Fri, 31-May-19 10:00 AM

Anthro­po­log­i­cal film­mak­ing: Lessons learned

As young novice in Anthro­pol­o­gy in the field, I made draw­ings of people and asked chil­dren to do the same thing; I also took pic­tures and shot 16 mm film mate­r­i­al. This was in East­ern Niger 1970. When I went home, I was full of expec­ta­tions and looked for­ward to convey all my impres­sions and images from people’s lives in Niger to people in Norway. I did not at all expect the trou­ble I got into: how­ev­er beau­ti­ful a woman was on my pic­ture or in my photo, my Nor­we­gian audi­ences only showed pity.

I met the same chal­lenges that Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin strug­gled with in their film work during the fifties and six­ties. When Rouch screened his film LES MAITRES FOUS, about the Hauka rites in the forest of the Gold Coast in Paris, the French audi­ence inter­pret­ed the film in a way that made them think that the Africans were wild and that they behaved like ani­mals. Rouch’s super­vi­sor Marcel Gri­aule told him not to screen the film in France, and later on, the French author­i­ties pro­hib­it­ed the film.

Edgar Morin has said that doc­u­men­tary films are ‘lying’ and manip­u­lat­ing since they pre­tend to convey the real­i­ty, the truth, which fic­tion films do not. On the one side, the film­mak­er edits his films; on the other, it is the audi­ence itself, which frames his films. (…) In spite of the traps you may fall in, I also learned that visual sto­ries have an unimag­in­able poten­tial for the build­ing of cross-cul­tur­al under­stand­ing. Through my entire career, I there­fore have con­tin­ued to strug­gle and exper­i­ment with ways to visu­al­ize people’s lives cross-cul­tur­al­ly.

In my Mas­ter­class, I want to talk about how I have used my expe­ri­ences in my anthro­po­log­i­cal films by relat­ing how my think­ing about nar­ra­tive strate­gies devel­oped cumu­la­tive­ly from film to film.