This handbook is intended for those wanting to use documentary filmmaking as a research method to explore subjects and also as a way of expressing ideas. Its focus is practical rather than technical, aiming to complement the many handbooks that already exist covering filmmaking, digital videography, sound recording and video editing. It concentrates on aspects of filmmaking for research purposes at an introductory level that are not so well documented elsewhere, such as the practical stages involved in the production of an ethnographic film. The underlying principal of this handbook is to broaden the application of ethnographic filmmaking to suit a wide range of research areas and documentary expression, encompassing sensory, fictive, observational, participatory, reflexive, performative and immersive modes of storytelling. I have chosen to avoid detailed discussion of technology as this dates quickly. This handbook aims to assist individuals in their personalised searches using online facilities to develop research methods and also teaching, by decoding technical terminology and explaining filmmaking workflows.
Every year at the beginning of August, since 2006, Professor Rob Wilson has been
busy putting the finishing touches to an annual fieldwork expedition in the Scottish
Highlands. Rob is the leader of the ‘Scottish Pine Project’, a dendroclimatological
project aiming to use Scots pine trees (Pinus Sylvestris L.) to reconstruct the climatic
history of Scotland over the last two millennia. During fieldwork, the members
of the Scottish Pine Project and other occasional participants like me collect pieces
of Scots pine wood from forests, buildings and
sounds must first be wrestled into some sort of order by a process of editing, which will undoubtedly force us to look closer into the experience of our fieldwork participants and also of ourselves.
Editing is a repetitive process of organising and attempting to understand many hours of recorded material until it can be distilled and shaped into a coherent narrative, using computer software and technology designed specifically for the purpose. By referencing experiences recorded on location the researcher can develop and test theories about their field site. During
Human life cannot be reduced to the conceptual language with which we render it intelligible or manageable.
Michael Jackson anthropologist and author of Lifeworlds ( 2013 : 7)
There is a fundamental problem for ethnographers when attempting to understand moments of ﬁeldwork that are marked by confusion, ambiguity or uncertainty. How do we attempt to understand something that extends beyond the boundaries of rationality using academic methods that are built on reason? If researchers grow remote from the experiences that colour their ﬁeldwork then a
, how to read a ﬁeldwork situation or relationship and when to take risks. Some issues will be different, such as how the involvement of the ﬁlmmaker can be limited in order to create more scope for an individualised and interactive experience within a ﬂexible narrative.
Most ethnographic documentary encourages the maker to engage critically and reﬂexively with the production of knowledge in the ﬁeld. Recording a two-dimensional ﬁlm is a way of acting in the world, as an extension of seeing and hearing, and editing can be considered akin to reﬂective thinking
of the way that things feel differently for each of us. A ﬁlmmaker, however, seeks proximity to others as a way to interpret their thoughts, emotions and actions through images, sounds and stories that are eventually shared in a different but related cinematic experience. Opportunities for these documentaries are found in daily processes, spoken words and critical events, or they might be discovered outside of our existing conceptual frameworks as we encounter new things along the journey.
Filmmaking for ﬁeldwork is more than using a camera and sound devices to
in the film’s content. The relationships that audience members develop with the protagonists of a film become something new, a cinematic experience entwined in the public act of viewing, which is quite different to the private experience of fieldwork. Previous sections have attempted to show how cinematic tools and techniques are used to relate the unfolding of experience to its narration through affect and the senses. Now that construction work for the film has ended, you may want to think carefully about how filmmaking negotiates this shift from personal
mic, one Zeiss Batis 25mm full frame lens, a mini tripod & batteries tucked away.
Lloyd Belcher (PhD University of Manchester, 2019) ﬁlmmaker and ﬁeldworker
Documentary is driven by ideas but it is navigated with technology that is in a perpetual state of innovation. The task of selecting cinematic equipment is best approached with a strategy for locating the technical features that suit your project rather than having a speciﬁc brand in mind. There are many self-updating references on equipment, such as internet forums, user reviews and blog sites. This
Fieldwork among the no(ta)bles
The trains from Brussels’ Zaventem Airport to the city centre carry thousands
every day. When I took the trip late one evening in July 2005, a Dutch development consultant returning from Africa sat next to me. I had found an apartment
in Brussels online. For the next four weeks, I was going to be an intern at the EU
representation office of one of the most powerful interest groups from Turkey. I
had never been to this post-industrial, northern European, polyglot city Turkish
An accusation in the course of fieldwork
Before one is guilty, one is already uniquely and irreplaceably in a position of
shame in regard to those about whom one is to write.1
I am building my career on the loss of a man named Stojan Sokolović (and
on the loss of many millions of others, who may or may not resemble him).
And one night, he told me: ‘You write about violence – you say that fear
is a violence – that the things that cause fear and insecurity are violences.
But you do not know how that fear