There are many film styles which one can adopt to make an ethnographic film and observational cinema is one of them. Observational cinema includes direct and vérité cinema which developed back in the 1960’s. David McDougall was the most enthusiastic critical person when it came to observational cinema and also the most skilled person which used this type of ethnographic filmmaking. There are various implications when it comes to new technologies that anthropologists are still struggling with them till today. If it wasn’t for the new technologies anthropologists would find it difficult to sync sound enabled documentaries because they really needed to show interactions in informal settings. Since, it never was possible to do so because an anthropologist needed a studio dramatization with fundamental fictionalization. This shows that there was a shift from the public to the private and also from the general to the particular.
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In the past, the pre-sync sound documentaries depended on a third-person commentary. The comments were used to contextualize the footage, to deliver the message and to elaborate sophisticated arguments captured by the anthropologist filmmaker. Commentary by the filmmakers was becoming to be seen as an unnecessary obstacle. This happened because when the viewers are watching a documentary with the natives speaking in their own native language, the editor has to cut certain comments and the meaning of the scene tend to be lost.
Previous ethnographic films tend to combine the voice of the filmmaker with the voice o the film and also “that in turn with voices film-as-text and the subjects in the film” (McDougall David, 1998, pg5). Observational films are the most acknowledged from authors of ethnographic films, which hold on the traces of filmmaking in a form of documentary. Moreover, McDougall, points out that the know-how of understanding and viewing these types of observational films, is a very passive one which it shows the scene moving before you can notice it. This shows that the filmmaker’s view is important and challenging which is usually heard only through a voice.
The 1960’s and the beginning of the 1970’s observational cinema, have given a new start for a style that is based on interviews, intercuts with archival or actuality footage. McDougall during an interview in the Film Teaching and the State of Documentary had used the same harmony sound of the new technology which had lead the way for observational cinema, both the early technology and the new technology are different in their character. When it comes to documentaries which are based on interviews, one notices the earlier style of observational filmmaking, which was going to takeover. Usually, in a standard dialogue, people are usually encouraged to say what they want and do, so that they can reflect what they had really experienced after a phenomenon. On the other hand, observational filmmakers, such as ethnographers, focus more on the life o the natives and how they actually live it, more like participatory observation. The person, who is doing the film, has to be sure that the saying or doing are drifting apart together. Somehow, the phenomenologist forgets that one should reflect on the person living his life rather than interpreting it. If certain scene have been staged for the camera, therefore they are not exactly real, may have similarities to those who act in the real self, but the final result won’t be real.
Observational cinema is more likely to think about the natives to get on with their own life when they are being observed rather than interrupting from their daily life. This type of filmmaking didn’t want people to speak about themselves or to narrate their experiences especially when it is in front of the camera.
David and Judith MacDougall influenced the ethnographic filmmaking even though through the years from 1970’s onwards it continued to develop. Their films such as the African and the Australian films shows are still popular even today. Before this development in filmmaking, ethnographers didn’t use subtitles when it comes to their documentaries, but the MacDougall’s have introduced the subtitles in the ethnographic filmmaking rather than being talked over from the voice of the anthropologist. Subtitles had an important influence because the use of subtitles showed that the Non-Westerners, had also their intellectual lives, not as the Westerners used to think.
As they used to shoot, MacDougall’s still tied the natives to their physical and psychological limited perspectives. The aim of the film ethnographer is to capture the details through camera or photography but the fact that people are influenced by the presence of the ethnographer is rather an implication, therefore the ethnographer should have an “aesthetic precision” (McDougall David, 1998, pg9). There are various observation documentary films which reveal the real life which belong to a certain importance to journalism. This happens because in every society there is a public and political orientation.
Now I will be discussing the implications they encountered during their practices with their new techniques in areas where tradition anthropology is enquired. From the start, David and Judith had their own ideas. They wanted to show the outline of every stage of their practice. The MacDougall’s also wanted to show the differences they adopted from that of Jean Rouch, “who altered the process of ethnographic exploration into a mystical or shamanistic journey, seeks to subvert the very kind of intellectual reasoning” (Grimshaw, Ann, 2009 pg 122).
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Without any uncertainty, David MacDougall’s writing reflects the recent cinematic ethnography development which they tackle realities of every day life of a particular society. Ann Grimshaw calls this technique as the “metaphysic” (Grimshaw, Ann, 2009 pg 122).. The work of David and Judith MacDougall will remain popular for their new way of observing things. Grimshaw tackles an epistemological perspective, where she argues that when someone questions something about knowledge needs to answer the question to its depth. The MacDougall’s works such as films and writings are marked by a “drive for clarity” (Grimshaw, Ann, 2009 pg 122).
Various anthropologists have searched for new methods to make documentary filming so that they can study Western societies. All they had to do was that they had to seek for something that renders things in their natural state, so that the film could make it to a larger audience. The method was that the ethnographer places him self as a filmmaker and therefore he views a certain type of ritual. The advantage of this method is that the ethnographers divided their methodological lines and observed while they also found the time to interact with the agency involved. On the other hand, Rouch’s followers which are usually English speaking found it difficult to interact with the people of that particular society, unless an interview. Anthropologists by time started to adopt this observational filmmaking approach. The difference between certain other methods and this approach is that other methods tell very little to the audience and everyone can deduct his or her own story from the pictures seen.
Films such as observational cinema involve people which they seem to be the owners of the wealth and effort of human experience (McDougall David, 1998, pg129). As a sort of implication the participants was seen as the co-conspirator in the filmmaking for not leaving the filmmaker out from his / her own film. This shows that the filmmaker gives much importance to the natives of the country rather than interrupting him/her self. When an anthropologist starts his or her research first s/he has to interact and then be accepted as part of that group. But when it comes to an anthropologist using the filming method, this builds a wall between the anthropologist and the natives because the anthropologist finds it difficult for him/her to show him / her self with the natives while being filmed unless there is someone else filming. Filmmaking doesn’t leave much room for energy because all the energy is drained out with the camera so that the anthropologist can have an excellent result. This may lead for the anthropologist to reduce his or her participation with that society and therefore it is difficult for an anthropologist to recall whatever s/he has captured if not participated.
Ethnographers are more likely to study non-Western Societies, which are very delicate to tackle and to study. The weakness of this situation is that since these societies are very weak, the ethnographer when it comes to film making should make him/herself as the recording instrument of history, which the pressure is on the ethnographer to weigh down the efforts to pursue more specific lines of inquiry (McDougall David, 1998, pg130). The situation leads the ethnographer to impersonate. Even though we, as spectators, are viewing people through the finalized film, as if they do not maintain anything on us, it is still up to us to understand whatever they mean by the things or rituals they make. Our situation combines a sense of immediacy with an absolute separation (McDougall David, 1998, pg130). With this observational method, the filmmaker is more likely to understand the meaning through a film or a picture rather than by understanding the meaning of the ritual by involving him / herself into the setting. The filmmaker became more of an “eye of the audience, frozen into their passivity unable to bridge the separation between themselves and their subject” (McDougall David, 1998, pg131). Films rather than tackling the abstract are more enthusiastic to tackle the specific, is deemed to be incompetent of serious intellectual expression. There are more than enough ethnographic films around which contains a doubtful interpretation, with a justification as a conclusion.
Finally, Evans Pritchard also made a critique to Malinowski, where he stated that “the themes are more than a descriptive synthesis of events. It is not a theoretical integration…there is consequently no real standard of relevance, since every thing has a time and space relationship in cultural reality to explain everything else and from what ever point one starts on spreads oneself over the same ground” (McDougall David, 1998, pg131). What Pritchard wanted to say was that it takes more from a descriptive observation to understand a situation; it takes to involve one self to understand what the meaning behind every situation is.
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