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Evolution of a concept
David MacDougall

O NE often hears the question, ‘What is an ethnographic film?’ I have an answer to this, but the problem is that there are so many answers. For a field that has become increasingly prominent, with books, university programmes and festivals dedicated to it, one would think there would be some agreement. Instead a kind of cautious ambiguity reigns. Occasionally a scholar will argue for a particular definition or a filmmaker will claim their own practice as the only legitimate one, but, for

in The art of the observer
Paul Henley

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 ethnographic film-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

in Beyond observation
Paul Henley

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 ethnographic film-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

in Beyond observation
Paul Henley

The origins of ethnographic film sponsorship by British television Prior to its sponsorship by television, ethnographic film-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

in Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
A history of authorship in ethnographic film
Author:

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.

Open Access (free)
Paul Henley

Ethnographic film-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 Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
Paul Henley

In this last part of the book, over the course of three chapters, I consider a number of recent examples of English-language ethnographic film-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 ethnographic films

in Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
Paul Henley

I suggest that a similar argument can be made with regard to the three key ethnographic film 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 ethnographic film-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

in Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
Authorship, praxis, observation, ethnography
Paul Henley

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 ethnographic film, as I seek to show. This book has grown out of

in Beyond observation
Islamic exorcism and psychiatry: a film monograph
Author:

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.