The half-century running from the mid-1890s, when moving image camera technology was first developed, to the period of the Second World War in the 1940s constitutes over a third of the total time-span of ethnographicfilm-making. This was a period of tentative beginnings, sporadic activity and blurred genres. Though a large number of films made during this period could be said to possess a certain degree of ‘ethnographicness’ – as defined in the General Introduction to this book – many of these were not produced by academic film-makers, but by
The ‘less-than-happy marriage’: the academic reception of television ethnography
For a period of some twenty-five years, from the late 1960s until the mid-1990s, the television patronage of ethnographicfilm-making served to give academic anthropology a public profile in Britain that it had not previously enjoyed and, arguably, has not enjoyed since. Although little more than anecdotal, there is some evidence to support the view that during this period the presentation of the work of anthropologists on television served to
The origins of ethnographicfilm sponsorship by British television
Prior to its sponsorship by television, ethnographicfilm-making in Britain was almost non-existent. Since the pioneering work of Haddon and Spencer at the turn of the twentieth century, the number of British anthropologists who had taken moving image cameras with them to the field had been very few, and even those that had done so, had generally used them not to make documentaries as such, but rather for documentation purposes. Facilities and support for
Beyond Observation offers a historical analysis of ethnographic film from
the birth of cinema in 1895 until 2015. It covers a large number of films made
in a broad range of styles, in many different parts of the world, from the
Arctic to Africa, from urban China to rural Vermont. It is the first extensive
historical account of its kind and will be accessible to students and lecturers
in visual anthropology as well as to those previously unfamiliar with
ethnographic film. Among the early genres that Paul Henley discusses are
French reportage films, the Soviet kulturfilm, the US travelogue, the classic
documentaries of Robert Flaherty and Basil Wright, as well as the more academic
films of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. Among the leading film-makers of the
post-war period, he discusses Jean Rouch, John Marshall and Robert Gardner, as
well as the emergence of Observational Cinema in the 1970s. He also considers
‘indigenous media’ projects of the 1980s, and the ethnographic films that
flourished on British television until the 1990s. In the final part, he
examines the recent films of David and Judith MacDougall, the Harvard Sensory
Media Lab, and a range of films authored in a participatory manner, as possible
models for the future.
Ethnographicfilm-making, broadly defined, has been supported by television companies in many different countries around the world since as far back as the 1950s. However, in most cases, this support has been intermittent and contingent: the occasional series, an evening of special programming, the one-off major documentary feature. In Britain, by contrast, for a period of around twenty-five years, from the late 1960s until the mid-1990s, the national television network provided sustained and materially very substantial support for
In this last part of the book, over the course of three chapters, I consider a number of recent examples of English-language ethnographicfilm-making. These films have mostly been produced in the first decade and a half of the twenty-first century, though I also discuss a number of films produced in the last decade of the twentieth. As with the whole of the book, it is a partial selection, in both senses of the term. That is, I make no claim that it is either a representative or a comprehensive sample of the English-language ethnographicfilms
I suggest that a similar argument can be made with regard to the three key ethnographicfilm authors whose praxes I consider in this part of the book – Jean Rouch, Robert Gardner and Colin Young. In each case, they were responsible for establishing a particular ethnographicfilm-making praxis that other film-makers have since followed, though rarely so systematically that any clearly defined ‘schools’ have emerged.
In Rouch's case, as his producer Pierre Braunberger once said of him, he had no direct predecessors, nor any direct successors, but
of the second decade of the twenty-first century, by which time digital technology had brought the possibility of film-making within the range of both the technical capabilities and budgets of many millions of people the world over. During this period, there have also been major changes both in the conception of ethnography within academia and in the political constitution of the wider world. All of these factors have impacted on the development and diversification of the genre of ethnographicfilm, as I seek to show.
This book has grown out of
What is it like to be a Muslim possessed by a jinn spirit? How do you find refuge
from madness and evil spirits in a place like Denmark? As elsewhere in
Europe and North America, Danish Muslims have become hypervisible through
intensive state monitoring, surveillance, and media coverage. Yet their religion
remains poorly understood and is frequently identified by politicians,
commentators, and even healthcare specialists as the underlying invisible cause
of ‘integration problems’. Over several years Christian Suhr followed
Muslim patients being treated in a Danish mosque and in a psychiatric hospital.
With this book and award-winning film he provides a unique account of the
invisible dynamics of possession and psychosis, and an analysis of how the
bodies and souls of Muslim patients are shaped by the conflicting demands of
Islam and the psychiatric institutions of European nation-states. The book
reveals how both psychiatric and Islamic healing work not only to produce relief
from pain, but also entail an ethical transformation of the patient and the
cultivation of religious and secular values through the experience of pain.
Creatively exploring the analytic possibilities provided by the use of a camera,
both text and film show how disruptive ritual techniques are used in healing to
destabilise individual perceptions and experiences of agency, so as to allow
patients to submit to the invisible powers of psychotropic medicine or God.
The third Author whose contribution to the praxis of ethnographicfilm-making we consider in this part of the book is very different from the other two. Colin Young was both the original intellectual architect and also the initial practical enabler of the approach to ethnographicfilm-making known as Observational Cinema, which since the 1970s has been one of the most influential in the English-speaking world. However, although he may have shot some ethnographic footage now and again, he has not been a practitioner in the active sense of Jean