Communication and Culture | Topics in Performance and Culture (Topic: Film and Ethnography)
C414 | 28167 | Williams, K.

TuTh, 5:45 PM-7:00 PM, C2 100
Required film screening: M, 7:15 PM-10:15 PM, SY 200

Fulfills College A&H Requirement

Instructor: Katie Williams
Office: C2 279
Phone: 856-7385

If ethnography is the study which examines cultures, ethnographic
film is a way of communicating that 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.  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.  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.