Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Christopher Hewlett

We are pleased to present a trailer and abstract for Dr. Christopher Hewlett who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on ‘Amahuaca: Building the Future’: A Collaborative Film Project in Peruvian Amazonia.

AMAHUACA SIEMPRE english trailer from Fernando Valdivia on Vimeo.

‘Amahuaca: Building the Future’: A Collaborative Film Project in Peruvian Amazonia

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

The Postdoctoral Fellowship was spent working on a series of inter-connected films about Amahuaca people from communities on the Inuya River in the central Peruvian amazon.  Throughout the course of the fellowship I collaborated with Fernando Valdivia, a Peruvian filmmaker, social commentator and professor of cinema and filmmaking. While we made three separate films during the fellowship, including one documenting a health crisis in an Amahuaca community, the project is oriented around the creation of an Indigenous Cultural Heritage Center and formation of a new indigenous political federation, which took place over a three-day event in 2015. While centering the narrative on this event the film explores the themes of memory, transformation, cultural heritage, and collective resilience. These themes emerge as the film follows three generations of Amahuaca people as they they navigate contemporary life, reflect upon their lives and share their hopes for the future. The title, ‘Amahuaca Siempre’ (Amahuaca Always) comes from the final scene of the documentary when Carlos Melendez, the only Amahuaca bilingual schoolteacher, explains the importance of being Amahuaca for himself and why he continues fighting to make younger Amahuaca people proud of their heritage and identity.

The period of the Postdoctoral Fellowship was spent working on a series of inter-connected films about Amahuaca people from communities on the Inuya River in the central peruvian amazon.

The first was a short video we made about a serious health crisis in the Amahuaca community of Alto Esperanza at the headwaters of the Inuya River. During the filming-stage of the documentary, which took place in January and February of 2017, I visited visited Alto Esperanza with the film crew and found many sick women and children. The primary illness was leshmaniasis, which is a potentially deadly disease spread by a small fly that often results in sores on the skin that spreads across the body. In response to the high number of cases in this one village, we made a short film about the situation that we later posted to youtube with English and Spanish versions. The film was also shared with media outlets around Peru, and was picked up by newspapers, radio programs, television and online news platforms.

As a result of the video and campaign, a group of medical practitioners and representatives of the ministry of health visited the community. From the information that I currently have these medical practitioners identified more tan 15 cases of leshmaniasis in just this one Amahuaca community. The ministry of health reported that the trip had been succesful; however, as of December of 2017 there had been no treatment provided for the illnesses. As a result, the new organization (SHARE-Amazonica.org) which I started during the period of my fellowship, funded the making of another video. This has been completed and posted on youtube. If nothing further is done by April of 2018, then we will begin another public campaign using the video, our website and other material to raise awareness about the issue.

The second is the film ‘Amahuaca’, which was produced as a result of a filmmaking workshop held at the Indigenous Cultural Heritage Center in the Amahuaca community of Nuevo San Martin. During the course of the workshop, a group of Amahuaca people ranging in age from approximately 8-70 years old learned about the process of making a film. The result was a 30 minute film created by Amahuaca people about their traditions and why these are important. The group were responsible for creating the story, filming, recording sound and doing the lighting. the workshop was organized by me and led by Fernando Valdivia whp was also responsible for editing the material. Luisa Wagenschwanz and Alex Giraldo who comprised the film crew assisted with the workshop and trained the group on lighting, sound and managing production.

The third and central film combines these two shorter films with additional footage shot in 2015 and 2017, as well as archival material from the 1960s. It is approximately 65 minutes in length. The title, ‘Amahuaca Siempre’ (Amahuaca, Allways) comes from the final scene of the documentary when Carlos Melendez, the only Amahuaca bilingual schoolteacher explains the importance of being Amahuaca for himself and why he fights to make younger Amahuaca people proud of their heritage and identity. This is particularly appropriate as the project began with the creation of an Indigenous Cultural Heritage Center in the Amahuaca community where Carlos teaches. Focusing on this event allows the film to explore the themes of memory, transformation, cultural heritage, and collective resilience.

The film opens with photos and text to set out the historical context and then introduces the main protagonists who are representative of three generations of Amahuaca people. The viewer is introduced to Margarita who is a great-great grandmother and was a young mother when she lived in the first evangelical mission for Amahuaca people that was established in the headwaters of the Inuya River. She is looking at pictures from this period in the book ‘Farewell to Eden’ and Carlos is asking her questions. Carlos later says that Margarita is now like his mother, as she was very close with his own who had recently died. At the end of the film Margarita says that she wants to return to the area where she was born to eat a kind of fish that no longer exists on the Inuya. She is now too old to return.

The viewer is then introduced to two younger Amahuaca, Gino and Nelly who are in their early 20s. Gino is the only Amahuaca student from the area attending university. Nelly is a young mother and was unable to complete primary school. The film follows them as they navigate life as young Amahuaca adults, talk about their lives and share their hopes for the future. Gino wants to return to his community to help out, become a role model for younger Amahuaca and eventually start a small business. Nelly wants to finish school, but has really always dreamt of being a cosmolotologist. Finally, we are introduced to Roberto Pansitimba who at the age of 10 became a central protagonist in the book ‘Farewell to Eden’ while living with his parents and extended family in the mission. He is now a great-grandfather and leader of Nuevo San Martin. The film aims to offer a balance of ages, experiences and genders with 1 woman and 1 man from the first and third generations, with Carlos as an unmarried professor and founder of the cultural center is positioned as the main protagonist. Throughout the film we travel with Carlos as he is elected to be the first president of the newly established indigenous federation for representing Amahuaca people, visiting communities, and eventually renouncing the position so he can focus on his duties as a teacher.

The idea for the foundation of the cultural center arose during my fieldwork in Amahuaca communities on the Inuya River from 2009-2011, which was funded by a Wenner-Gren dissertation fieldwork grant. In fact, the film project began with the inauguration ceremony of this cultural center, which was also funded through a Wenner-Gren Engagement Grant. The Cultural Heritage Center plays a central role in the documentary to anchor the stories of three generations of Amahuaca people as they remember the past, reflect upon the present and anticipate what challenges and opportunities the future may bring.

The documentary incorporates archival material that was made available through the support of the American Museum of Natural History and International Center for Photography. I have signed contracts with these institutions for non-commercial use of photos and film footage which was collected in the early 1960s. Robert Carneiro and Gertrude Dole lived with Amahuaca people at two sites in 1960-61, which resulted in the creation of a large archive of photos, notes and film footage. Gertrude Dole used a portion of the footage to make a short documentary, which was released in 1974. Matthew Huxley and Cornell Capa visited the mission of Varadero several times during this same period and co-published ‘Farewell to Eden’ in 1964. This book, photos from the museum archive, the original film and new documentaries are displayed in the Cultural Heritage Center along with material artifacts made by Amahuaca people.

We have completed versions of all the films with English and Spanish subtitles, and will be making another version of ‘Amahuaca Siempre’ with subtitles in German this year. We are also currently in the process of building a website using the domain, Amahuaca-Siempre.org.

‘Amahuaca Siempre’ has been shown several times in Peru and once in Cuba during a film workshop that Fernando was invited to attend. The official premiere was for the CINESUYU Film Festival in Cusco in September of 2017 where Fernando was being honored for his contribution to filmmaking in Peru. The U.S. premiere will be held at the Field Museum in Chicago on the 5th of March as part of a short tour we are making to three cities. We will be showing the second ‘Amahuaca’ at the American Museum of Natural History on March 7th and ‘Amahuaca Siempre’ again as part of a film series I run out of the Center for Research and Collaboration in the Indigenous Americas (CRACIA) at the University of Maryland on March 9th. Most recently, the film has been selected as a potential finalist at the prestigious Anaconda film festival in Bolivia. Over the course of 2017-2018 we will be submitting it to multiple film festivals in South America, North America and Europe over the course of 2017-2018. The most meaningful screening of the film was in the Cultural Heritage Center in the Amahuaca community in December of 2017. It was shown for three consecutive nights to meet the demands of the Amahuaca people for whom it was made. They now have their own copies of both their film ‘Amahuaca’ and the full-length ‘Amahuaca Siempre’ on dvd.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Colin Halverson

While a doctoral student at the University of Chicago Colin Halverson received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2014 to aid research on “Asymmetrical Meaning in Patient–Provider Interaction,” supervised by Dr. Michael Silverstein. In 2017 Dr. Halverson received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Clinical Pragmatics: Revisiting Communication Concerns in Medical Genetics”.

In my dissertation, I posed the question: How does one communicate complex information to people without the background to understand it? In order to find an answer, I conducted about 20 months of fieldwork (including 12 consecutive months in the year 2014) at an academic medical center in the American Midwest. Specifically, I worked with experts ‘translating’ information about patients’ genetic diseases to other specialists and to the lay patients themselves. I conducted interviews and participant observation in the clinic and its affiliated laboratories and completed two internships – one in medical ethics and one in patient education during my time in the field.

In this Engaged Anthropology project, I returned to my field site to discuss my findings with geneticists, genetic counselors, oncologists, educators, and laboratory scientists. I held a number of salons and one-on-one meetings with interested individuals from medical genetics, patient education, and medical ethics. These salons examined the topics that emerged from my research as the most ethically pressing in terms of communication in such a clinic: 1) the process of obtaining informed consent, 2) the disclosure of uncertainty in genetic test results, and 3) the unusual ethical position of medical genetics, located as it is between scientific research and clinical practice. I addressed each of these primary issues within its “thick” ethnographic context, providing clear and poignant case studies to illustrate the relatively more theoretical points I was discussing. Salons were held in the Center for Individualized Medicine and in the Office of Patient Education, but each was attended by a variety of people from across the hospital’s many departments that were touched by each day’s themes. This included participants from nursing, medical ethics, and laboratory science as well as people more directly involved in medical genetics and patient education. Between 20 and 30 people attended each session, including a number of people who Skyped in from the hospital’s other campuses.

In the first salon I held in the Center for Individualized Medicine, I brought up the topic of uncertainty (both in the return of results from genetic testing as well as in the process of informed consent). This proved so interesting to the attendees – and resonated so clearly with their personal concerns as professionals – that this more or less dominated both days of discussion with that group. Moreover, when I addressed this topic with the patient educators (toward the end of my time with them), this spurred particular enthusiasm and led to a number of discussions after the official sessions had closed.

With the patient educators, we primarily discussed insights into their work, insights that I derived from Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of “double voicing” and Althusser’s concept of “interpellation.” I provided numerous real-life examples of these theories in action from my own time as an intern with them. They are very used to this sort of presentation, as it is more or less the same genre that their weekly Writers’ Meetings use: Attendees present a number examples of difficulties from their own work ‘simplifying’ “doctor talk” into “real English.” I took this format but also provided these theoretical frameworks in order to demonstrate some unifying issues underlying their professional practice.

These salons truly proved to be collaborative engagements between myself and the professionals at the hospital – many of whom I had worked with during my fieldwork, but some of whom I had not met before. They provoked critical thought and feedback, and both the attendees and I felt that we left the salons better informed and better positioned to make positive interventions into clinical care. While discussing the three primary forms of “non-knowledge” that I hypothesize are at play in medical genetics (risk, uncertainty, and randomness – which I furthermore proposed are conflated by patients), I got remarkably discerning feedback. While everyone agreed that the distinctions I was making were valid and of clinical significance, one laboratory scientist said that within my framework she saw uncertainty as a subset of risk rather than a stand-alone category. This sparked a long debate about whether uncertainty (as I described it, “knowledge about the limits of one’s knowledge”) was medically actionable and therefore could constitute “real risk.” Likewise, a clinician encouraged a reflective (and anthropological!) discussion when he asked the room for a “definition of knowledge” before anyone continue our current discussion on uncertainty.

Attendees of the salons engaged enthusiastically with my work, asked and answered questions that have arisen from it, and related these topics back to the ongoing local and global transformations currently taking place in their professional worlds. Both groups have requested that I return again to continue the conversations we started in our salons. I received a number of grateful and kind emails, describing how our discussions have led them to reflect on their practices, in particular appreciating the links I drew to ethics, which is a critical domain that typically remains outside of non-clinicians’ conceptions of their professional labors. One person even told me she thought one of the salons was “the best professional development presentation we have had in a while!”

This was a wonderful opportunity for me to re-engage with my old colleagues and friends and to see how the clinic has evolved since my last visit in 2015. These discussions have added to the ways I have been thinking about the clinic and its practices of ‘translation’ as well. In fact, the article I have begun on the three forms of “non-knowledge” in medical genetics will greatly benefit from some of my interlocutors’ recent insights. I very much appreciate Wenner Gren’s continued support of my work, as do the attendees of my salons.

NYAS @ WGF 2/26: Passions for Interests: Water and Rural Political Belonging in America

Join us at the Wenner-Gren Foundation on February 26th at 5:45 PM for another great installment of the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series. Jessica Cattelino, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies, associate director of the Center for the Study Women, University of California, Los Angeles, will be presenting, “Passions for Interests: Water and Rural Political Belonging in America”. Paige West, Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University, will act as discussant.

Please note: the lecture begins at 6:30 PM, and while the event is free to attend pre-registration is required for entry into the building.

Event Registration:  If you will be registering for an event for the first time, the New York Academy of Sciences will ask you first to set up a user account with them. Registration is free and does not require divulging personal or financial information.

You can also register by phone, 212-298-8640 or 212-298-8600.  Early Registration is strongly recommended since seating is limited. 

The world faces a water crisis, with the United Nations predicting a 40% global water deficit by 2030. Recent water struggles in the United States, from Standing Rock to Flint to California’s droughts, exemplify a broader cultural politics whereby group s come to understand and assess one another through their relations to water. In the Florida Everglades, the world’s largest ecosystem restoration project is underway and has as its policy goal “getting the water right.” There, as across America, political analysis focus on so-called stakeholders and interest groups (such as agriculture and environment). Such passion for interests—as, purportedly, the forces that unite and explain political collectivities—stunts understandings about political belonging in rural America.

This presentation brings together two twenty-first-century examples of everyday politics in a mostly-drained rural region of the Florida Everglades: the headline-grabbing proposed buyout of a major sugar corporation by the State of Florida for purposes of Everglades restoration; and a major Seminole Tribe of Florida water conservation project. The economist A.O. Hirschman, in his influential book The Passions and the Interests (1977), explained how early proponents of capitalism struggled to reconcile the relationship of passions to interests. The political anthropology of interests presented in this lecture highlights their production and (in)commensuration in relation to water and capitalism. The goal is to think through and, hopefully, beyond the passion for “interests” in scholarly and popular understandings of American political life.


About the Speakers:

Jessica Cattelino’s research focuses on economy, nature, indigeneity, and settler colonialism. Her book, High Stakes: Florida Seminole Gaming and Sovereignty (Duke University Press, 2008) won the Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff  Memorial Book Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of North America.  Her current book project addresses Everglades restoration and theorizes the co-production of nature and indigeneity in settler societies like the United States.  She speaks to the current concerns about environmental degradation and indigenous people’s roles in sparking struggles against the pollution of water sources and the destruction of precious resources such as the Everglades. Cattelino’s current research is funded by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Howard Foundation.

Paige West’s scholarly interest is the relationship between societies and their environments. She has written about the intersections between indigenous epistemic practices and conservation science, the linkages between environmental conservation and international development, the material and symbolic ways in which the natural world is understood and produced, the aesthetics and poetics of human social relations with nature, and the creation of commodities and practices of consumption.  Recent books include Dispossession and The Environment: Rhetoric and Inequality in Papua New Guinea (2016), From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea (2012) (2013 runner up for the Julian Steward Award from the American Anthropological Association) and, co-edited with James G. Carrier, Virtualism, Governance, and Practice: Vision and Execution in Environmental Conservation (2009). Dr. West is a past president of the Anthropology and Environment Section of the American Anthropological Association, past chair of the Association of Social Anthropology in Oceania, and past chair of the Department of Anthropology at Barnard College. She is founder and co-editor of the journal Environment and Society: Advances in Research.  In 2017 / 2018 she is a distinguished national speaker for Phi Beta Kappa.  Dr. West is a co-founder of the PNG Institute of Biological Research in Papua New Guineans. She is the volunteer anthropologist for the PNG NGO Ailan Awareness (AA), a marine-focused organization that works with communities in New Ireland and New Hanover to facilitate the conservation of their traditions, languages, and natural resources.

Buffet Dinner at 5:45 pm ($20 contribution for dinner guests / free for students).

Lecture begins at 6:30 pm and are free and open to the public.

Pre-registration is required for entry into the building.

All talks in this series take place at the Wenner-Gren Foundation Building, 470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor, New York (at 32nd Street).