Communication and Culture | Topics in Performance and Culture (Topic: Film and Ethnography)
C414 | 27176 | Malitsky, J.

MW, 9:05 AM-11:05 AM, Location: TBA

This class meets during the second eight weeks of the semester

Fulfills College A&H Requirement

Instructor: Josh Malitsky
Office: 800 E. 3rd St. – room 217
Phone: 856-0405

If ethnography is the study which examines cultures through
participant observation, ethnographic film is a way of communicating
that knowledge through moving images and sound.  While such a
definition opens ethnographic film up 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.  Or, they may
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 in two ways: 1.) through the canonical
ethnographic films, documentaries, and (some) fiction films and 2.)
through close analysis and discussion of the films touring with the
Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival.*  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 to 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.

* Students will be required to attend the screenings associated with
the festival.  These screenings are tentatively scheduled to take
place from March 21-23 and March 28-30.