About Emmaleigh Calhoun

pi phi, tea, and the sec

Jared Callahan and Compassionate Filmmaking

Jared Callahan has the sort of personality that captures the entire room the moment he enters. He seems to actually listen to your voice and opinions, and makes you feel important when you talk to him. This in itself is not a unique trait, but what is is that his mannerisms come across in his films. I found his short films especially to be compassionate and inquisitive, despite their brevity, and reflective of who he is as a film maker.

What stood out from meeting Jared was his desire to portray his subjects as lovable people. As a person who primarily deals with narrative film, I find this to be difficult because I spend so much time creating flawed characters who are interesting, and taking already flawed people and making them lovable is a totally different approach. In consideration of how to do this, I’ve been thinking about a phrase he tossed out: creative audacity. As filmmakers we need to have the creative audacity to dare to tell stories with sensitivity and capture the humanity of our subjects, rather than focus on the “otherness” that makes them compelling to research. How to be responsible to our subjects while still telling a story that is interesting to an audience is an issue I’m still struggling with, but I appreciate Callahan’s approach of making a story about a person who is or who does something, rather than something that is being done by a person.

Waiting for Katrina


Paul Chan and Creative Time produced Waiting for Godot in New Orleans in two neighborhoods— the Lower Ninth Ward and Gentilly— in partnership with the University of New Orleans, Xavier University, and Dillard University for the benefit of the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In conjunction with the play, Creative Time and Paul Chan co-produced an experimental film entitled The Fulness of Time, which explored the lives and psychological state of Hurricane Katrina survivors. The film, directed by Cauleen Smith, was filmed concurrently with Chan’s production of Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, and combines elements of science fiction and documentary film to express the range of emotions had by those who experienced the trauma of Katrina. The Fulness of Time amply captures the joy and despair of post-Katrina New Orleans through its series of vignettes which do not follow a narrative structure. The goal of the cast and production team of Waiting for Godot in New Orleans was to contribute to the society that they came into, which influenced Chan’s choice to not charge for tickets to the show or any of the subsequent events. Instead, Chan set up a “shadow fund” which raised money for the neighborhoods where Waiting for Godot in New Orleans was performed. Waiting for Godot in New Orleans was described as “a socially engaged performance at the heart of a national crisis, and direct support to the community is an essential component of the project”.

The Ax Fight

The Ax Fight is a thirty minute film produced in 1975 by Napoleon Chagnon and Tim Asch. Napoleon Chagnon, who is currently a professor at the University of Missouri, was a professor at Penn State at the time of the film. He has written five books and has been called the most controversial anthropologist of all time” by the NYT, due to his portrayal of some South American peoples and accusations of collaboration with corrupt politicians. Tim Asch, who was a professor at Harvard at the time of The Ax Fight, served as a TA under Margaret Mead at Columbia. He founded Documentary Educational Resources (DER), which supports the production and distribution of ethnographic and documentary films, and has more than 70 films to his credit.

The Ax Fight, which is about a Yanomami village, Mishimishimabowei-teri, in Southern Venezuela, is filmed in four parts. Initially, it shows the unedited film of a fight as observed and filmed by Tim Asch and Napoleon Chagnon. The film then replays the footage of the fight, slowed down to identify the participants in the fight and there relationships to one another. Here, Chagnon notes the differences between his original perception of the film and what he understands after interviewing members of the village. He takes care to note that information provided by his initial informant was incorrect, and includes stops in the footage to label participants and their relatives. The film then presents kinship charts which further illustrate the relationships between the participants, before concluding in an edited cut of the fight that the film focuses on. This final cut of the fight makes more narrative sense than the original, which despite lasting nearly six minutes in a single shot was difficult to follow. The juxtaposition of the edited and unedited fight makes obvious the challenges of an anthropologist of comprehending a given event without context.

The film was reexamined by Adam Curtis in 2007 documentary program The Trap, which discussed the assertion that violence in the Yanomamou culture was due to westerners providing goods to individuals, which were then fought over. Although these goods were often weapons such as machetes, Chagnon insisted that fights happened when he was not there, and that a film crew had no effect on the behavior of those filmed. It is difficult to say whether or not Chagnon is speaking honestly, but it is apparent that his statement at the beginning of the film, which reads: “large Yanomamö villages are volatile, and the slightest provocation can start a violent outburst”, is a gross simplification given that the film shows that this specific fight is the result of a building up of conflicts, not a slight provocation. It is unclear whether including this statement was meant to reiterate the fallacies that can be made by simple observation, or if Chagnon believes the statement to be true.