The Doon School, locat­ed in Dehra Dun in Uttar Pradesh, is India’s most famous board­ing school for boys and has some­times been called »the Eton of India«. It was estab­lished by a group of Indian nation­al­ists in the 1930s to pro­duce a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers who would help guide the nation after Inde­pen­dence. It has been influ­en­tial in the cre­ation of the new Indian elites and has come to epit­o­mize cer­tain aspects of Indian post-coloniality. 

DOON SCHOOL CRONICLES is the first film in a five film study of the school. Filmed over a two year period, it looks at the life of mid­dle­class Indian boys coming under the influ­ence of insti­tu­tion­al and global pres­sures during their ado­les­cent years. The film explores the »social aes­thet­ics« and ide­ol­o­gy of Doon School through its rit­u­als, the phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment it has cre­at­ed, and its effects upon sev­er­al boys of dif­fer­ent ages and tem­pera­ments. The film is divid­ed into ten »chap­ters«, each headed by a text taken from school documents. 


A por­trait of Lorang, the patri­arch of a large home­stead among the semi­no­madic Turkana of north-west­ern Kenya. At the time the film was made, most Turkana (includ­ing Lorang’s own son) saw their way of life con­tin­u­ing unchanged into the future. Lorang, how­ev­er, thought oth­er­wise, for he had been con­script­ed into the King’s African Rifles and seen some­thing of the out­side world. Upon return­ing to Turkana, he had had to strug­gle to catch up to men of his own age in wealth and senior­i­ty. This is a study of a man who has come to see his soci­ety as vul­ner­a­ble und whose tra­di­tion­al role in it has been shaped by that realization. 


The Prayas Children’s Home for Boys: a mono­lith­ic build­ing, out­ward­ly not unlike a prison, locat­ed in one of New Delhi’s poorer neigh­bor­hoods. The insti­tu­tion pro­vides shel­ter to 350 boys. Some are run­aways, some were sent by their par­ents to find work in the city, others are orphans living on and from the streets of New Delhi. Half of the boys are sub­ject to police super­vi­sion, having run into trou­ble with the law.

Over the course of many months, David Mac­Dougall chron­i­cles the lives of these youths with his camera, let­ting them por­tray their day-to-day exis­tence and invit­ing us into their world. What emerges is a moving col­lec­tion of por­traits – por­traits of boys who, despite their young age, have already expe­ri­enced a great deal. Then one day 181 more boys arrive at the home, all of them from a fac­to­ry that was shut down for employ­ing ille­gal child labor. 

MacDougall’s film avoids pass­ing judg­ment. Its var­i­ous pro­tag­o­nists com­bine to paint a pic­ture of a par­tic­u­lar every­day real­i­ty. Mac­Dougall gives the boys time and space, allow­ing the rea­sons for their sit­u­a­tion and the role of the state insti­tu­tion to grad­u­al­ly come to the fore, in addi­tion to the institution’s lim­i­ta­tions. His camera remains in the con­fines of the home, explor­ing its broad cor­ri­dors, sleep­ing quar­ters, wash­rooms, and workrooms. 

David Mac­Dougall: “The doc­u­men­tary films we get to see on TV nowa­days mainly con­sist of inter­views and a hand­ful of other shots. It’s very easy to make films with­out actu­al­ly exam­in­ing how people live. But just asking them how they live simply isn’t enough. I think this type of narrow per­spec­tive has become a sort of for­mu­la in doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing. In order to over­come it, I began to seek out other aspects of social expe­ri­ence. I try to avoid express­ing every­thing using words. I’m inter­est­ed in how people inter­act with their envi­ron­ment, both ver­bal­ly and non­ver­bal­ly. View­ing the com­mu­ni­ties in which we live as envi­ron­ments gives rise to what may be called “social aes­thet­ics”. This con­tains many diverse aspects: How people move about, how they build build­ings, what sort of clothes they wear, and the rit­u­als they prac­tice. I view com­mu­ni­ties as con­struct­ed com­pos­ite works, which bear col­lec­tive ‘author­ship’ and have fol­lowed a par­tic­u­lar design his­tor­i­cal­ly.“ – Excerpt from an inter­view with David Mac­Dougall led by Volker Kull (Der Kam­era­mann 08/01).


This bril­liant observed doc­u­men­tary, by renowned ethno­graph­ic film­mak­er Judith Mac­Dougall, explores the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion in China, where pho­tog­ra­phy is known as the ” art of regret”.
In the rapid­ly chang­ing city of Kun­ming, people are ambiva­lent about whether they want pho­tog­ra­phy to be a medium of preser­va­tion and evi­dence, or of trans­for­ma­tion and fan­ta­sy. In this dig­i­tal age, the old can be made young again, and anyone can be more beau­ti­ful. In depart­ment stores people can enjoy being trans­formed at com­put­er­ized por­trait stalls. But they also value old photos of the city before it was changed. Many pho­tographs were destroyed during the Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion and mem­o­ries lost for­ev­er. Choic­es about how to regard his­to­ry, real­i­ty, and mate­r­i­al cul­ture con­front every­one in con­tem­po­rary China. 

THE ART OF REGRET is a pro­found and sem­i­nal med­i­ta­tion on the uses of pho­tog­ra­phy and image-making in a cul­ture very much in flux, the film demon­strates that dif­fi­cult choic­es about how to regard his­to­ry, real­i­ty, and mate­r­i­al cul­ture face every­one in con­tem­po­rary China. 

Panel Discussion

Creative Ethnography of Beings and Things

The films by Judith and David Mac­Dougall have had a deci­sive impact on the work of the Sen­so­ry Ethnog­ra­phy Lab. Lucien Cas­taing-Taylor, the founder and direc­tor of the SEL, is the editor of MacDougall’s Tran­scul­tur­al Cinema (1998) and wrote an intro­duc­tion which pro­vides a kind of survey of the state of audio­vi­su­al anthro­pol­o­gy at the turn of the mil­len­ni­um. With J.P. Sni­adec­ki, one of the most pro­duc­tive film­mak­ers to grad­u­ate from the lab, and David Mac­Dougall as our spe­cial guest at the freiburg film forum, we are excit­ed to have them togeth­er in a panel that will dis­cuss the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between their respec­tive positions.

The panel will be chaired by Hen­ning Engelke, the author of a recent com­pre­hen­sive work on ethno­graph­ic film called Doku­men­tarfilm und Fotografie. Bild­strate­gien in der englis­chsprachi­gen Eth­nolo­gie (2007).

Hen­ning Engelke is a member of the Insti­tute of Art His­to­ry of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Frank­furt. Pub­li­ca­tions: The Art That Never Was. US-amerikanis­ch­er Exper­i­men­tal­film 1940 – 1960 (pend­ing); Film als Raumkun­st. Aktuelle Meth­o­d­en und his­torische Per­spek­tiv­en (co-editor, 2012).


Sheep – as far as the eye can see. The anthro­pol­o­gists and film­mak­ers Lucien Cas­taing-Taylor and Ilisa Bar­bash spent three sum­mers doc­u­ment­ing sheep farm­ing at one of the last family-owned ranch­es in the Absaro­ka-Beartooth Moun­tains. A sheep eats, and we see and hear it chew and the tinkle of the bell around its neck. Then it dis­cov­ers the camera and fixes its eyes on us, freez­ing the image. Now all we hear is the wind. Orig­i­nal sound of this kind helps lend pre­ci­sion to every shot. During shear­ing we can actu­al­ly feel the phys­i­cal exer­tion of the shep­herds and the dazed state of the sheep. The order of the gaze in space ana­lyzes the rela­tion­ship of a new­born lamb to the herd, to its mother, and to the shep­herd. Then a thou­sand sheep push through a gate or follow the trail of grass left by a feed­ing machine, and it has the effect of a crowd scene in an epic film. By the time we have reached the top of the moun­tain and the herder calls his mother com­plain­ing of knee pain, our image of the lonely shep­herd has been replaced by that of the cowboy. In scenes like this and in the coarse humor of the ranch­ers as they handle the ani­mals during brand­ing lies the story of free-range sheep farm­ing in the Amer­i­can West, a story that began in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry and is now slowly coming to an end.

Photo Wallahs

Renowned ethno­graph­ic film­mak­ers David and Judith Mac­Dougall explore the many mean­ings of pho­tog­ra­phy in this pro­found and pen­e­trat­ing doc­u­men­tary. The film focus­es on the pho­tog­ra­phers of Mus­soorie, a hill sta­tion in the Himalayan foothills of north­ern India whose fame has attract­ed tourists since the 19th cen­tu­ry. Through a rich mix­ture of scenes that includes the pho­tog­ra­phers at work, their clients, and both old and new pho­tographs, the film exam­ines pho­tog­ra­phy as art and as social arti­fact -- a medium of real­i­ty, fan­ta­sy, memory, and desire.

There is now an inter­est in making films that do not simply deliv­er a state­ment about a topic but open it up in richer and more pro­duc­tive ways. These are films that devel­op com­plex net­works of con­nec­tions and rela­tion­ships. In a sense they are meant as struc­tures for gen­er­at­ing mean­ing. That is cer­tain­ly our inten­tion in PHOTO WALLAHS. We want it to be a resource for a range of obser­va­tions, ideas, and pos­si­bil­i­ties.” (David Mac­Dougall, Visual Anthro­pol­o­gy Review)

Under the palace wall

From the 16th cen­tu­ry the Indian vil­lage of Del­wara in south­ern Rajasthan was ruled as a prin­ci­pal­i­ty of the king­dom of Mewar. Its palace, which over­looks the vil­lage, is now a luxury hotel - a world remote from the daily life of the vil­lagers. Fol­low­ing on from his film SCHOOL SCAPES, which was inspired by the early cinema of Lumière, David Mac­Dougall here employs a series of pre­cise­ly observed scenes to explore Del­wara’s local pri­ma­ry school as a part of con­tem­po­rary vil­lage life—a life that con­tin­ues “under the palace wall”. This beau­ti­ful­ly com­posed film is an elo­quent impres­sion­is­tic por­trait of the life of the vil­lage, with­out a link­ing nar­ra­tive and with­out link­ing char­ac­ters. Rather it shies away from con­ven­tion­al lit­er­al mean­ings to convey instead some­thing more del­i­cate and elu­sive - the feel­ing of the place, the sense of the his­tor­i­cal past that towers over the vil­lage, the vital­i­ty and chaos of the daily life of the vil­lagers. (RAI)