Provoking Ethnographic Epiphany: realising moments of flow on the ethnographic stage and screen
(University of Manchester)
Paper short abstract:
Showing rare moments in ethnographic film-making where the pace of recorded life was syncronised to encompass moments of ethnographic epiphany, I will suggest how performance studies informs an understanding of ethnographic film-making as dependent on moments of 'flow' as defined by Csíkszentmihályi
Paper long abstract:
This paper will trace the moments of Rouchian 'grace' in ethnographic film to an understanding of ethnographic film-making as dependent on moments of 'flow' in improvisation. Rouch's focus on improvisation in cinéma vérité originated from his early interest in surrealist art. He would use the camera to provoke the unexpected to occur with his collaborators, inspired by surrealist art techniques such as rencontre and bricolage. I will argue that the openly inter-subjective act of ethnographic film-making has much in common with improvised theatre. Judging from my own experience of improvised acting, it is equally dependent on moments of grace. Rouch used the camera as a catalyst to provoke these moments, comparing his film-making to the process of rituals. Like improvised film-making the improvised theatre scene develops in the tension between risk of failure and chance of success. The theatre stage serves the same function as Rouch's camera lense, as it provokes a focus of increased concentration where 'being here and now', aware yet unaware, becomes the prerequisite of perceived authenticity. The stage and lense offer 'a frame' (Bateson 1979), a 'magic circle' (Huizinga 1938), a 'liminal space' betwixt and between (Turner 1964). Making parallels to the rare moments in my own ethnographic film-making where the rhythm and pace of recorded life happened to be syncronised to encompass a moment of ethnographic epiphany, I hope to show how performance studies can inform an understanding of ethnographic film-making as dependent on moments of flow as defined by Csíkszentmihályi (1975).
Grace: unexpected moments in ethnographic films