Accepted Paper:

At an attentive distance: The limits of observational filmmaking in a place of closeness and sorrow.  
Rossella Schillaci (UT Austin Colab - Nova University of Lisbon, University of Texas at Austin)

Paper short abstract:

This paper reflects on the possibilities and constraints of observational filmmaking and the use of emerging technology, such as immersive storytelling, as a response to my experience of personal and empirical limitations of the observational approach in evoking the oppressiveness of prison spaces.

Paper long abstract:

Social anthropologists have often highlighted the challenges in carrying out participant observation within difficult contexts like prisons (Rhodes 2001, Wacquant 2002, Drake et al. 2015). Observational filmmaking works as and through human experience with the affective dimension at its core. In prison, this approach allows for precious opportunities but it also has its limitations.

In this paper, I reflect on the production of my feature length observational film "Imprisoned Lullaby" (2016) about mothers who live in prison with their children. More specifically, I focus on the position of the researcher as a filmmaker and the necessity to develop an 'attentive distance' that is characterised by respect and care for the people, but also preserving the author from an overwhelming emotional engagement. I also discuss the limitations of observational filmmaking in this context that have inspired me to look at other modes of storytelling. I will therefore also discuss a second project made in prison that combines photography, animation, and ethnofiction in an immersive filmmaking approach. This, more collaborative mode of engagement, forced me to think more deeply about ideas of 'being there', the illusion of 'presence' and 'feeling' the prison space, which may have changed my relationship with the inmates as well as the viewing experience.

Panel P26d
Empirical art: Filmmaking for fieldwork in practice
  Session 1