Communication and Culture | Topics in Performance and Culture (Topic: Film and Ethnography)
C414 | 24071 | Joshua Malitsky

CMCL-C 414: Topics in Performance and Culture
(Topic: Film and Ethnography)
Class Number: 24071

TuTh, 4:00 PM-5:15 PM, JH A106
Required film screenings: Tu, 7:00 PM-10:00 PM, WH 007

Fulfills COAS A&H Requirement

Professor: Joshua Malitsky
Office: Mottier Hall 108
Phone: 856-0405

If ethnography is the study that examines cultures, ethnographic
film is a way of communicating that cultural knowledge through
moving images and sound.  While such a definition opens ethnographic
film to a huge range of practices, it has a fairly well-mapped
tradition with an established canon of films.  Ethnographic films
are commonly thought of as films made by anthropologists in
association with written research.  They may also be documentaries
(Nanook of the North or documentaries found on The Discovery
Channel) and fiction films (King Kong or Dances with Wolves) that
examine exotic cultures.  The first half of this course will examine
this tradition.  We will do general reading on Western conceptions
of other cultures and discuss how these filmic representations
relate to broader society-wide ideas about the cultures.

Since the 1970s, a powerful critique of the ethical and political
shortcomings of ethnography has emerged.  Ethnographic films were
seen to be stuck in a positivist and colonialist mode of looking at
Others, resulting in the films re-inscribing Western patterns of
dominance.  Many ethnographers and filmmakers sought to correct
these problems while maintaining ethnography’s fundamental method of
participant observation.  The second half of this course will
explore how the “ethnographic impulse” (the attempt to represent
cultures through participant observation) sustains not just as part
of anthropology but in a range of films.  We will ask, how do
contemporary documentaries such as Hoop Dreams, Enron: the Smartest
Guys in the Room, The March of the Penguins, or “meet the band”
documentaries on MTV or VH1 function as ethnographies?  And how do
experimental films by artists such as Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas,
Chris Marker, and Su Friedrich push the boundaries of ethnography
and help us think harder about what representing other cultures
really entails?  This course will thus provide a foundation in
ethnographic film while exploring the boundaries of its practice.