"What we see is inseparable from how we see" (Anna Grimshaw)
Nowhere are the politics of image-making more debated than in contemporary anthropology, which examines not only what a film's subject is but also how it is seen. Over two weekends this course take takes key cinematic works from the history of experimental ethnography as a starting point for discussion, ideas and group work. Films by Jean Rouch, Guy Debord, Robert Gardner, Basma Al Sharif and Peter Watkins will be studied alongside recent writings by Judith Butler and Anna Grimshaw. By subtly challenging the display of each work, we aim to make each viewing an event that reveals the politics of representation. Everyone is welcome, including those interested in visual anthropology, experimental and political film, documentary and video art.
Session 1: Separation
Saturday 14 May
Guy Debord in Critique de la séparation combined original and appropriated text as a voiceover to critique his perception of the conflicting relationship between film and reality. This text was constructed in such a way that the viewer would experience being lost in narrative. His goal was to have the audience experience the politics set out within the film: “To demystify documentary cinema it is necessary to dissolve its ‘subject matter’” (Debord, 1961) Thus Debord knowingly critiques the simultaneous experiment Chronique d'un été (Rouch and Morin, 1961) also being made in Paris at that time. However, it was Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s film that would go on to win widespread critical and popular acclaim for launching cinéma vérité and changing the history and language of both documentary and anthropology. In this session we will consider the counter claims of these works by viewing them first individually and then by projecting them side by side. What is the tension between these works? Where do they overlap and what new space is created between them?
Session 2: Frame
Sunday 15 May
The post-structuralist theorist Judith Butler suggests that: “The frame builds and confirms acts for those who would name them as such. To learn to see the frame that blinds us to what we see is no easy matter.” This session aims to question not only what we see, but also how we see, by placing vision at the heart of anthropological knowledge. Through images of Abu Ghraib and recent exhibitions of 'Antiphotojournalism', as well as the work of Basma Al Sharif and Susan Hiller, we will look between the documentary image and the imagination. This session will include an hour visit to the Susan Hiller show at Tate Britain starting at noon.
Sessions 3 Trial
Saturday 21 May
Peter Watkin's films are a creative, bold and uncompromising attack on the 'film monoform' – the predominance of which, he argues, not only limits film form, but it also acts a mode of censorship. In this session we will look closely at Watkin's theories and concerns ahead of taking on aspects of his 'social fiction' film Punishment Park. Taking the work of anthropologist Robert Gardner as a case study, we will build a case for defence and prosecution of anthropological 'value'.
Sessions 4: Practice
Sunday 22 May
Reflecting on the discussions over the last 3 days, we will think more deeply about our relation to current events and issues. The invitation proposed in this session is for a single act or statement to be conceived and written by the group (as a collective body) that could be staged for the camera.