In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Introduction
  • C. Melinda Levin and Alicia Re Cruz

The history of ethnographic film1 is an extended dialogue between anthropology and documentary cinema. This discourse has embraced and nurtured the art, social relevance, and academic research of both fields. It has also struggled through the tensions of storytelling forms, ultimate goals, and audience. The articles that make up this special issue on film and anthropology focus on several specific instances of this relationship. The authors delve into the anthropology–film dialogue by observing how the globalizing processes demand a repositioning of these two disciplines dealing with the human factor. This latest chapter in the professional courtship between the fields represents a paradigm shift away from a long-established anthropological positivist/modernist approach of "capturing" culture under the scientific premise of objectivism. Although this transformation has been occurring for quite some time, the ways that anthropologists, filmmakers, and communities themselves interact with new approaches and technologies modify and impact the end results in both academic fields. The authors here document examples of this move away from an observationist view of culture, to a more postmodern, dynamic, and embodied action, demanding the commitment and interaction of characters, filmmakers, and anthropologists. Their illustrations suggest an ongoing personal and critical analysis within the complexity of current technological and global phenomena.

Jay Ruby brings both newer and more traditional ethnographic tools to his hometown, a middle-class suburb of Chicago, and presents his digital interactive ethnography experiment as a way to instigate viewers' participation in the making of the anthropological analysis. Like his fellow authors working in different modes and communities, he addresses crucial issues within academic anthropology: What is beyond "cultural understanding"? What should we do once we "understand" cultures? How does one utilize tradition, expectations, and tools to best engage different personal, political, and economic arenas? These articles propose an articulation of film and anthropology that engages not only the viewer but also, through their active participation, the characters of the study itself. A documentary tradition of encouraging the community members to engage with the technology, techniques, and experiential knowledge is incorporated in a variety of ways in these articles and points to avenues of new information-gathering and applied results. Allan Burns presents his visual anthropology project on cultural preservation and cultural resistance in the Pacific Islands of Micronesia. He discusses the on-site collaboration with funders and political advisors and how they affected the final visual product. Pat Aufderheide focuses on the Video in the Villages project among the lowlands Brazilian indigenous groups. Started in 1987 by Vincent Carelli, this endeavor became an exercise in putting the professional capacities of the viodeographer at the disposal of indigenous causes. Jean Lydall's contribution addresses the challenges of producing visual ethnographies for television; [End Page 3] the author exemplifies these challenges through the presentation of her long-term field experience in Ethiopia, with the people of Dambaiti. She identifies how the protagonists utilize the filming situation for their own ends, for self-therapy, for the manipulation of others, or as a form of advocacy. Henry Geddes Gonzales acidly criticizes the effects of "exoticizing" the Maya through visual venues that confer ethnography on its aura of scientific objectivity. Levin and Re Cruz examine their own work with the Maya of the Yucatan in Mexico, exploring the specific challenges and successes of the documentary–anthropology collaboration.

Each author probes the key questions of production, dissemination, and consumption of visual ethnographic materials and the roles of such endeavors to society at large. The articles themselves are exceptionally reflective and open, at times suggesting mistakes and struggles. They examine how the personal becomes influential in such a scholarly visual ethnographic collaboration and how the art and social science embedded within these two humanities fields have developed because of this enriching collaboration. In the end, the articles themselves are ethnographic accounts of the conversation between film and anthropology.


1. In these articles film is used to refer to a variety of visual formats, including celluloid film, video, digital video, photographs, and online systems. [End Page 4]



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pp. 3-4
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