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Observation of Participational Cinema in Action - Essay Example

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Observation of Participational Cinema in Action

Dramatic films are generally shot from a third person 'voyeur' perspective, which allows the audience to observe the unfolding events from a distance. In order to accomplish this state of awareness and acceptance from scientific films, researchers spend a great deal of time with their subject population prior to shooting any footage at all. This is meant to encourage the indigenous community to ignore the filmmaker completely and to return to their normal everyday activities. However, this idealized approach - the 'invisibility' of the camera and it's director - raises new ethical, technical, and artistic issues.
The foremost argument against this style of filming lies in defining between 'research' film and 'ethnographic' film: the parameter's of the first ideally contain an undisturbed recording of environmental behavior (which can be used to deduce or extrapolate information); the latter classification is designated by it's editing, which is chosen be the filmmaker to create a narrative. Thus, as MacDougall notes, the fallacy of the all observing camera eye is itself misleading, for the camera is ultimately directed by the filmmaker's choice and/or opportunity. The camera essentially decided what small section of reality is recorded. Along similar lines, the goal of a director's self-effacement from the project is a further removal from reality: many of the filmed communities are remote and isolated to pretend that the director's physical presence has absolutely no effect on the subjects (and a feedback effect on the project itself) is ludicrous. Along this principle, subjects reactions to cameras depends on their level of familiarity with the media itself. Filming Live with the Herds (1972), MacDougall's silent film camera became accepted by the natives on the premise that he was shooting all of the time (and would therefore present an accurate overall account); when he brings out a still camera near the end of his sojourn, his subjects automatically stuck photogenic poses (MacDougall, 1973) A Ghana director named Braun, discovered a similar effect while shooting footage in his childhood village during carnival time: when a girl noticed him shooting from a rooftop, she began to perform. She grew angry when the camera's attention no longer focused on her, leading Braun's narrative to hypothesize about the power relationship between the camera and its subjects (Pink).
Cerezo, Martinez and Ranera, three anthropologists recording African workers in Spain, showed some of their footage to their subjects. Because they had access to television, the workers objected to their own images as being ugly and impoverished, which has resulted in the anthropological argument that visual footage cannot be taken without the express consent of the subjects (Pink). Yet MacDougall takes this argument one step further. In requesting permission to film a community while simultaneously denying them any information to the direction of the film of footage that has been shot, the director "withholds the openness" he requires from his subjects. While this may be rooted in the director's fear of influencing the community's behavior, it also denies him the input of the community information which may prove inaccessible any other way (MacDougall, 1973 ...Show more


Margaret Mead has observed that where ethnographic films are concerned, critics demand a disproportionate amount of camera artistry from the director, while, conversely, the work can be discredited from an academic perspective should it abandon certain scientific methodologies in favor of artistic goals…
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Observation of Participational Cinema in Action essay example
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