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Essays on cinema, anthropology and documentary filmmaking

The looking machine calls for the redemption of documentary cinema, exploring the potential and promise of the genre at a time when it appears under increasing threat from reality television, historical re-enactments, designer packaging and corporate authorship. The book consists of a set of essays, each focused on a particular theme derived from the author’s own experience as a filmmaker. It provides a practice-based, critical perspective on the history of documentary, how films evoke space, time and physical sensations, questions of aesthetics, and the intellectual and emotional relationships between filmmakers and their subjects. It is especially concerned with the potential of film to broaden the base of human knowledge, distinct from its expression in written texts. Among its underlying concerns are the political and ethical implications of how films are actually made, and the constraints that may prevent filmmakers from honestly showing what they have seen. While defending the importance of the documentary idea, MacDougall urges us to consider how the form can become a ‘cinema of consciousness’ that more accurately represents the sensory and everyday aspects of human life. Building on his experience bridging anthropology and cinema, he argues that this means resisting the inherent ethnocentrism of both our own society and the societies we film.

Hindu Nadar identities in urban South India
Sara Dickey

Nadars were experts in martial arts, in fact so renowned that their warriors were recruited to train the soldiers of allied kingdoms. ‘And they were also a very cultured lot’, he said. ‘Very family-oriented, very religious. Educated to the extent available in those days.’ The Nadars, he continued, also possess a special relationship with the goddess

in The anthropology of power, agency, and morality
An empirical art
David MacDougall

for filming kinship? Should the anthropologist even try to use film for this? Clearly, a diagram is a better means of representing the abstract structural relations of kinship. But film may be better at expressing situations of dominance, affection or such special relationships as avoidance or ‘joking relationships’. How parents treat their children, and vice versa, can be described through written accounts and oral histories, but filming 143 LookingMachine.indb 143 12/11/2018 12:54:15 F i l m , a n t h r o p o l o g y a n d t h e d o c u m e n t a r y t ra d i t

in The looking machine