David MacDougall — Gandhi’s Children

David MacDougall is a visual anthropologist famous for making ethnographic films and for his compassionate and nuanced understandings of different cultures, customs, and behaviors. He studied English literature, ethnographic film, and film studies at the university level. His first film was about herders in Uganda after which he depicted the lives of Kenyan camel herders and nomadic groups. His recent works have been in India and focused on children, growing up, and schools, but have also included one about a children’s shelter for orphans and juvenile detainees, portraying and detailing different educational and life experiences.

MacDougall has also written books related to his work, such as Transcultural Cinema and The Corporeal Image. His writings have an accessible personal essay style with little jargon and address the differences between film and written text. He also focuses on images and their relation to the bodies of both the subject and viewer. He has even claimed that visual anthropology has always been at odds methodologically with traditional [word based] anthropology. Furthermore, in the 1970’s MacDougall and his wife began incorporating subtitled speech rather than voice-overs for their films’ subjects, helping to give them more of a voice in order to speak for themselves to others, and have worked on forging more collaborative relationships with those they have portrayed.

In this video you can see the trailer for one of his documentaries dealing with children. After doing two films that focused on elite schools, David realized how his ethnographies had only shown middle class children and institutions in India. The following clips are from the 2008 ethnographic film Gandhi’s Children. You can catch a glimpse of the experiences these boys have living in a shelter, as well as how some of them ended up there. The facilities are generally shared and often worn down, inadequate or outright broken.