offering opportunities to get behind the camera and to learn how to shoot and interview.

If you can’t make it to these events or you are not so interested in filming, we are also offering edit placements where you can make a contribution to the Well London Media Project and get firsthand experience of the post-production process. All the information is in the flyer below. To find out more information about Spectacle’s role in Well London, visit the Spectacle blog.

Finally, Claire Sharples has sadly departed as project coordinator but leaves everything in the hands of myself and Mark Saunders. If you have any questions or want to get involved, please get in touch with the details below or download the Well London Media Project Sign Up Form and return it to us.

Greg Pittard, Project Coordinator

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REFUSING TO ACCEPT ONE’S PLACE, Tate Britain, May 7th

‘Refusing to Accept One’s Place’ is a discussion event held by This Is Not a Gateway exploring urban poverty and social exclusion.

Among the speakers will be Mark Saunders who will be talking on Poverty as a Media Event and Olympic Social Cleansing, based on Spectacle’s ongoing Poverty and the Media and London Olympics 2012 projects.

RESISTANCE & SPATIAL REFORMERS:

REFUSING TO ACCEPT ONE’S PLACE

FRIDAY 07 MAY 2010, 6:30PM

TATE BRITAIN {Turner’s Italian Odyessy T7}

* The salon is free but registration is necessary: salonsATthisisnotagateway.net *

As part of European Alternative’s Transeuropa Festival and Tate Britain’s Late at Tate event East is East, This Is Not A Gateway are organising a salon ‘Resistance and Spatial Reformers: Refusing To Accept One’s Place’.

The EA Festival is tackling the European Commission‘s 2010 theme ‘Poverty & Social Exclusion’- their specific interest is exploring the return of slums to European cities. Tate Britain‘s Cross Cultural Contemporary Art Team are looking at contested spaces and notions of London’s East End for their event ‘East is East’. TINAG’s interest in both these areas is the potential to explore the psycho/social idea of ‘refusing to accept one’s place’.

The salon will explore how notions of poverty are constructed, the return of slums in Europe, understandings of democracy, the links between land ownership and social exclusion and the psycho/social condition of Refusing To Accept One’s Place that may have motivated social and spatial reformers – past & present.

Speakers:

.       Ruhana Ali, Community Organising Foundation

.       David Rosenberg, teacher and guide of radical history walks in East London

.       Andrea Luka Zimmerman & Lasse Johansson, Fugitive Images

.       Kevin Cahill, investigative journalist and author of ‘Who Own’s Britain’

.       Oliver Ressler, artist and filmmaker

.       Andrea Gibbons, Right to the City, JustSpace and PM Press.

.       Mark Saunders, Spectacle Documentaries

.       Paul Trevor, photographer ‘Eastender Archive’

* Salons are free and there are always beer and bagels *

Information on previous salons (press releases and post-salon essays) can be found here.

This Is Not A Gateway hold a year long series of salon discussions focused on urban citizenship and cross-cultural exchanges with speakers from a range of fields and backgrounds. The salons are integral to developing a participant-led programme – a testing ground to see what questions and work are being produced in and on cities, and what formats might be possible.

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