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Film Review Essay

Reframing Ethnographic Film:

A "Conversationyywith David MacDougall and Judith MacDougall
ILISABARBASH views, but also in their personalities, in their disposi-
Universite' des Antilles et de la Guyane tions, in idiosyncratic nuances of behavior. We see-
and feel-the weight of world-historical processes
pressing on the limited (which is simply to say "situ-
Universite' des Antilles et de la Guyane
ated") phenomenological experience of human sub-
DAVID AND JUDITH MacDougall are the most prolific jects as they go about their daily lives.
and important ethnographic filmmakers in the anglo- The MacDougalls' films have also departed from
phone world today. They trained in filmmaking at the dominant documentary film style in various ways.
UCLA in the late 1960s, married soon after, and have Standard documentaries, to get their message, moral,
devoted the years since to making more than 20 ethno- or argument across, tend to resort either to scripted
graphic documentaries. More often than not they co- voice-over narration or else to set-up interviews in
direct their films, with Judith recording the sound and which people report on their experience after the fact.
David the picture. By contrast, in the MacDougalls' films, as in observa-
Most of their early films were shot in East Africa tional cinema more broadly, we see people actually
during the late 1960s and the 1970s among Jie and living their lives, rather than simply telling us about
Turkana pastoralists in Uganda and Kenya (e.g., To them, with all the attenuation and affectation that in-
Live w i t h Herds (19721, Under the Men's Tree [1974], volves. It is not that their subjects pretend that the
and Lorang's Way [1979]). Aided by the inherent in- camera is not there; it is just that for much of the time
dexicality and concreteness of photographic images, they're not very interested in it. Additionally, the Mac-
their films took leave of the dominant style of ethnog- Dougalls were among the first documentarians to sub-
raphy of the time. Neither generalizing about a dis- title indigenous speech, allowing foreign viewers to
crete culture or society, conceived as an organic hear subjects speaking an alien language and under-
whole, nor restricting themselves to the impersonal stand what they were saying in (as far as possible)
abstractions of structural-functionalism-and yet in their own terms. The technology of subtitling is so
no way sacrificing attention to larger theoretical is- much taken for granted nowadays that it is easy to
sues such as the intergenerational transmission of cul- overlook the extent to which it has been instrumental
ture, very much a theme in all their work-their early in bringing ethnographic subjects alive on the screen
films were distinguished by their perceptive and subtle as real, reflective, flesh-and-blood human beings; but
depiction of moments of social interaction and per- when the spectators at the 1972 Venice Film Festival
sonal reflection: the fleeting fragments of human life watched To Live w i t h Herds, they were absolutely
that James Agee called "the small casual scraps of ex- astonished to be able to understand what the Jie were
istence." Quite a while before written Africanist an- saying.
thropology was to follow suit, the MacDougalls were Most documentaries-even today-are edited in a
using film to evoke individual embodied experience. manner akin to fiction films: the original footage is cut
Almost all of their films have focused in one way and pasted in the editing room and reassembled into
or another on forces of social change, and many of sequences in which shots taken from quite diverse
their African films highlight changes wrought by colo- camera angles are adjoined. This has the effect of plac-
nialism and neocolonial "development" policies. While ing the spectator more in the position of a superhuman
they do anything but give us an eagle-eyed view of the observer than in a position that actually reflects the
political terrain or plot its structural coordinates, they optical (or even subjective) perspective of the film-
nonetheless succeed in showing how exogenous politi- maker at the time of filming. As David has insisted,
cal-economic forces manifest themselves in the lives "Implicit in a camera style is a theory of knowledge."
of particular people-not only in their changing world- The MacDougalls have consistently fought against

American Anthropologist98(2):371-387. Copyright 0 1996. American Anthropological Association

372 A M E R I C A NA N T H R O P O L O G I S T V O L . 9 8 , N o . 2 J U N E1 9 9 6

such mainstream cinematic conventions and have days trends. Far from ethnographic film simply filling
sought instead to develop an unprivileged camera one niche among others in anthropologys expanding
style, one that preserves long takes and retains within attention to the visual, and far too from conceiving of
the finished films traces of the original encounters ethnographic films as merely illustrative of or in any
that gave rise t o them. simple way analogous to written ethnography, the
Yet this does not mean that the MacDougalls MacDougalls believe that ethnography itself can be
films have disregarded the editorial and critical poten- conducted filmically-not in opposition to writing but
tial of montage. Their films juxtapose shots to a vari- neither then as an afterthought to it nor for mere re-
ety of ends-whether to contrast adjacent sequences, cord-making purposes; rather, in such a way that the
t o bring out underlying relationships that would other- films themselves embody all the interpretive complex-
wise go unremarked, or to hint at the films relation- ity that ideally lies at the heart of anthropology. More
ship t o the reality they claim in some way t o represent. importantly, the MacDougalls body of films already
For all their long observational takes, their films pre- exemplifies what they propose.
sent themselves as anything but transparent to the The following conversation was to have taken
world they depict. In fact, at least within the context place in 1994. In fact, building on recorded face-to-
of anthropology, the MacDougalls films have been face conversations in 1994 and 1995, it was finally con-
pioneering examples of reflexivity avant la lettre. ducted by correspondence in August and September
They typically acknowledge, or indicate, the filmmak- 1995. David and Judith responded to our questions
ers determining presence in a variety of ways-not separately, and then grouped their replies together.
only with rhetorical textual intertitles, first-person
commentary, and still and moving shots of themselves *****
and their paraphernalia, but also by letting us hear
their own laconic questions as well as their subjects Lucien: There would seem to be quite a broad consensus
responses, or with an occasional shot of someones across the humanities and human sciences that while
surprised face as they catch a glimpse of the camera, the earlier linguistic turn,as represented by structural-
having forgotten that it was running-in short, in ism, poststructuralism, and deconstruction, is not alto-
pretty much any way except for a heavy-handed Brecht- gether exhausted, it is at least partially giving way to a
ian baring of the device that is the stock-in-trade of an visual moment. In a variety of disciplines, images are
increasingly moribund avant-garde. Thus their films being either embraced or reviled for qualities that are
lack both the presumption of omniscience of much distinct from those of prosaic textuality. In this new
voice-over-driven documentary and the presumption climate, what do you think might be the role and future
of objectivity of much observational cinema. In their of ethnographic film?
own terms, their style is as participatory as it is ob- David: I think one has to begin thinking of ethnographic
servational. Their later films about political resistance film not simply in a potentially complementary role to
and cultural regeneration among Aboriginal Austra- written anthropology, a useful handmaiden, but in con-
lians (including Familiar Places [ 19801, The House- tradistinction to it, even in opposition to conventional
Opening [ 19801, and Takeover [ 1980]), made partly at anthropology. There are fundamental contradictions
the initiative of the communities themselves, were to between the word and the image in anthropology, and
be more hybrid still-complexly (and at times ambigu- anthropology has had a long and uneasy relation to the
ously) authored blends of the voices of the filmmakers visual that has never been resolved. How do you begin
and their subjects. These Australian films are as much to make the shft from a word-and-sentence-based an-
works of testament on the subjects part and advocacy thropological thought to an image-and-sequence-based
on the filmmakers part as they are works of documen- anthropological thought? I think you need to begin by
tation pure and simple. looking at the varied forms of anthropologcal knowl-
Based since 1975 in Canberra, Australia, David edge. There are domains of knowledge that have been
and Judith have recently made a film about photogra- of fundamental importance to anthropology, particu-
phy in Mussoorie, an Indian hill station (Photo Wallahs larly in fieldwork, but that tend to get suppressed in
[ 1991]), and David has directed a film about three Sar- anthropological writing. For example, in addition to
dinian shepherds facing an uncertain future (Tempus descriptive, structural, and explanatory knowledge-
de Baristas [1993]). With further projects in the which I consider to belong to the factual, relational, and
works-in the immediate future, both in Sardinia and theoretical domains-there is also affective knowl-
India-their output continues apace. However, while edge, which belongs to the experiential domain. Much
visual anthropology seems lately to have been attract- that is learned in fieldwork in this domain seems to be
ing increasing academic interest, the MacDougalls eliminated when it is passed through the mesh of an-
work remains in many ways a countercurrent to to- thropological writing, not perhaps because of writing
FILM' R E V I E W E S S A Y 373

itself, but because of particular, consecrated forms of dyslexia But most anthropologists are probably per-
writing. Films by Jean Rouch and others have shown us plexed by visual media simply because they have never
that there are cinematic ways of articulating some of "studied" it and there is little opportunity to do so as a
the more elusive aspects of social experience that con- part of the discipline.
cern anthropologists. I think film may therefore not David: If films are distrusted or considered irrelevant by
only enhance the kinds of knowledge that we already anthropologists, it's perhaps because they have too
have but make possible new kinds of knowledge. much meaning and yet not enough meaning. Not
Whether these become acceptable aspart of the knowl- enough, since they appear to go only partway toward
edge of anthropologyis what in labor relations is called the distillation that anthropology requires. Too much,
a "demarcation m u t e . " because they leave open too many possible interpreta-
Lucien: I often find that anthropologistsare unsettled by tions. They leave too much to the viewer-too much to
films, as if they're unsure how to talk about them. Why come to conclusions about. Writing on a page is, after
do you think this is? Do you think there's anythingfilmic all, a close cousin to speaking, but images on a screen
that resists reduction into anthropological writing? are nothing like that. If films were somehow translated
More specifically, might photographic and especially into anthropological writing, the density of material
filmic images have a different relationship to lived ex- they contained would make them seem exhaustingly
perience from text? [See Figure 1.] Might ethnographic descriptive. We'd be overloaded, unable to grasp an
films have afhities with other literary forms and gen- overall structure, whereas in images description is im-
res? What anthropologicaltraditions would you want to plicit. If film has any resemblance to writing, it's to
relate ethnographic film to? narrative and poetic forms rather than to academic
Judith: When I was a graduate student in film at UCLA, I prose. When a film creates ideas, it's through recurring
tried for a while to devise a system of writing, a sym- variations on a set of themes, or juxtapositions of ma-
bolic system similar to a musical score or dance nota- terial, or what Eisenstein called "collision."We begin to
tion, which could be used for making notes about the see things in terms of other things, which is to say that
films I saw and help me analyze them later. It became we see them metaphorically.Anthropological writing is
apparent that thiswas a rather silly idea because mean- often concerned with such meanings-in discussionsof
ing in cinema is achieved not by identifymg the sum of symbolism, for example-but I have a feeling that if it
identifiable parts at any particular moment but via a used poetic devices to arrive at them, we might feel
gestalt which operates in another way altogether. Per- coerced, whereas film is so firmly grounded in the
haps such a system might be useful if one were planning concrete that, whatever the suggestionsbeing made, we
how big crews would shoot fiction films, but later Josef can always fall back on the stubborn literalness of the
von Sternberg told me that he too had tried to devise images. The lesson to be learned, I think, is that we just
such a system and also decided it was a bad idea. At any can't expect to get the same things from ethnographic
rate, the critical decisions determininghow a documen- films that we get from anthropological writing.
tary film should be photographed and edited are not
contingent upon any written system. Nomenclature and
syntactical considerationsare learned as a part of film-
making, but they are internalized much as musical no-
tation is for jazz musicians. Over time, experience
allows certain aspects of the craft to become almost
automatic, as it does in writing. Some anthropologists
don't understand the craft of filmmaking and seem
relatively incapable of "reading" film, but anthropology
always has been and always will be a product of print
literacy, and film "literacy" will continue to be at the
discretion of those who choose to take it up. The modes
in which people understand themselves and the world
differ greatly from one individual to another, and no
doubt some of the differences are the result of physical
limitations,such as dyslexia or color blindness or deaf-
ness. Perhaps those who are most frustrated by the
filmic experience are those who demand from it the Figure 1
unrealizable, either because they don't recognize the Arwoto in A Wife among Wives (1974/1981), directed by David Mac-
inherent limitations of film as a method of communica- Dougall and Judith MacDougall. Photo courtesy of Fieldwork Films,
tion or possibly because they suffer from asort ofvisual Canberra, Australia.
374 A M E R I C A NA N T H R O P O L O G I S T V O L . 9 8 , N o . 2 JUNE 1996

If visual anthropology is still viewed with some order to create images is closer to gathering exactly the
condescension by the anthropolo@cal profession, I right wood for making a canoe than it is to note-taking,
thmk it is also because of the contexts in which most which represents process rather than production.
ethnographic films have been made and used. Particu- Notes are a resource to be drawn upon but they repre-
larly in America, the funding for visual anthropology sent a fluid resource, one that can be called upon or
has come largely from educationalrather than research discarded, changed, revised-a mnemonic rather than
organizations. Most anthropo1ogm.lfilms talk down to an artifact. Once a filmmaker has returned home, the
their audiences, especially films made for public televi- neglected or forgotten shot can never be realized, and
sion audiences. The emphasis on making films to teach the completed shots will always remain what they are;
introductory anthropology has meant that few ethno- they can be altered and reflected upon but not remade.
graphic films address original and difficult problems in If one puts ones foot into it, it remains there.
anthropological research or are produced at the doc- David: It would be a pity if the enthusiasm for visual
toral or postdoctoral level. Its largely through the insis- anthropology encouraged young anthropologiststo as-
tence of Ph.D. studentsthemselvesthat some universities sume that images dont require an articulation fully as
are now regarding film as having more than a didactic rigorous as anthropological writing. On the other hand,
role. there are fundamental discontinuities between what
Lucien: There does all of a sudden seem to be quite a lot one can do in writing and in film or video. However
of excitement about an emerging visual anthropology, much a film tries to generalizeby holdmg up the specific
even if people are frequently at a loss as to what that as typical or representative, it is always founded on the
might involve. I sometimes feel that discontinuities be- concrete historical image. Susan Sontag once said pho-
tween images and texts, while themselves never abso- tographs dont explain, they simply acknowledge the
lute, are downplayed in the process. As longstandmg existence of something. Films, I believe, can in fact
ethnographicfilmmakerswho have seen waves of inter- explain-through chains of narrative, for example-
est come and go, how do you feel about the contempo- but they still tend to explain only the immedlate in-
rary curiosity for the subject? stance. They lack a mode of more general abstraction.
Judith: There may be a burgeoning interest in visual This is a significant obstacle to conventional scientific
anthropology, but there is very little actually being and academic discourse, which is built upon assertions,
done. Part of the problem is probably a result of aca- presented either as descriptive statements or hypothe-
demic institutions finding it difficult to accommodate ses or conclusions. In contrast to the kinds of state-
disciplines that seem to upset so many of the classical ments found in scientific writing, films create meaning
dlchotomies that organize academic life (&science, through implication, often by doing nothing more than
visudwritten, technicdacademic). Economic factors placing one element next to another and asking us to
certainly enter into it, but researchers could produce see the connection between them. The more the rest of
films or multimedia for relatively little cost-using a the film contextualizes that juxtaposition, the more
tape recorder, still camera, and a Hi-8 video camera-if clearly we will be directed toward particular kinds of
proper training were available to them. On the other meanings. However, film meaning is never of the sort
hand, the expense of producing 16mm films for televi- that will satisfy those desiring definitive statements.
sion discouragesinnovation,especiallyby younger,less There is always an ambiguity about the way a film
established filmmakers. But the basic problem lies in implies something. It suggests, it draws possible con-
how best to transpose our experience of beingthere nections, it creates reverberations and harmonics. But
back to here, and what we want to communicate about this is also one of its strengths, because that sort of
it. I am not sure what anthropologists want to do with complexity is also characteristic of much of our social
perceptual knowledge, or how they actually see. I sus- experience. Something with a meaning in one context
pect that certain anthropologistsmight see very differ- will have a different meaning in another, but it will
ently from filmmakers, and differences increase as a nevertheless drag overtones of its other meaning into
result of practicing their respective disciplines. How the new context, whether anyone acknowledgesthat or
one exists in space and time not only affects ones not.
production but transforms and privileges certain Because of t h , I think anthropologists should be-
modes of perception. But it is difficult to know how this ware of thinking of visual anthropology primarily as a
functions. means of illustrating preexisting anthropological
When an anthropologist goes somewhere else, it is knowledge. If you do that, it means knowing what
fieldwork.The comparable period for a filmmaker is youre going to say before you make the film, so that
called production.The terms reflect quite accurately the film is inevitably a repetition, an illustration. The
the differences in methodology. The physical act of French, in contrast with the Anglo-Americanview, seem
exposing silver halide (or magnetic tape) to light in to regard film more as a research method, through
FILM R E V I E W E S S A Y 375

which one explores a particular situation or problem. ful if they can't immediately comprehend the present
One learns something through the making of the film. tense action. Some academics find it distressingto feel
The assumption is that one begins a film from a position lost even temporarily-either physically ("Where's the
of uncertainty, and one must take risks. That, of course, map?") or intellectually ("Is he the mother's brother?")-
is anathema to funding organizations and television and they dislike finding themselves in the position of
executives, who always want to know what you are tourist rather than of authoritative participant-ob-
going to end up with before they give you the money to server. Nonacademics sometimes understand more
do it. But in this kind of filmmaking, you simply can't quickly because they don't expect to know everything
know. To some social scientists as well, such an ap- immediately and are more content to watch and wait.
proach smacks of a lack of discipline,perhaps contrib- Perhaps part of the problem for anthropologists lies in
uting to the view that visual anthropology is a less their expectation that films will follow the form of a
serious pursuit than conventional anthropology. It's written ethnographic essay, laid out in the scientific
part of the problem of confusing original research with format that presents the conclusions first.
publication. After all, when you begin to write a book, I think that it's somewhat futile to ask about the fit
you're expected to know what it's about. But when you between the film style and film subject because one gets
finally edit a film, you're constrained to "write" it with thrown into the form and content debate, which is never
the shots produced at the very moments of discovery. very useful unless it's tied to specific examples. Film
IZisa: What is the role of style in ethnographic film? Are form is always difficult to talk about in the abstract,
there stylistic problems that are specific to cross-cul- partly because when any one component of a film is
turd film? isolated from the whole, it becomes something else
Judith: Style in ethnographicfilm functions as in any film, altogether. It's also difficult to remember specifically
fictional or documentary. Style reflects the process of how one came to certain decisions regarding style be-
the making of a film. I don't think we actually set out to cause if the film succeeds, its style is worn effortlessly,
make a film in a certain "style," but there are some like skin, and there seems to be no possibility of any
stylistic devices-for example, narration-that we other.
might decide to reject from the very beginning. Then David: On the more general question of the fit between
other strategies must be used in the shooting that can film style and the subject, I think we're alwaysbound to
compensate for the lack of narration. It sounds very some extent by the conventions and technology of our
negative, but often style is just that which one rejects, time. The forms and rhetoric of filmmaking convey
and then of course something new must be found some aspects of social experience much better than
during the course of production. Every new film de- others. For example, I don't think we know very well
mands a constant reassessment of how to approach the how to deal with the passage of time in films. There's a
making of it. tendency to impose a heightened pace, to distrust one's
Ilisa: In crosscultural films, are there specific problems subject matter. It's often shortening that takes the
that revolve around the issue of translation? Are they meaning out of things that would otherwise be mean-
different in kind from those inherent in written ethnog- ingful. It became clear, for example, that the scene of
raphy and from those involving all documentary films? Miminu making cheese in Tempus de Baristas would
What is the fit between film style and film subject? work only if it were kept long; otherwise it would be
Judith: I think the major challenge in making observa- merely a technological process. But kept long, it begins
tional films in unfamiliar cultures is not so much one of to communicate a sense of Miminu's solitary life and his
"translation" but one of creating an environment that internalization of the details of his work. For me, when
allowsviewers room to interpret the behavior of people the cheese appears it's like a moment of creation, the
operating within a very different social system. Yes, the beginning of a new world.
problems are different in kind from those in written Ilisa: Conversely, what is the relation between film style
anthropology, and one must counter the expectations and filmmaker? Rouch's films have that unmistakable
of those who expect a didactic essay. The hardest thing "Rouchian" style, one that reflects his own buffoonery
in the filmmaking process is to determine exactly how and personal ebullience. It is difficult not to see in Tim
much manipulation and intervention is needed to en- Asch's films his own character: searching, always won-
sure a reasonably accurate interpretation and yet never dering what's going on. Many of your filmsseem laconic
to "tell" too much. Constructing the beginning of a film and relaxed. Are you conscious of any fit between your
is especially tricky because one must set up the themes, film style and your ownpersonalities?If so, do you work
characters, and style clearly, and yet they should never for or against that tendency? If we admit the role of the
be too clear, otherwise the viewers won't bring their author in ethnographicfilms, where does this leave the
own interpretation to it and they'll expect always to be subjects? [See Figure 2.1 Does it even make sense to
"told" what is happening and become angry and resent- imagine synchronizingfilm form with cultural style?
376 A N T H R O P O L O G I S TV O L . 9 8 , N o . 2

David: Although our style has changed over time, I sup- sonal instrument. On a good day I sense an extraordl-
pose there is some underlying consistency. Part of it is nary synchrony between what Im seeing and how Im
no doubt due to our working method, rather than to our filming it, almost as if life were arranging itself artfully
individual personalities. We encourage a relaxed, unde- for me. I often have a feeling of love and admiration for
manding atmosphere while were filming, mingling our the people Im looking at through the viewfinder, a
filming activities as much as possible with our ongoing sense of their perfection, mixed with a certain sadness
interchanges with people. On the other hand, there may I cant quite account for. These are all perhaps factors
be aspects of Judiths outgoing relationships with peo- in the style of the films.
ple and my fondness for understatement apparent in I constantly feel the need to simpllfy,to get rid of a
our work. We dont necessarily feel relaxed when were lot of the unnecessary baggage of film.I do fight against
filming. I am often on tenterhooks, on the alert for the easy aestheticization of film images. Its not hard to
particular themes and relationships, or desperately get beautiful images-anyone can learn to do it. But its
waiting for something to emerge in front of the camera. usually irrelevant, and it shouldnt be allowed to get in
I constantly reexamine the analytical basis and the the way of the subject. Theres a fundamental difference
structures of the film in my mind. I feel frustrated and between conventionally beautiful images and a film-
elated by turns. I am often irritated and angry with makers sensitive response to people and places and
myself for opportunities missed, or when I feel Ive shot things-that is, the impression we get of balance and
something badly. I dont really edoy the technology of understandmg. The framing of images should be a re-
filming per se. I regard it as a necessary tool, although flection of thought and feeling. I dont know how we can
my camera does become for me a very sensitive, per- create film styles more appropriate to different cultural

Figure 2
David MacDougall and Pietro during the filming of Tempus de Baristas (1992/1993). Photo courtesy of Fieldwork Films, Canberra, Australia.
F I L M R E V I E WE S S A Y 377

styles. Perhaps we should reexamine certain potentials Ilisa: Photo W&hs represents a radical departure from
of film in the light of cultural practice-the use of your usual style, which tended before to be focused
repetition, for example. Otherwise, I think we have to around a few main characters, following their lives for
work through an intuitive sense of what's appropriate. a certain amount of time. Photo WaUahs seemed to me
Lucien: Stylistic differencesin your oeuvre seem to coin- to be more of a montage-like argument or a musing
cide with cultural, even continental differences: the about photography. Why did you choose thisstyle? Why
Turkana and Jie films, the Australian films, and Photo make a film about ideas rather than people?
WaUahs in India all have markedly different styles. To David: In the case of Photo WaUahs, the stylistic differ-
what extent was this experimentation on your part? To ence was a matter of deliberate choice. We were in-
what extent was it forced upon you by the cultural itially interested in different human responses to
differences with which you were confronted? Tempus photography. Then we became interested in how those
de Baristus seemsclosest to the African films,although were worked out in a particular cultural setting. The
it focuses less on dialogue and perhaps more on your subject of the film was a specific cultural product, but
subjects' affective relationship to their habitat. also how that product was regarded and used. At that
Dawid: I think for us stylistic differences have been partly time we wanted to explore a new way of making ethno-
forced upon us and are partly the result of exploring graphic films, and this seemed an appropriate subject
new possibilities. They've been forced upon us by the with which to try to do it. We had in mind a film that
fact that the same style isn't always productive for all would present the audience with a complex network of
subjects. There may be dissonances between a particu- meanings out of which one could trace lines in many
lar documentary style and a particular cultural style. directions,but also which itself stood for the extraordi-
The clearest instance was in Australia, where we found nary complexity that we found to exist even in relation
that the style we had used in pastoralist societies in East to one small aspect of life in one small place. I think we
Africa simply wasn't appropriate in Aboriginal society. had in mind somethinglike Peter Wollen's idea of a film
People had a wholly different way of expressing them- being not a declaration about a subject but an instru-
selves, and if the film was to be attuned to that, it had ment for discoveries about it, a kind of rich matrix. So
to be made differently. In fact, those films can be seen we intentionally made a film that was carefully struc-
as a series of attempts to find satisfactory ways of tured, but without a main central character or central
representing Aboriginal culture. I'm not sure we were event or narrative, so that the audience would have to
ever really successful. look for something else in it.
Judith: Although some of the stylistic choices must occur In asense, each of our filmshas been an experiment.
at the shooting stage, the decisions made during editing Every film poses new problems, and every film offers
create the frame through which filming style is often an opportunity to go a little beyond what one has been
interpreted. Much of the time spent editing an observa- able to do before, or to go off in a different direction. It
tional film involvesjuggling and balancing context and would be very dull to approach a new film with a set
content, and we spend quite a long time in the editing routine, knowing exactly how you were going to do it.
process, certainly compared to many television docu- And it would somehow be disparaging of the subject as
mentaries. Editing this sort of film is like walking on a well, as though it could teach you nothing new. You
tightrope while juggling a dozen balls and singing, and have to approach each new subject in an inquiring and
it all can cataclysmically crash if the balance goes just responsive frame of mind, willing to take risks and not
a little bit wrong. Observational films using long takes knowing exactly how it's going to end. It's not profes-
are especially difficult to structure because once the sionalism to be able to fit any subject to a particular
rhythms of real time establish themselves as the normal style, to promise you can deliver a certain kind of film.
pattern, condensation often can only be achieved by It's cowardice.
omitting content. It is difficult to ensure a preferred Lucien:Photo W&hs stands out very much, much closer
reading for a complex and extended long take contain- to others' filmmaking styles, less "observational,"
ing several characters and diverse subject matter, and shorter takes, more an aesthetic of the fragment,but it'd
it is even more difficult when cultural difference ob- still be considered "v6rit6" in the loose, TV,colloquial
scures meaning. The Turkana filmswere able to sustain sense of the word-no m a t i o n , and so on.
narrative by employing disjunctive intertitles and first- Judith: I don't really think Photo WaUuhsis very much like
person narration, but the Australian films seemed to mainstream filmmaking (especially television docu-
require a less disruptive style, provided by interior com- mentary), but it does differ markedly from our previous
mentary. Every film represents a new set of parameters films. We wanted primarily to make a film about the
and pathways which must be articulated into a mean- practices and ideas surrounding photography, and the
ingful narrative, and cultural differences are just one "ethnographic"aspects of it came about only when we
part of the equation. decided to locate the film in a small town in India.A film
378 A M E R I C A NA N T H R O P O L O G I S T V O L . 9 8 , N o . 2 J U N E1 9 9 6

about ideas must necessarily rely more upon external ject or person or place. Fllms actually give us extraor-
references, in a manner more like writing. But on the dinarily little out of which to reconstruct their subjects.
other hand, because every image is closely tied to its Fllmsalso provide us with the same sorts of indlces that
referent and cant be unhinged, so to speak, ideas can- we are used to interpreting in daily life-facial expres-
not be manipulated with the same ease as in written sions that stand for inner feelings, sounds that tell us of
texts. The dual nature of the images necessitates mon- things around us, objects associated with certain ways
tages of shorter shots that can be held in memory. We of life, and so on. Thats why film is such a universally
shot quite a lot of long takes and various observational accessible medium. Its often very hard, both in life and
materials that eventually couldntbe used, perhaps be- in films, to distinguish between the physical and the
cause it is impossible to combine sequences of classic emotional, or the visible and invisible. Is anger simply
montage with material that appears more unmediated. an emotion, or is it physical behavior? When we admire
Lucien: Do you consider yourselves observational film- or love or hate someone, can we separate who they are
makers through and through? Would you ever make from its physical embodiment?
(could you ever imagine yourselves ever making) much In making films Im rarely conscious of evocation
use of archival footage, or reenactments, or making per se. Rather, Im seizing upon things that are already
more personaVautobiographiddiaristidfirst-penon expressive,the world speaking itself, as it were. Before
films? (I realize that in subtle and varied ways theres a I made Tempus de Baristus, I made some preliminary
first-personvoice in all your films.) notes, including one that said, Filmpeopleshands. By
Judith: I want to see if its possible to do more with the time I began filming I had completely forgotten that,
shifting modes within a film (for example long takes yet the film is full of hands. I filmed hands not as signs
next to quick montage), to use titles as scenes (as or symbols, nor because they belonged to certain peo-
Eisenstein or Ogawa do), and to incorporate still im- ple-but because literally they were those people. I
ages. I would like to make some short experimental would also suggest that the anthropologist or ethno-
films using video and virtual editing equipment. Such graphic filmmaker involved in fieldwork is not con-
films might be both more formal and more personal. scious of possessing a single, continuous personal
David: Im quite open to the possibility of doing things identity. Our sense of self is constantly ebbing and
differently in the future. For example, Im not opposed flowing-sometimes quite apart and autonomous, at
to using narration, only to using it in certain shopworn other times mergmg with the experience of others. Our
ways. In fact weve used narration in a number of our filming can reflect this. I thmk it is often through physi-
films. And a film like Link-Up Diary uses it in a very cal objects, and through our proximity to the physi-
personal way. I think its also a mistake to jump to cality of others, that we have an intimation of a
conclusions about a film on the basis of certain stylistic different sense of self. Through the visual, film plays
features. A film such as Tempus de Baristas may look upon this possibility, bringing us closer to the experien-
superficiallyvery much like a traditional observational tial world of others.
film, simply because it doesnt declare the filmmakers Lucien: Would you be as quick as Rouch to say that there
presence overtly. But I believe itsfundamentally differ- is almost no boundary between documentary film and
ent in approach from observational films, and that the films of fiction?Despite the ineluctable fictionalizing
presence of the filmmaker can be felt in it in all sorts of of filming, what happens to the meaning of documen-
ways if one really understands the film. Similarly, the taryif we abandon any notion that it has, or aspires to,
style of the fim has been called seamlessby several a privileged relationship to reality?
people who should know better, since its manifestly a David: I would not be nearly as quick as Rouch to say that.
film built upon contrasts and juxtapositions. The boundary may indeed be vague, but that doesnt
Lucien: All your films seem to be about peoples intellec- mean there is no difference on either side of it. I think
tual lives and feelings. They also seem to be about that by fiction, Rouch often means the acting out of
relationships between people; and relationships,while ones dreams, or an imaginary world, in documentary.
they are visible in certain concrete manifestations, Are those films then fiction? After all, dreams are a real
are not inherently visual. [See Figure 3.1 Could you part of ones life. Then, of course, the actors in fiction
talk a little about the relationship between the visible films are real people, but does that make all fiction films
and invisible in your films? documentary? Id like to preserve the distinction, for
David: In a sense, films are extended metaphors of the two reasons. I agree with Bill Nichols that there is a
invisible. When its said that film is an indexical me- fundamental difference between films about living peo-
dium, that doesnt only mean that its signs are physi- ple, who belong to the world regardless of any film that
cally linked to the world, it also means that it evokes might be made about them, and people imagined by a
the physical world through its traces, its indices. The scriptwriter and played by actors. There is far more to
slightest trace is sometimes enough to recreate an ob- the person in documentary than what one films,but

13uvid: Subtitles have their own dynamics. For example,

they present us with speech in segments,not in the flow
that actually characterizes speech. They also reach into
the film and pull out a particular level of meaning. When
a dog barks, the subtitles ignore it. Subtitled films exag-
gerate the importance of speech in social life. That is
part of the price we pay for them. They tend to take
over, so that even if other things are really more impor-
tant, such as how people speak rather than what they
say,you have to keep the subtitles going or the audience
will think something has gone wrong. Subtitles were
almost a logical necessity of making films in synchro-
nous sound in another language, because obviously
audiences wanted to know what people were saying.
Together with synchronous sound, they changed the
whole orientation of ethnographic film, from an empha-
Figure 3 sis upon ritual and technology, and general surveys of
Brendan Mangatopi in mourning for his father in Good-Bye Old Man culture, to an emphasis upon speech, whether in inter-
(1975/1977), directed by David MacDougall. Photo courtesy of Austra- views or spontaneous conversations,and specific peo-
lian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. ple and events. I think this change has been worthwhile,
but I also think it is time to try to get away from the
there is no more to a fictional character than what is in excessively verbal. Sound in films doesn't just mean
the film, however richly it is evoked. Secondly, docu- speech. I think we need to explore sound as environ-
mentary filmmaking is for me importantly a way of ment. I think we need to make films about relationships
making contact with the world, of sensing and declaring expressed nonverbally and the many times in life when
the existence of things, whereas fiction would seem to people are alone.
be a way of adding to the world in its own image. I have Lucien:Observationaland verite films seem to have given
to admit, though, that Bresson is a great filmmaker for way, both in the mainstream (broadcast television) and
me precisely because he reaches beyond the fictional. within the independent community, to interview-based
He is working in Rouch's borderland. films.Some of these are obviously more sophisticated
Judith:If the descriptions in the television guides are any than others and use contrasting sound bites to throw
indication,the terms are becoming increasingly mean- adjacent comments into relief. Others (by no means all)
ingless. "Documentary" seems to include the reen- use interviews as a substitute for voice-over narration.
actment of historical events by actors, interview How do you feel about the shift? What are their respec-
journalism, and nature series. Most "documentaries" tive relations to lived experience? Do interview-based
seen on television are part of a series "about" some-
thing. These things are conveyed to us via a presenter.
It seems that the wfmxce to something real has be-
come more valued than the actual person or thing or
profilmic event itself, and whole events are seldom
shown. Perhaps sports and cooking shows are popular
because they are alone in depicting relatively intact
events. The real world has become quite weightless
because those who depict it don't believe in its inherent
value. I find this state of affairs distressing because
documentary does have a special relationship to the
real world. Its relationshipto its audience is also special
and the maker of a documentary film is responsible to
viewers in a fundamentallydifferent way than are jour-
nalists or fiction filmmakers.
Lucien:Your Jie and Turkana filmsare often credited with
having been among the first to individualizeand human-
ize their subjects by subtitlingtheir dialogue and allow- Figure 4
ing viewers perceive their intellectual life. [See Scene from TO Live with Herds (1968/1972), directed by David Mac-
Figure 4.1 How do you feel about subtitles today? Dougall. Photo courtesy of Fieldwork Films, Canberra, Australia.
380 A M E R I C A NA N T H R O P O L O G I S T V O L . 9 8 , N o . 2 J U N E1 9 9 6

films really provide the context that some viewers felt ence. Interview-based films are always, on one level,
to be lacking in observational films? retrospective and secondhand. They report on experi-
Judith: I think the shift from observational material to ence,they dontuse film to confront us with experience,
interview material has more to do with changes in except as people look back upon it. Theres a definite
technology and changing economic realities than it skill attached to making an effective interview film, and
does with an intentional modification of filmmaking certainly a lot of work, but somehow these films are
methodology or philosophy. Shooting an interview on evasive. They dont really come to grips with film as a
video is cheap, easy, and quick, and shooting observa- medium for engaging with life as it is lived-what Edgar
tional material, even on tape, is enormously time con- Morin called the work of the cinkaste-plongeur, who
suming and thus expensive. Observational footage has dives into life. They have a prefabricated quality, which
been replaced by visuals authenticated by interview. of course is what television executives love about
This footage is also comparatively inexpensive because them-theyre predictable to make. You propose an
it usually depicts public events that fall into familiar idea and then go around and collect interviews and
categories,such as political events,disasters, and so on, archival footage. But its sad to see young filmmakers
and thus it can exist as a simple metonym, which re- going out to make a documentary when all they can
quires little interior contextualization. I worry that be- think of is to sit people down and interview them.
cause this sort of journalistic practice has almost ZZisa: Although your films have very clear structures, they
completely replaced older, more open, film forms, the seem to have very open beginnings and ends. Why and
expectations of viewers who have never seen a docu- how is this? Is it a response to the lack of closure in life
mentaryare becoming very restricted. The preconcep- and experience itself?
tions that bias interpretation are a crucial part of the David: I think the openness has perhaps more to do with
process of mediation. For example, a viewer perceives the kind of engagement wed like from the audience
a film very differently when it is seen on a television than with a general comment on life. But having said
monitor as part of an academic seminar than when its that, Id also admit that I see the films very much as
projected in a theater. F~lmfestivals are important be- excerpts out of the lives of other people, and their lives
cause audiences are increasingly composed of people dont begin and end with the film. We want to make that
who expect to see nonfiction either as televisiodvideo very clear, because it has to do with acknowledging
or as diminutive multimedia images on a computer what a film is, and the relative importance of a life and
screen. Even though popular literature and television a film.
have developed the curious inversion of nonfiction One of the differences between academic writing
viewed as entertainment (Cops, Americas Funniest and film has to do with this question of structure. An-
Home Videos) and fiction is consumed as information thropological papers tend to start with a statement of
(James Clavells Rising S u n or the feature film JFK), what theyre going to demonstrate and then proceed to
there is a tendency, especially in academic circles, to demonstrate it, often going over it even a third time in
equate nonfiction with information. a closing summary. Some films begin this way, but we
David: I have considerable reservations about interview- prefer to introduce the audience to the subject and then
based films. But one great potentiality of television, I gradually lead them into certain discoveries and to ask
think, is to allow us to watch and listen to people certain questions. In this way we feel the film leaves
talking. We can get a real insight into a persons ideas open a wider range of factors that may eventually bear
and character through such material-for example, in on the questions were interested in. In that sense, wed
recent films on Raymond Firth, Noam Chomsky, and like the films to reflect some of the complexities of
Robert Crumb. Unfortunately t h approach is very rare life-for example, not only economic processes but
on television. Theres a tendency not to want us to personahties, not only the predictable but the acciden-
watch and listen, but rather to manipulate fragments of tal.Nor do we want to present the world as wholly
speech. knowable, and some sense of mystery at the beginning
There are many problems about the self-validation of a film helps to confirm this. Wed like viewers to
of interview-based films, and Bill Nichols has written arrive at questionsfor which the film may provide some
about this. Certainly its an effective and tempting form answers, but not all people will necessarily be asking
of propaganda, because filmmakers have only to in- quite the same questions. The film should have enough
clude the sentiments they agree with. Also its terribly range to make that possible.
seductive just to sit back and be told things by people At the beginning of Lorangs Way, we purposely
who supposedly know, and who promise a kind of held off showing very much of Lorang until a number
behind-the-scenes view of history. Theres incredible of other people had talked about him. We hoped the
confusion these days between television journalism audience would thus be led to wonder about him and
and documentary. People simply dont know the differ- what he represented. That was in part necessary be-

cause the rest of the film doesnt progress as a narrative metaphor that will represent the essence of an abstract
of connected events. Instead it has to function as a idea One of the difficulties with collaboration is that
narrative of discovery about Lorang. the filmmaker feels caught wrong-footed if an anthro-
Lucien: One model of ethnographic filmmalan g involves pologist asks for an explanation about why he or she is
a collaboration between an anthropological writer and doing something, because often one doesnt know. And
a documentary or ethnographic filmmaker-ne advo- I would be uncomfortable saying, Oh, well, I justfeel
cated in different ways by Tim Asch and Asen Balicksi its the right thing to do, especially when my feeling
and John Bishop. Do you think it has any merits? It is represents an intuition that a close shot of the childs
clearly very different from your own, as well as John soft cheek resting against the rough texture of the dogs
Marshalls, Bob Gardners, or Jean Rouchs. What of back is significant, both as an important metaphor and
your relation to Paul Baxter and Philip Gulliver,and the as a part of the narrative structure of the film. Later it
anthropologistsin Australia? How does your approach might turn out that this shot didnt in fact prove valu-
to your subject-during preproductionand produc- able, but one mustnt lose courage to act intuitively. An
tion, or fieldwork- differ from that of an anthropo- anthropologist might find it difficult to deal with such
logical writer? seemingly uncertain methodology.
Judith: Being there as a filmmaker is a very different David: As I said earlier, the filmmakers discoveries
experience than it is for an anthropologist. A large part become the fabric of the finished work, whereas a
of the difference lies in what we do physically: where writer creates a new fabric built upon notes and the
we place our bodies in normal social situations, when experiences of fieldwork. There is the film editing, to
we speak and when we dont, and how mobile we can be sure, but the shots used in the film must always be
or cant be because of our filming equipment. Much of those produced in the field at the moment of direct
our behavior would seem strange and restrictive to an contact with the events. These cannot be rewritten.
anthropologist-and it is painfully restrictive for us, There is therefore a constant sense of creation in film-
too, in that we cant participate in daily activitiesnearly
making, of being on the edge, of making fateful deci-
as much as wed like. You cant hold a tape recorder and
a baby at the same time, at least not if you expect to
Our experience of working directly with anthro-
have good sound recordings. We are afraid ever to be
pologists has been very slight. Our filming with the Jie
without our filming gear because we know that if we
and Turkanaowed alot to Philip Gulliversearlier work,
ever leave it behind, probably-always-inevitably-
but we never met him. And when he reviewed To Live
something incredibly marvelous will happen and we
with Herds, his reaction was disappointment that it
will miss it. We sit with it and wait for days or weeks or
months. I am sure we talk very little compared to an- didnt emphasize his own research interests, whereas
thropologists, because we usually dont want to inter- the film was about something else. He didnt see what
rupt the flow of events by stopping and questioning the film was about, only what it wasnt. We had hoped
people about whats happening. If we ask questions, it to collaborate with Neville Dyson-Hudson on the
occurs before or after the filmed event, unless we delib- Turkana films,but unfortunately he had other commit-
erately make the decision to incorporate our question ments at the time. On that project we spent nine months
as part of the sequence. Successful collaboration be- doing fieldwork before we did any filming. On the
tween anthropologists and filmmakers certainly is fea- Kenya Bomn film, which I made with James Blue, Paul
sible, but it is difficult if filming is based on an Baxter was very helpful in instructing us on the Boran,
observational-participatory model. I think that if I but he was away duringmost of the filming. Again,when
worked with an anthropologist over an extended time, I shot Good-Bye Old Man,the anthropologist had to be
Id want to put him or her into the center of the film as away except for a day or two at the beginning and a few
a main character. days at the climax of the ceremony. The only film in
A more basic problem with collaboration is the which an anthropologist was more directly involved
perennial one of the basic differences in producing was Familiar Places, made with Peter Sutton. Weve
written and filmed works. A filmmaker has certain ideas generally had to be our own anthropologists.
about overall structures and about what one wants to IZisa: Most discussions of collaboration in the context of
say in general terms, but the specific scenes that will ethnographic filmmaking concentrate on the relation-
achieve these goals are often unpredictable, especially ship between anthropologists and filmmakers, or be-
in non-interview-based structures. Often the unex- tween filmmakers and subjects. Only rarely do we
pected scene is the momentous one, and instantaneous discuss the relationship between collaborating film-
decisions must be made constantly, with no time for makers themselves. Because David does much of the
consultation or reflection. Films rely on metaphoric writing, he tends to get more of the public attention. I
structures, and a filmmaker is always looking for the wonder if you could talk alittle about your own working
382 A M E R I C A NA N T H R O P O L O G I S T V O L . 9 8 , N o . 2 J U N E1 9 9 6

relationship and discuss your respective orientations to characteristics of each seen in various aspects of the
filmmaking. film. We try to arrive at a certain conception of the film
Judith: Ong suggests that writing is a technology that we plan to make. We develop what were going to film
exteriorizes thought, ahenates self from other, and al- as clearly as we can, each of us adding our own ideas.
lows lists, facts, and other forms of exteriorization of Then we film, and although I do the camerawork, Judith
knowledge. When we work together on a film David is always watching me and weve worked together long
does the lists, letters, and written plans, and I do much enough that she has a fairly clear idea of what the
of the talking and listening to people. I find I usually images will look like. Besides, we often discuss the
become very comfortable in what Ong calls a primary lookof the film-what qualities we want it to convey.
oral culture. David tends to be a bit more reticent in In the case of Photo WuUahs we were after a kind of
new social situations. We possibly operate in quite kaleidoscopic immersion in the photographic world of
different worlds much of the time; but collaboration can Mussoorie, but we also wanted to frame our shots in a
be all the more effective because of these differences. I certain formal way, perhaps in reference to still photog-
certainly think analytically about the film as we are raphy itself. When were edlting-xcept recently,
making it, but perhaps I tend to be more lateral in my when weve worked with the film editor Dai Vaughan-
thinking, and I may leave judgments more open during we first look at the materials for a scene and work out
the filming process. This requires holding in mind mul- a plan for it. Then one of us goes off and does a rough
tiple interpretations of observed human behavior and cut, and then we meet and look at it and argue over it
anticipating multiple outcomes, which is quite exhaust- further. When we disagree, we quite often end up con-
ing, and sometimes I thmk how lovely it would be to be vincing each other and trading positions. We try not to
an entomologM and write about beetles. I almost never rush the editing, so that in many cases, after a period of
think of writing about my experience, because to do time, the one who disagreed with a particular stand will
that would destroy it for me. While we are filming, come back and acknowledge that the other was right
David and I usually are very much in sync visually, and after all.We know other filmmaking couples who work
we seldom find it necessary to discuss when the camera this way-the two of you, Robin Anderson and Bob
should go on or off or where to stand or sit or what to Connolly, Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon, Curtis
point it at. Often we both can predict what will happen, Levy and Christine Olsen-and its interesting to com-
and position ourselves correctly in order to film it. I like pare notes on the dynamics of this process. Ive often
Davidsstyle of shooting very much and would not have thought we should get together and write a book on this
wanted it done differently. We share the editing. sort of collaboration. However, I think its also impor-
Recently my interests have been focusing on vari- tant to work independently from time to time, and with
ous forms of visual representation in popular culture, other people.
and on the significance of certain artifacts created for Judith and I have collaborated on most of our films,
tourists or other strangers. I find some paintings on but I think this is probably very different from an an-
velvet-or those tinfoil paintings that refract light dif- thropologist collaborating with a filmmaker. We come
ferently when seen at various angles-quite interesting to a film with a common vocabulary and experience as
and even exhilarating, but David hates them and finds filmmakers, and when we disagree we tend to argue
them difficult to film. Recently I shot some Hi-8footage things out on the basis of common understandings.
in Bali about the industry that manufactures wooden However, I suspect that when an anthropologist and
carvings for tourists. Perhaps in the future Ill do more filmmaker disagree, its because they have very differ-
cinematography, and talk less. ent agendas-agendas that often reveal themselves
David: The writing Ive done has been very occasional. Id quite late in the production. Or they have very different
write something every few years i f 1 felt I had something conceptions of film, which again appear only under the
particular to say about documentary or ethnographic pressure of crucial decisions. Perhaps its not effective
film. Itsbeen a kind of minor adjunct to the filmmaking. when they divide up their functions very clearly be-
So it has sometimes seemed ironic to find people who cause often theres discord when they both try to do the
are more familiar with what Ive written than with the same things. Its very difficult for an anthropologist
films themselves. It bothers me that Judiths role in the to develop an approach to ethnographc filmmaking
films is sometimes underestimated. I think theres such with a filmmaker around. And anthropologists often
an id6e fure about authorship, and its so convenient to find themselves in an impossible position as intermedi-
think of works in terms of single authors, that people aries between their long-terminformants and rapacious
find it difficult to deal with the possibility that a film is film crews. Sensitive filmmakers, on the other hand,
the result of the different strengths of two people. may feel hamstrung by an anthropologist who seems
Whos the author then? they ask, whereas the author oblivious to film as a structured experience and wants
isnt one or the other or an amalgam, but particular everything to be recorded in encyclopedic detail.
384 A M E R I C A NA N T H R O P O L O G I S T V O L . 9 8 , N o . 2 J U N E1 9 9 6

found such a family, but they were not particularly have any number of audiences, and in the future many
interested in the film, nor did I particularly warm to that were never anticipated. Much of what people see
them. One evening I was taken to a deep canyon outside in a film is the result of what they bring to it, and each
Umlei by a young veterinarian who had grown up in viewer in effect sees a different film. If a film is suffi-
the village, and he introduced me to kanchiscu Soddu, ciently rich and complex, I believe it will have meaning
a goatherd. [SeeFigure 6.1 I was immediately struck by for a variety of v i e w e w r rather, perhaps give them
this persons manner. When he spoke, he chose his the materials to make meaning. Education has little to
words carefully, and there was intelligence in the way do with it. Ive observed several times that films of ours
he listened, in his gestures, in the quality he radiated of that highly educated audiences found difficult made
reserve and acute observation. He gave an impression perfect sense to less educated audiences.
of competence and honesty. Moreover, he seemed to be Battles are often fought over how much contextu-
interested in the idea of the film. A little while later his alization a film needs. The guardians of knowledge
son Pietro appeared and stood quietly by his side. He sometimes feel that everything must be explained, so
was about 16 years old. As kanchiscu talked, 1 noticed that audiences dont come to the wrong conclusions.
that Pietro was listening intently to everything his fa- But once one starts along that path, I think theres no
ther said, and that this was r e p t e r e d with extraordi- end to it. One cant expect a film to carry the whole
nary clarity on his face. I realized at that moment that burden of knowledge about a subject, to be the single
if I did nothing else, I wanted to make a film about this source that people have available to them. One cant
father and son. That was how I found two of the three demand that films be made so that no one can possibly
protagonists of the film. The third, Miminu, turned out misunderstand them. Theres a certain amount of smug
not to be a member of the family, but rather a goatherd condescension among people who feel they should pro-
who kept his herds on the slopes just above Fran- tect other viewers for their own good. Almost by defi-
chiscus. nition, good films are full of danger.
Lucien: Who has made up your audiences over the years? Recently, Ive felt increasingly that the most impor-
Has your conception of your audience changed? Do you tant audience for a film is the people in it. A film like
make films explicitly for multiple audiences? Has your Tempus de Baristas is for me a way of communicating
conception of your audience changed as your concep- with them. But of course you make a film for other
tion of your subjects has also changed? Do you still see people too. And you make it for itself, to bring it into
yourself only making films cross-culturally or transcul- being.
turally? Lucien: All your films are distinguished by your manifest
Judith: I always have felt very much like Edgar Morin, presence, interacting laconically but actively with the
who says in the last scene of Chmnique dun kte, I profilmic world we see on the screen. Occasionally you
assumed audiences would like the people I liked. are literally in dialogue with your subjects. How has
David: I have never been happy with the idea of making your orientation to reflexivity changed over the course
films for a target audience. Once a film is made it may of your work? To your mind, is reflexivity a quality that
may be inscribed within the images themselves?
David: Reflexivity at one time was at the center of our
enterprise, because we were making films that were
explicitly epistemological. Whatever their other sub-
jects, they were about how films represent knowledge,
and what sorts of knowledge were available to filmmak-
ers. It was also important to remind audiences that films
come about through the agency of filmmakers, not the
gods. There was always the danger, though, that the
self-reflexive stance would be taken as a stamp of
authenticity-that because we acknowledged the con-
straints upon our view, that view would be more com-
pletely believed. There was the parallel danger that
anthropolopts would assert one had only to declare
ones bias in order for the truth to be revealed. In effect,
self-reflexivity tended to be crudely interpreted as
Figure 6 erecting a structure of explanation around ones work
Franchiscu at his goat camp in Tempus de Baristas (1992/1993), to legitimate it. This nurtured the naive positivist view
directed by David MacDougall. Photo courtesy of Fieldwork Films, that science really could describe external reality accu-
Canberra, Australia. rately if all the filters of subjectivity were identified and
F IL M R E V I E W E S S A Y 385

done away with. It completely missed the point that we Lucien: Ethnographic films seem sometimes to suffer
know things through ourselves, and that you cant sim- from an exclusive orientation to the visible, to what can
ply eliminate the self in the pursuit of knowledge. be seen. Perhaps this is a burden of film having been
For me, reflexivity now means something rather conceptualized,within certain traditions, as principally
different. Its something inscribed in the work at a a record-makingdevice. But subjective experience is
deeper level, To understand the relation of the film- not inherently visual, and from the start fiction films
maker to the subject, you have to engage with the film have sought to evoke the nonvisual through the visual.
more imaginatively.The presence of the filmmaker,and Could ethnographic film now be catching up?
the quality of the filmmakers relation to the subject, Judith: I think its unproductive to distinguish between
permeates a good film. It is evident in the nuances of the visible and nonvisibleunless youre writing a
camera movement, in the framing, in what the film- script for a fiction film. The distinction is misleading if
maker selects at any given moment, in the pace of the one is talking about the audiences reception of a docu-
film, its themes and ideas, and how people behave mentary film of the sort we are talking about. A film-
before the camera. It lies in many things that the film- makers languageis not so much one of images plus
maker would often be unable to identify precisely, be- sounds, but one in which we read various kinds of
cause the filmmaker is too intimately involved. This perceptual information simultaneously. We seefilms
suggeststhat the filmmaker may not be the best person in a way similar to the way we experience life; we are
to define for the viewer the terms in which the film not making complete sense of it before we move on to
should be read. These must be read in the film itself. the next moment. When we have a conversation with
Judith: The problem of how to include the author as a someone, we are not separating what we see-gesture,
solid, real presence is similar in both written and visual facial expression, and so on-from what we hear-in-
media, in that an extra body requires additional space, cluding the spaces between words and most impor-
and generally the vehicle can hold only so many bodies. tantly, what is not said-as we move through the
It is in the nature of texts that space is time, and they experience. Only later do we say, Well,John said.. .
can go on for only so long, and usually it takes quite a and then we usually are reporting not what John said
long time to deal with the complexities of exotic others literally, as in a transcript, but what we think he meant.
doing strange things in alien cultures. The more the For this reason, as a film answers questions, it si-
author appears as a real body, the more he or she also multaneously raises further questions. For some view-
needs explanation. I am often derailed when I read ers this can create a kind of paralysis, or vertigo, and
some of the recent ethnographies because I am always they cant proceed with the film. Perhaps the question
stopping to wonder where the author went to school or of distance is crucial. If one suffers from vertigo (as I
how old she is and who her parents were, and so on. do), movement is possible only with the realization that
Unni Wikan is possibly even more exotic than the Bali- leaning out over the abyss allows progress, and that
nese woman she describes, and to consider the impli- attempting to cling to the rock-face makes one fall.
cations of existence as lived by a female Norwegian Seeing a film is the same; if we look too hard, we lose
academic while simultaneously entertaining the world- it, as we also do if we attempt to hover over it as a
view of a young Balinese woman who has just lost her disembodied observer. Part of how we engage with film
lover is sometimes more than I can do. When we create involves emotions, and these cant be disassociated
narratives with characters who are real people, and not from the whole any more than sight or hearing can be.
fictional ones, we are faced with the basic limitations Film creates a lived sort of knowledge rather than the
of the medium were working in; itsa difficult problem. abstract schematizationthat written knowledge allows,
Deciding what and whom to leave out of the story is and thats both its strength and its weakness. The quali-
always difficult, and it must be far more so with writing ties of understanding differ in a manner similar to the
than with film, because the writer has so much more way ones knowledge of living in a village differs from
choice. Also perhaps it is more difficult to know authors knowledge based on maps, demographic detail, and
through their style of writing or from their personal and lists of buildings. The problem lies not with any d s c i -
subjective selfdescription. With film, a simple gesture ence dichotomy but in deciding what types of knowl-
often seems to suffice. When some writers use jargon, edge are pertinent to ones activities.
it mayjust represent a sincere attempt to position them- Dawid: Ive always felt that ethnographicfilm wasprinci-
selves, and it may be the only way they know to do it. p d y about the nonvisible, and that its only a very
It has often been suggested that multimedia will narrow conception of ethnographic film that assumes
alleviate these space-time limitations, but I think well it stops at the visible record. But there is a significant
always need freestanding texts, the product of our ana- difference in how one proceeds from the visible to the
lytical and creative energy, however imperfect these nonvisible. It seems to me there are two directions one
might be. can take. One can either treat ethnographic film as a
386 A M E R I C A N A N T H R O P O L O G I S T V O L . 9 8 , No. 2 0 J U N E 1996

medium that registers the visible surface of life and Films in Africa
produces an artifact in which its then possible to see
the signs of a whole cosmos of underlying beliefs and
1968/1970 David MacDougall, dir. Migration to and life at
cultural patterns, or one can treat it as a medium that a cattle camp of the Jie of Uganda. 20 nunutes. Distribu-
engages with the experience and imagination of the tion: C.
viewer through the evocative power of the visible. One To Live with Herds
attitude treats the film as an object that the viewer is 1968/1972 David MacDougall, dir. The impact of develop-
able to inspect in a &interested way from a distance. ment policies upon the pastoral Jie of Uganda during a
The other treats the film as an event in the life of the period of drought. 70 minutes. Distribution: C, G, RA.
viewer, a work created in time and space, acting upon Under the Mens Tree
our intelligence and emotions. Its this performative 1968/1974 David MacDougall, dir. Jie men make leather
aspect of cinema that is often ignored when film asf i l m items while discussing motor cars and other matters. 15
is taken out of its viewing context. And unfortunately minutes. Distribution: C.
Kenya Boran
many social scientists have a tendency to consider film
1972/1974 David MacDougall and James Blue, dirs. Two
simply as a text. This has the effect of stripping the film boys and their fathers confront social and economic
of its internal logic, of making the film no more than the change in northern Kenya. 66 minutes. Distribution: D.
sum of its parts, whereas in fact the importance of many The Wedding Camels
films lies not in the parts but in the network of reso- 1974/1977 A wedding among the pastoral Turkana of
nances set up between them and the audience. But northwestern Kenya. 108 minutes. Distribution: C, RA,
viewing films on video, of course, encourages this. And RO.
so does our constant exposure to television journalism. Lorangs Way
It means we tend to view all films as simply content, 1974/1979 A Turkana man and the forces that have made
bconnected from the structures that create a different him what he is. 70 minutes. Distribution: C, RA, RO.
sort of knowledge. A Wife among Wives
1974/1981 A disputed marriage and an enquiry into mar-
However, I think the new generation of anthropolo-
riage and polygamy among the Turkana. 75 minutes.
gists will increasingly move away from a conception of Distribution: C, RA, RO.
ethnographic film simply as description, as infomuz-
tion. Theres an attitude to anthropological discourse
now thats wholly different from the narrow scientism Films in Australia
of 20 years ago. Theres also a great deal of interest in Good-Bye Old Man
aspects of culture that are much more difficult to grap- 1975/1977 David MacDougall, dir. A pukumani cere-
ple with in terms of structural-functionalism, or even mony of the Tiwi of Melville Island, northern Australia.
psychology. I mean such things as the role of the emo- 70 minutes. Distribution: A, RA.
tions in social life, the definition of gender identities, of To Get That Country
personal identity, the construction of time and space, 1977/1978 David MacDougall, dir. A film witnessing early
the differential role of the senses, the processes of moments in the formation of the Northern Land Coun-
learning and becoming, conceptions of the stages of cil, the first legally sanctioned Aboriginal land claims
organization in Australia. 70 minutes. Distribution: A.
life, and so on. Many aspects of these things are not in
Familiar Places
themselves visible but have powerful visible manifesta- 1977/1980 David MacDougall, dir. A white Australian an-
tions and correlatives. Many express themselves in vi- thropologist accompanies Aboriginal families to map
sual metaphors. So I think film, conceived as cinema, their clan territories in northern Queensland. 53 min-
can play a role in enlarging anthropological howledge utes. Distribution: A, C, RA.
and discourse in these areas. Also, we shouldnt forget The House-Opening
that film is more than a visual medium. Its a medium 1977/1980 Judith MacDougall, dir. The Aborigines of Au-
combining the visual, aural, and verbal. rukun in northern Queensland combine traditional Ab-
original, Torres Strait Island, and European cultural
elements in a new ceremony. 45 minutes. Distribution:
Selected Films by David MacDougall and A, C, RA.
Judith MacDougall 1978/1980 The state-federal confrontation over Aborigi-
All films are codirected by David MacDougall and Judith nal rights at Aurukun in March 1978. 90 minutes. Distri-
MacDougall unless otherwise noted. The first date indicates bution: A, C, RA.
the year of filming, the second the year of release. Distribu- Three Horsemen
tors for the films are represented by the capital letters at the 1978/1982 An old Aboriginal stockman, his nephew, and
end of each listing; names and addresses of distributors are his 13-year-old grandnephew on Cape York peninsula,
listed at the end. northern Queensland, try t o get an old cattle station
F IL M R E V I E W E S S A Y 387

going again in their traditional clan country. 54 minutes. foothills of the Himalayas. 60 minutes. Distribution: C,
Distribution: A, C, RA. RA, RO.
Stoclunan's Strategy Tempus de Baristas (Time of the Barmen)
1982/1984 An Aboriginal stockman in northern New 1992/1993 David MacDougall, dir. A portrait of three
South Wales trains a young apprentice and discusses his mountain shepherds of Sardinia. 100 minutes. Distribu-
philosophy of teaching and learning. 54 minutes. Distri- tion: G, I, and forthcoming from C, RA.
bution: A, RA.
Collum Calling Canberra Distributors
1982/1984 Two Aboriginal men steer their way through
the often frustrating processes of official decision mak- A Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, P.O. Box 553,
ing as they attempt to turn Collum Collum Station into a Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia. (61) 6 246 1111; fax: (61) 6
self-supporting enterprise. 58 minutes. Distribution: A, 249 7310. Video and film sales.
RA. C Center for Media and Independent Learning, University
Sunny and the Dark Horse of California Extension, 2000 Center Street, Fourth Floor,
1982/1986 A family's passion for "picnic racing" in north- Berkeley, CA 94704, USA. (510) 642-0460; fax: (510) 643-
ern New South Wales. 85 minutes. Distribution: A. 9271. Video and film sales and rentals.
A Transfer of Power
19881986 Replacing an old car engine at Collum Collum D Documentary Educational Resources, 101 Morse Street,
Station. 22 minutes. Distribution: A. Watertown, MA 02172. (617) 9260491; fax: (617) 926-9519.
Link-Up Diary Video and film sales.
1986/1987 David MacDougall, dir. A week in the work of G Institut f i r den Wissenschaftlichen Film, Nonnenstieg
Link-Up, an organization that reunites Australian Ab- 72, D37075 Gottingen, Germany. (49) 551 50 24 301; fax:
original families forcibly split up under state "welfare" (49) 551 50 24 400. Film rentals.
policies. 86 minutes. Distribution: A, RA.
I Instituto Superiore Regionale Etnografko, Via A. Mereu
56, 08100 Nuoro, Italy. Fax: (39) 784 37484. Video and film
Other Films sales.
RA Royal Anthropological Institute, 50 Fitzroy Street, Lon-
Indians and Chiefs
don W1P 6HS, Great Britain. (44) 171 387 0455; fax: (44) 171
1967/1972 Judith MacDougall, dir. Native Americans in
383 4235. Video sales; film and video rentals.
Los Angeles. 40 minutes. Distribution: C.
Photo Wallahs RO Ronin Films,8 Petrie Plaza, Canberra, ACT 2600, Aus-
1988/1991 An encounter with photography and local In- tralia. (61) 6 248 0851; fax: (61) 6 249 1640. Video and film
dian photographers in Mussoorie, a hill station in the sales.