Jared: Jannie Makes a Play and The Many Friends of Sommer

I found Jared to be a very inspirational speaker.  He displayed great humility when speaking about his role portraying others through film.  He spoke about the importance of honoring a person and their story and being true to who they are to make the audience love the person.  He used this philosophy to portray Sommer and Jannie, two subjects in his work.  He mentioned that how you relate to your subject is very important because they trust you to tell their story “truthfully” and with “honor.”  What a responsibility for a filmmaker to have!  I think the line between telling a story, making a story, and being honorable is blurry and even with this guiding philosophy can present challenges at times. What if your subject isn’t lovable?  Take Adam and his wife in Homemade.  Arguably at many times throughout the film we cannot love them.  Are we still expected to show empathy towards these characters?  What if the subject’s believe they are being presented inaccurately?  These are some really important ethical and moral questions that need to be grappled with as a filmmaker.

Additionally, Jared presented the idea that an individual and a concept cannot be separated.  Sommer for example, by the nature of her identity as a disabled woman, carries the weight of disability, a concept that comes with prejudice, economic, and social problems.  I think this is fascinating.  With the film, Homemade, we questioned whether the concept of Veteran substance abuse and medical neglect was conveyed through a such a small window.  Jared would argue, I believe that it was.  In his mind, telling a large story through an individual is effective and perhaps preferable.  I don’t think I agree with this completely because I feel like this could risk complacency from the audience who believe this is a “one-off” or rare case.  This should be cautioned against.  The connection to a broader issue, I believe should be explicitly stated or demonstrated.  Ultimately, however, Jared reminds us that we are obligated to tell the story of the people and build a case for empathy and challenge the status quo.

Jared’s films Jannie Makes a Play and The Many Friends of Sommer remind us that seemingly small stories are still worth being told.  They reflect more than we realize about the culture and world as well as the individual.  I feel if we are able to elicit engagement through empathy, compassion, and love through visual anthropology and film, the journey has been worthwhile.  These accomplishments, Jared says, are baby steps to changing the world.

 

Call Me By My Name: Stories From Calais and Beyond

This week I looked at the project Call Me By Name, an exhibit run by the organization The Migration Museum Project that focuses on issues of migration and British nationalism. The exhibit’s goal was to share the lives of the thousands of refugees living in the Calais camp with the world.  Through a multi-media, multi-perspective, multi-cultural platform, Call Me By My Name shook it’s viewers with it’s art work that displayed what life really is like as a refugee. From painting,to sculpture, to photography, and written works and auditory pieces performed by the refugees themselves, Call Me By My Name acts as a visceral representation of the migrant experience.

The project humanizes the refugee situation and creates more than sympathy in it’s viewers.  Each piece encourages deep community engagement and reflection and binds the viewer and subject in a way that sensitizes us and nurtures basic human connection. Each piece urges us to show humility, engage with the material, and think critically about the big issues surrounding immigration.  The subject’s voices speak through the art work. One young child living in the Calais camp draws his father and brother drowning during their crossing to the camp.  His drawing is part of Safi’s larger piece that displays work done by Calais’ children.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-49-31-pm

Another aspect of the exhibit is the many workshops and discussions held in the art space.  One such workshop took children from refugee backgrounds and American children and had them come together to talk about these issues.  This sort of deeper engagement prevents someone from thinking they have done their part by simply viewing the artwork on display.  I think this unique overlap between subject, viewer, artist, and community allows for the farthest reaching social impact without undermining the integrity or rights of those being “looked at.”

This honest representation of the refugee crisis with a continuing education component really sets this exhibit apart.  Below are some of the most impactful art pieces on display:

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-55-36-pmNikolaj Larsen creates the sculpture, Wanderers to display the reach of this crisis.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-56-11-pmSarah Savage created an impactful piece titled The Dignity of Life. This part of the exhibit shows lifejackets that mark the journey these refugees take to get to the Calais camp.

These pieces just offer a taste of the rich exhibit.  With a hugely positive reception, Call Me By My Name goes beyond a rigid discussion of immigration, and rather poses larger questions of human rights, ethics, and humanity.

Imba Means Sing

Imba Means Sing is a touching documentary film that draws a striking comparison between the living conditions in Uganda and in The United States. It was confronting to see firsthand the stark disparity in wealth and another thing entirely to imagine the children’s perspective on why their home is so different from what they’ve seen abroad.

images

The film follows a group of children from The African’s Children Choir, an organization that is an inspiration to the world. This is not an organization that idly or passively offers aid, but rather works hands-on with the children in their program, to ensure that they have a better life filled with greater opportunity and the skills to impact change for others. I think it is especially worth noting that the program returns the children to their homeland after the completion of the program. This encapsulates what the mission of the organization is. It aims to spread change, education, and betterment through the children they serve to the larger African community. I find this model of social impact to be highly successful and admirable.

imgres

It was an incredible experience to meet the producer of Imba Means Sing. I was touched that she had personally been volunteering and following the African’s Children Choir for years before she made her film. As a class, we have been talking a lot about the role of the filmmaker and how to manage one’s involvement with the subjects. Is one’s access dependent upon one’s insider or outsider status? I found that her genuine care for the children came through in her portrayal of them. It was clear her personal relationship with them granted her different access than a distant observer trying to capture what Ugandan children are like. Ultimately, Erin Bernhardt’s personal touch made the film a warmhearted portrayal of the children’s past and desired futures.

images-1

Both Imba Means Sing and Dan Eldon’s work deeply inspire others to foster their creativity as well as use it to promote social change. Media or art allows everyone to share a message of any kind with the world. Being able to harness this power and use it to concretely make the world a better place is probably the reason behind the growing link between social change and art.  Art has always reflected some aspects of the world in which we live.  With the rise of technology and affective ways of sharing video and ideas, organizations begin to view media as their outlet to being heard, raising awareness, and ultimately creating social impact.

Access and Empowerment

Before reading Power and positionality: negotiating insider/outsider status within and across cultures, I had never really given too much thought to what it meant to be an insider or outsider. I have lived an exceptionally privileged life and have always in some sense, been an insider. All of the academic institutions I have ever attended have been predominantly white and upper class. The friends I have made from these environments too have been from similar backgrounds to me. I admittedly have so seldom felt like an outsider. On the rare occasion, however, that I have felt this way, I in my privilege could leave the unfamiliar uncomfortable space and return to my insider status elsewhere.

I was intrigued by the article’s characterization of the insider/outsider status as fluid. Identity of course is composed of many different constructs: gender, socio-economic status, religion, nationality, the list goes on. Access into the group is granted for insiders, but interestingly enough, access can also be given to outsiders if there is a motivation to bring them into the conversation or a desire to share aspects of their culture perhaps for some personal gain.

imgres

I think it is an important part of anthropology to be mindful of the insider/ outsider dynamic especially as we move towards our own final projects. How will our similarity to or differences from the group being studied affect what access we are granted? Are there ways of breaking down these barriers or are we forever held oscillating between insider/outsider statuses, being allowed “in” for only fleeting periods of time? Perhaps we can regardless of how and to whom we identify, create a personal relationship with our subject’s that goes beyond group mentalities.static1-squarespace

I felt as though re: imagine embraced the philosophy that no matter who you are or where you come from, you will be granted equal opportunity and respect. Their mission is to empower the community, effectively breaking down preconceived notions of subject and observer or needy and donator. With everyone on the same equal playing field, a more impactful relationship can be achieved which hopefully can lead to social progress and equality.

How to convey ideas?

This week in visual anthropology, I felt that the overarching thematic idea was how to read media through a variety of platforms. What are the uses, efficacy, and limitations of different methodologies in conveying ideas? After listening to Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee radio segment, we were able to compare the written style of The Crossing to the auditory style of radio. It was fascinating to consider the merits of each in conveying research. It was apparent that the introduction of voices, or multiple perspectives resonated with many of the listener’s in our class and that hearing directly from both the researcher and subjects humanized the entire situation. Every image, every word, every voice aims to convey a version of truth as its creator sees it. To hear the subject’s voice, in their space “made real” the entire event and lessened the divide between us and them. It is this ability to bridge the socio-cultural gap between the observed and observers in anthropological research through interactive media that is crucial to building understanding and empathy.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/593/dont-have-to-live-like-a-refugee

When we see images, it makes what we are seeing real. A certain objectivity is at least presumed.   Our discussion of photography and the moving image deepened our discussion of this concept. Photographs, in essence, freeze time, depicting one impactful moment. Their reading is very different from that of the written word or even film because of this unique ability to pause and force their viewer to focus on whatever is captured. Film provides a more visceral experience for the viewer, but with it’s more complex nature, gives the viewer more freedom to focus or be moved by different aspects of the art form. Beyond differences in aesthetics and form, however, the question of which medium is more effective in communication remains.

imgres

In looking at our recent discussion of war depicted through media, it is interesting to compare iconic imagery of war with a film such as Saving Private Ryan. When reading media it is important to consider the creator’s intention and as Susan Sontag in her piece Looking at War contends, images of war could mobilize war and act as an impetus for violence or can be seen as atrocious acts of violence that war has brought us. Sontag reminds us that any image is left up to interpretation of the viewer. A piece like The Crossing, I would argue, lets its readers know exactly what information is trying to be conveyed with no room for manipulation or interpretation. Captions are placed on photos and the story is told warmheartedly but in a matter of fact manner. When bringing awareness to social issues with the intention of impacting change, it is critical to manage how one’s content is being read.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82RTzi5Vt7w

The Crossing: Hope and The Telling of Stories

The Crossing tells a remarkable story, one most people are not familiar with. The story humanizes the refugee condition and defines Morocco as an “in between space”, as it represents a unique geographic and socio-political context. Europe has come to represent a utopia, free from the suffering and poverty that drove many of the refugees from their homelands. Glorification of the western world is common as it grants those attempting to cross into Europe a sense of hope and purpose. Thus exists a duality of reality and dreams, acceptance and faith, for a better tomorrow. 

picture-of-the-crossing

The Crossing raises crucial social, economic, and political questions about what it means to be a citizen. What is a nation? What does being human mean and what are our rights? Are these being enforced? What and where is human dignity and how can we display it even in the most dire of circumstances? The complexity of these issues is boundless. Political power, economics, and law define some of these questions, but the real issue lies in exposing the atrocities of the Moroccan refugee condition, granting outsiders access into the crises to hopefully enact change.

Herein highlights the inherent need for anthropologists and social activists to uncover the untold stories of our human brethren and bring to light their suffering so we as a collective can learn, grow, and change our world for the better.

I was moved to tears reading the story of Beni and Dikembe and the horrid living conditions that brought them to Morocco. These men seek a new life for themselves and family, as their past is filled with suffering and devastation. The description of the poverty and misfortune that struck these men was beyond my comprehension. I transcended from my place in the world into their shoes for a brief moment. I was washed with grief and disgust and reminded of my privilege.

Beni promises that he and his brothers will “make it to Europe or we will die trying.” Tragic political conditions prevent most men who make it to the receiving center from achieving asylum. Ambiguous international laws on when refugees should be granted such status limits the possibilities for the majority of refugees. A successful crossing does not even mean a guaranteed asylum. Even worse, the illicit activity of the Guardia Civil and the common act of repatriation is atrocious. Often men, women, and children are left to die.

I was taken aback by the idea and pervasiveness of hope that is described throughout The Crossing, that men like Beni hold on to. In the face of such atrocity and suffering, hope is what keeps these men afloat. Heroes, or token success stories, are likened to biblical truth. If someone has crossed, it means it’s possible.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-11-16-09-pm

It is grim to compare the Moroccan refugee crisis to the Holocaust, but human suffering and restrictions on freedom is something that can be linked across time, place, and culture. Seeing Spain from their forest camp, freedom so in reach yet so unattainable, I was reminded of this image, which reads ‘Work for Freedom’.

imgres

I am deeply saddened by the impossibility and implausibility of achieving freedom through a crossing. I hope that there is another more civilized way for those seeking aid to be granted asylum.

Another fascinating aspect of Alexander’s The Crossing was the efficacy of its storytelling method. I believe it is important to analyze both the content and its presentation to understand how and why something can be shared effectively. A sympathetic not intrusive narration allows the story to tell itself. The use of Beni and Dikembe’s stories humanize the experience of the viewer.

I was reminded of the article That’s Enough About Ethnography! as it occurred to me that there was an important interplay between the engagement of participation and the detachment of observation of the anthropologist. Although present, it is clear a process and development of relationship between subject and observer has taken place and that the anthropologist is welcomed to tell their story. I now understand that in practice a simply ethnographic writing could be “devalued by its reduction to ‘data’” and that the goal of education could perhaps not be reached through this methodology (Ingold, 391).

Ultimately, there is an ethic responsibility of those who can, to share with the world the silent suffering of others. There are now, with the advent of new technology, effective measures of sharing untold stories. The first step to change is being aware of what’s going on in the world. So whose duty is it to expose what is going on? I think this matters tremendously and is the key to a better tomorrow for us all.

Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles

Richard Leacock, a British filmmaker (1921-2011) is recognized as a leading and pioneer documentary filmmaker. His unique filmic style resembles that of direct cinema and cinema verite. Direct cinema is a filmic style that values realism and honors objectivity. The filmmaker maintains a “fly on the wall” relationship with the subjects, allowing their ‘real’ behavior to show through without the influence of the filmmaker. Cinema verite is a style that aims to reveal truth through the use of the camera, uses improvisation, and can maintain a transparent relationship between filmmaker on screen and subject. Both differ in the filmmaker’s involvement within his own film.

Growing up, Leacock was interested in the photographic arts and then moved towards the moving image. His aim was to make his films realistic, so an audience member would feel like they were really there. Some examples of his early work were Canary Bananas followed by Toby and the Tall Corn and the film Jazz, which was filmed with a hand held camera. Leacock, however, is most renowned for his revolutionary work with sound in films.

Leacock was frustrated with the technology available at the time and aimed to separate sound and visuals, seamlessly linking these two fundamental aspects of cinema.  Sound equipment before the 1960’s was heavy and bulky. The sound for documentaries was often recorded separately and prior to the actual video recording. This in essence, means that a realistic or genuine recording of documentary cinema was simply not possible before Leacock and others devised a way to combine sound and imagery and revolutionize filmmaking.

The first work of its kind, Primary, benefitted from this technological advancement. Primary acts as a record of the democratic primary between JFK and Hubert Humphrey and led a new journalistic filmmaking movement. Using a tape recorder and lightweight camera, which was unprecedented at the time, sound and visual content were combined simultaneously without the viewer’s knowledge to capture what was really happening. Leacock is known within the field as the patriarch of documentary filmmaking due to this groundbreaking invention. Filmmakers had the freedom to now work outside of the bounds of a tripod, could use unique types of shots, and could move away from the omnipotent style of narrating documentaries that was customary to the time period. It is actually said, that this style of filmmaking dominated over all other styles for over 25 years. This profound moment in documentary filmmaking’s history is remembered as a huge turning point for the industry.

Here is the preview for Leacock’s film: Primary

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJKkifNy59o

Also known as one of the leading figures in the Direct Cinema movement, Albert Maysles (1926-2015) also made his mark within the field. He is known as one of the first people to make a feature film about daily life as it unfolds in reality. This occurred with no planning, scripting, or shaping. Like Leacock, Albert also made Primary and contributed to the philosophy that a film should tell it’s own story. Known for defining “classic American documentary” (Mayles Films), his career was marked by tremendous success as he continued to pave the way for documentary filmmaking.

References:

http://mayslesfilms.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Leacock