I’ve been watching a lot of recently produced ethnographic films, either shot in the Asia-Pacific, or produced by its citizens, in the context of the forthcoming Aperture Film Festival. It has been interesting to note how conservative most of the films are – a very old-fashioned relationship between the ethnographer/filmmaker/anthropologist is acted out with the ‘subject’, who rarely has any dialogue with the film-maker, or any control over the object that s/he is making. Many of these films feel exploitative. The ‘subject’ seems to make the film-maker a gift of her/his life with no gain from the process at all. Furthermore, whether the subject would actually agree with her or his representation is quite unclear. The initial act of generosity is perhaps compounded by the subject’s often apparently limited understanding of the cultural and academic context of ethnographic film. Often filmed in an observational style, dialogue between subject and film-maker is usually poorly represented in the film, if it existed at all. However, there were some notable exceptions.
Whether we’ll be able to sing or not, we’ll be there because you’ve recorded it.
Indian film-makers Anjali Monteiro and KP Jayasankar have made a series of films over the last decades, including Naata (The Bond) (2003), Do Din Ka Mela (A Two-Day Fair) (2009) and So Heddan So Hoddan (Like Here Like There) (2011). The last is my favourite, although all are good. A beautifully shot, slow-paced meditation contemporary Sufi culture as it has been handed down and lived as everyday experience among the Jatts of Gujarat. The film makers show the subjects discussing among themselves the reasons to make the film; at times the subjects become the interviewers. In the other films, we watch the subjects viewing the film-makers’ footage. The result is not only a moving and beautiful film, but one in which the subjects appear to take ownership of the project, as they proselytise and philosophise about their place in the world. It’s a hard life, but one tempered by inestimable beauty and a deeply felt religious mythology.
The following two works embrace the participatory principle more explicitly, but in very different ways.
To remember the Khmer Rouge is a painful thing, yet it is an essential step for our country”
Although to a large extent produced by amateurs, the production values do not suffer as a result.
There are many ways to be participatory, and none of the above use social media. My own developing project, Wherever I lay my hat, uses Instagram, Twitter and (hopefully when it is complete) a comment function, to creative a more inclusive project around the theme of living globally.
We want (u) to know (2009) Dir. Ella Pugliese, Nou Va and the people of Thnoi Lok, Cambodia (2011) Www.we-want-u-to-know.com
So Heddan So Hoddan (Like Here like there) (2009) Dirs. Anjal Monteiro and K P Jayasankar. Kutch, Gujarat, India (58 mins) http/::likeherelikethere.wordpress.com
Stori Tombuna Dir. Paul Wolffram (2011) (1 hour 29 minutes) http://storitumbuna.wordpress.com/