For my first venture into ethnographic film, I wanted to make a film with my Dad, not of my Dad. Although I had an idea of what I wanted to achieve, in talking over topics which were prescient for both of us at the time, I thought the collaborative effort to be necessary in order for some sort of “truth” to be expressed. The truths concerning my Dad’s predicament are not “out there” to be easily observed in my Dad´s behavior, or easily elucidated in his answers to my questions; therefore my effort alone would not express his truths. That being said his attitudes and frustrations have been reflected in his way of being and acting in some ways, to my eye, and I thought these feeling would perhaps come through in his words and mannerisms, so in that sense just capturing could have an effect in portraying certain feelings, and I think it did in some ways.
I soon realized that asking explicit questions to my Dad led to him answering in ways which did not resonate as insightful, seeming automatic. It was in conversation and through the process of making the film that we could come together for us both to express certain things, and for our relationship to be the linchpin which allowed any insight to come through. For me it felt like a learning process, about my Dad, and also my attitudes towards him, and for my Dad I think that in expressing these feelings (which may often be unexpressed and laying dormant in the background) my Dad perhaps became clearer in his current self.
I sometimes thought that our relationship was an obstacle to the making of the film, but I realized that it is only an obstacle in creating the film that I had premonitions of what I thought it was going to be, it was through the process of connecting and filming that my Dad opened up and expressed things which he had not done so with me before. Through this experience I seemed to have got a taste of what Jean Rouch calls cinetrace, where the unusual circumstance and behavior which is brought forth by the cameraman and subject communicating in this unique way, allowed insight to come through, particular insight that I think could only be expressed in that way by me talking with my father. (Henley 2010).
Although there was collaboration in the process, where my Dad put input of what would be good to discuss, and of certain shots etc. It is by no doubt my film, the editing process was done by me and it reflects my perspective on my Dad´s position. The total film is a reflection of my relationship with my dad, my relationship with the place by the sea that we have shared, my perspective at the moment and attitudes towards him and his worldview.
Another aspect of filmmaking which seemed important at the time; in filming, in editing, and in reviewing the work, was an awareness of beauty. I now realize that the experience of filmmaking is heightened by an awareness of aesthetics. This awareness transforms the experience of shooting, it is in some ways similar to when one is observing a particular beautiful scene, but different from simply observing as one wants to capture it in a way which takes in the beauty and uses it in a way which will prove revealing or meaningful. The wanting to capture something in a certain way means that the filming process is reflexive, where you are judging what you are creating in the moment and looking to manipulate it based on an awareness of beauty and meaning. This is different to observing beauty when not looking to capture it, where awareness of beauty is reflexive in itself, with little to do. I found the capturing element of this experience, pressurizing but also fulfilling.
For the viewer of the end product of the film, of course an awareness of aesthetics makes the experience of watching more enjoyable, but it seems more than just enjoyment as aesthetics also help connect the viewer with the subjects of the film, making it more affective and thus portraying meaning more effectively and intensely. This portrayal of meaning shows the aesthetic being tied to the emotional, when the emotion of the subject matter and the appropriate aesthetic (reflected in the audiovisual) come together, there is a heightened sense of meaning – a peak experience for the viewer of sorts (Henley 2010). This awareness of the aesthetic should thus not be seen as distinct and separate from the factual, classically “ethnographic“, rather they can and should complement and as a result equate to more than the sum of their parts (Banks Ruby 2011).
Without the awareness of aesthetic and the shots of the area of natural beauty around my father´s home, I feel like the film would be of less note, it is only because of the relevance of the place to my father´s past, and the relevant affect of the audiovisual captured from the place, to my Dad´s words, that the film could be deemed as valuable to my Dad, myself, and perhaps to a wider audience.
Banks, M., & Ruby, J. (Eds.). (2011). Made to be seen: perspectives on the history of visual anthropology. University of Chicago Press.
Henley, P. (2010). The adventure of the real: Jean Rouch and the craft of ethnographic cinema. University of Chicago Press.
MacDougall, D. (1998). Visual anthropology and the ways of knowing. Transcultural cinema, 61, 92.