Accepted paper:

All Rites Reversed: confusion and catharsis in filmmaking for fieldwork.


Andy Lawrence (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

By attempting to understand confusion by rational means alone, itself a paradox, we remain uninitiated into the experience of the lived realities of others. A filmmaking for fieldwork approach allows the incoherent to be understood without it having to make sense.

Paper long abstract:

I am a documentary filmmaker and a lecturer in Visual Anthropology working on subjects of childbirth, death, journeys, identity and transformation. My filmmaking is concerned with the ways in which human beings evolve a sense of understanding in a world they barely know and the attempt to convey an experience of existential uncertainty in confusing or paradoxical situations. I will present an analysis of the interplay that I have made between method and subject to conceptualize childbirth and death and how an understanding and a representation of this arise from the filmmaking process. The method grew from my fieldwork experiences with an English midwife and Indian tantric practitioners and their attempts to understand the 'human experience' through the inversion of social norms and by their relationship to childbirth and death. I hope to bring the audience as close as possible to the untouchable and in doing so reduce the gap between self and other, creating an experience that will itself become transformative through a particular type of understanding embodied in the film's viewers. I will discuss how 'catharsis' develops for an audience through a perceived proximity to the subjects and how this represents a particular form of understanding elusive through more rational means whereby the nonsensical can become coherent. In unpacking this tightly compressed process I will look at what makes modern filmmaking relevant to anthropology.

panel V01
Visual encounters: audiovisual approaches to anthropological knowledge