Author:Vanessa Wijngaarden (University of Johannesburg)
Paper short abstract:
In a moment of 'grace', a participant turns around to criticize the researcher's camera, and the plunge into ciné-reality gets a reflexive layer. How does simultaneous presence and invisibility affect agency and creativity, and how does it influence the dialogue between filmmaker and participants?
Paper long abstract:
The film Eliamani's Homestead presents some of the dilemmas of tourism, showing Europeans visiting a hungry Maasai family, the contrast stressing the latter's socio-economic and physical immobility. It consists of an unbroken 20-minute shot originally recorded for research purposes, but became internationally acknowledged due to several, partly interrelated, moments of 'grace' unfolding when the camera follows the village visit in real-time. The most important moment illuminates the cinematic tension between being at once present and invisible; film as a 'plunge into reality' as well as subjective and authored. The film has been commented on as 'most honest' and 'hyperreal', because in contrast to the tourists' cameras, the researcher's (much bigger) camera apparently operates un-obtrusively, even seemingly unnoticed, adhering to the low-key methods of direct or observational cinema.
However, when Eliamani suddenly turns around to look straight into the researcher's lens, criticizing the invasiveness of its gaze, we become aware that the anthropologist's filming is a catalyst after all. Firstly, it creates a reality on the Tanzanian savannah in the Rouchian sense, provoking the participants to reveal more about their inner sentiments with regard to the encounter. Secondly, the participants' interactions with the camera immerse researcher and public to reflect upon what they (want to) accomplish by recording and viewing other people, and how recording devices (and wider presence as an observant or researcher) can facilitate as well as challenge relationships. Can ciné-trance only take place in harmonious cooperation or also in situations of resistance and opposition between filmmaker and participants?
Grace: unexpected moments in ethnographic films