Unexpected proximities: poetics of the everyday in ethnographic film
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores a tradition of ethnographic films that focuses on the everyday and that renegotiate the genre of observational cinema. It argues that these films affect a sudden, unexpected, yet slow-paced sense of spatial and embodied proximity to the subjects and objects represented.
Paper long abstract:
This paper traces and explores a tradition of ethnographic (documentary) films that emphasise the prosaic, uneventful details of everyday lives, and renegotiate the genre of observational cinema. Through a study of the films, especially in their editing strategies - with special attention to sounds and speeds - the paper argues that the way these films are edited creates a sudden, unexpected, yet slow-paced sense of spatial and embodied proximity to the subjects and objects represented: a "feeling of being there." The focus is on documentaries from different traditions, namely: ethnographic films, such as those by Francesco de Melis (e.g.: Porto dei Suoni) and David MacDougall (e.g.: Schoolscapes), in relation to other films with similar filmic strategies and poetics (e.g.: ¡Vivan las Antipodas! by Victor Kossakovsky, El Cielo Gira by Mercedes Álvarez, Forgetting Vietnam by Trinh T. Minh-ha ). The paper elaborates how these films, through an ethnographic and observational cinema's approach, perform a poetics of the everyday that works to open spaces of encounter with 'other' subjectivities: people of the harbour, fishermen, those who repeat "traditional" gestures seemingly connected to a forgotten past, the inhabitants of liminal and remote places... In tracing a tradition of ethnographic and documentary style, the focus is on how these films are composed, as well as to what these films can do: their poetics and politics. The broader aim of this paper is to articulate the political potential of these films to affecting alternative imaginaries of a shared everyday lived space.
Grace: unexpected moments in ethnographic films