Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Martha-Cecilia Dietrich

In 2017 Dr. Martha-Cecilia Dietrich received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship that gave her the opportunity to make, Horror in the Andes, a documentary film that in her words focused on “a two-year long investigation into the local horror film production in the Peruvian highlands and the films’ rising popularity among local audiences”. We are proud to share the following trailer and blog post.

Horror In The Andes – teaser from Filmmaking For Fieldwork on Vimeo.

Horror in the Andes

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

‘Horror in the Andes’ is an observational documentary based on a two-year long investigation into the local horror film production in the Peruvian highlands and its rising popularity among local audiences. The film follows three film-makers Martin, Lucho and Carlitos whilst shooting a horror movie in the small town of Ayacucho. It is an intimate description of a friendship that is held together by a passion for cinema and the commitment to the arduous process of film-making. Horror in the Andes premiered at the RAI film festival in March 2019 and will be screened in mainstream and ethnographic film festivals as well as conferences in Europe, Latin America and Africa in the coming year.

This research-led documentary aimed at embedding the practice of filmmaking as both, methodological tool and principal subject of analysis with a focus on horror fiction filmmaking as a means to render violent pasts and articulate notions of Andean identity. As applied in this project, ethnographic filmmaking is a method for the systematic exploration of what the documentary film pioneer Dziga Vertov (in Grimshaw 2003, 28) referred to as the “world in movement,” that is, a way of analyzing the processes of social transformation and cultural manifestation, not as abstract systems but as experience or practice. The ethnographic filmmaker’s endeavor is always an exploration of the world inscribed by the researcher’s ways of seeing or looking (MacDougall 2006, 7). What is meaningful to the filmmaker shapes content and form that is given to the story and the people of the film. How stories are told, its spatial, practical and performative aspects, invite to reflect on the epistemological and aesthetic imperatives that guide vision and creation – theirs and mine. This epistemology of vision materialized in composed images and sounds, which turned into a constructed narrative representing and communicating research findings to an audience.

The presence of two cameras filming alongside each other revealed a certain politics of gazing, a way of looking, of looking away and being looked at in the process of observing and being observed. It also had the effect of challenging these boundaries of clearly distinguishing between behind and in front of the camera, performer and spectator, researcher and researched. It is precisely in this threshold between framing and being framed created by the shared endeavor of capturing expressive beauty and power and in moments of triumph and failure, where relationships, experience and critical reflection took place. The ethnographic material used in this film and discussed in accompanying texts is the result of this engagement.

The work carried out during the fellowship period included the editing of the film, the writing of a related article entitled Re-imagining Andean-ness: identity politics in contemporary Ayacuchan horror cinema (submitted to the Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology) and festival submissions.

Past and scheduled Screenings (last updated on 1. June 2019)

  • The Swiss School of Latin American Studies (SSLAS) – Workshop “Héroes y pueblos” / “Heroes and the people” Universidad de Berna 14-15 December 2018
  • RAI film festival – official selection (special interest) commendation for Richard Werbner Award, 27-30 March 2019 (Premier)
  • VdR – Media Library Selection, 5-13 April 2019
  • IUAES 2019 Inter-Congress “World Solidarities” audiovisual programme in Poznan, Poland, 27-31. August 2019
  • Oaxaca Film festival, 4-10. October 2019
  • Inshort Film festival/Lagos, November 2019

Link to website: https://filmmakingforfieldwork.co.uk/horror-in-the-andes

References:

Grimshaw, Anna. 2001. The Ethnographer’s Eye: Ways of Seeing in Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

MacDougall, David. 2006. The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography, and the Senses. Princeton University Press.

UPDATE:

We’re thrilled to announce that Horror in the Andes has been selected to appear at the Society for Visual Anthropology Film & Media Festival this November and has been awarded “Best Short Film” for anthropological film. The SVA Film Festival will run concurrent with the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association November 20th- 24th at the Vancouver Convention Center. To keep track of screenings, visit https://filmmakingforfieldwork.co.uk/horror-in-the-andes

 

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Jennifer Heuson

Wenner-Gren is proud to present the following blog post and trailer from Jennifer Heuson who in 2016 received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filming on Sounding Western: Aural Sovereignty in a Sacred Land.

Sounding Western: Aural Sovereignty in a Sacred Land

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

This is a film about listening, hearing and, ultimately, about not being heard. It is about what happens when an entire people are protected as silence makers for others. It is about what it sounds, looks and feels like to be colonized by frontier myth. For centuries, the Black Hills of western South Dakota have been held sacred to Lakota peoples. Today, the Hills are at the heart of a billion-dollar industry that uses Lakota presence to create frontier experiences for tourists. This film tells the story of Lakota attempts to negotiate and resist cultural and spiritual appropriation through sounds, noises and even silence.

Sounding Western focuses on three Lakota stories. Paul Summers/LaRoche is Lower Brulé Lakota and founder of the contemporary Native American rock band Brulé. With his daughter Nicole on flute and son Shane on drums, Paul uses keyboards, Lakota-inspired vocals and oral storytelling to share his personal tale of adoption, heritage recovery and reconciliation. Mary Bordeaux is Sigancu Lakota; she is former curator at Crazy Horse Memorial and founder of the Native art collective Racing Magpie. Mary uses visual art and advocacy to make noise and resist the silent, spirituality central to tourist appropriations of Lakota identity in the Black Hills. Nicole LaRoche, along with her father Paul and brother Shane, performs in Brulé, negotiating her roles as an award-winning Native female performer, daughter, and mother with her conflicting hope and skepticism for the future of Native empowerment through music.

Sounding Western is based on field research conducted in South Dakota’s Black Hills from 2008–2014 and supported by a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant and dissertation writing funds through the Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund. Over the course of visiting and living in South Dakota, I conducted dozens of interviews, collected hundreds of field observations – including sound recordings and mappings and local folklore related to aurality – and completed historical research that collectively enabled me to make a case for the consistent role of aural colonization in contemporary regional tourism. In my resulting dissertation “Sounding Western: Frontier Aurality, Tourism and Heritage Production in South Dakota’s Black Hills,” I argue that “aural sovereignty” is a crucial new framing for understanding how contemporary tourism impacts Indigenous communities. I feel very fortunate to have received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship for 2017–2018 to explore visual modalities for telling this aural tale.

Over the course of the fellowship year, I reconnected with subjects from my research and reimagined the film’s aesthetic approach based on collaborative conversations with Mary Bordeaux and Paul and Nicole LaRoche. I created a new film treatment that approaches the 20-minute film as a triptych. The film opens with a sequence of audio archival recordings, moving into three distinct Lakota approaches to tourism and life, and closes with a super-8mm montage overlaid with sound designed from key field recordings. The fellowship year enabled me to work through nearly 200 of my field recordings to select and edit those most essential to my argument. I also conducted archival sound research for the film’s opening and created a super-8mm montage for its closing sequence. I made trips to the Black Hills to film three portraits using a Canon Mark III DLSR camera; these visits allowed me to learn a new workflow and camera, but also provided wonderful opportunities to reevaluate my work and local relationships.

In 2017 and 2018, I shared raw excerpts from the film and edited field recordings at two public workshops on sound ethnography at UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art in Brooklyn. I also shared sounds from the film and discussed its core methods and arguments at a public presentation on Stone Tape Theories at UnionDocs in 2016. And, I have begun work on an audiobook version of the dissertation, which I hope will provide the research in form more accessible to local communities in South Dakota. During the last week of October 2018, I returned to the Black Hills to complete final interviews. I will return again in late spring 2019 to share rough cuts with my collaborators and others in the tourist production communities of the Black Hills. I expect to complete the final cut of the film for application to film festivals in the summer of 2019.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Alex Fattal

Wenner-Gren is excited to share the following trailer and blog post from Alex Fattal who in 2016 received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on Limbo. Prior to receiving a Fejos Fellowship Dr. Fattal received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2009 to aid research on, “Guerrilla Marketing: Information Warfare and the Demobilization of FARC Rebels,” and an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2014 that allowed him to return to the field to share his research with the community.

LIMBO – trailer ENG. from Casatarántula on Vimeo.

Limbo

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

Producing Limbo has been quite a journey, literally. It has entailed transforming the payload of a truck into a giant camara obscura. That meant not only convincing the truck’s owner to allow me to open a five-centimeter hole in the side of his truck, but figuring out how to craft a lens for that hole (it involved Universidad de los Andes’s physics department and a local eyeglass shop). Once the truck camera (camion cámara) was built it became the place in which I interviewed eight former guerrilla fighters. In that darkened chamber they told me about their lives: why they joined the guerrillas, what life was like inside the FARC, and why, despite the risk of being executed, they chose to leave the insurgency? The camión cámara became a confessional, dreamlike space, and many of the stories revolved around dreams. The project emerges from my ethnographic research, which was recently published in the book Guerrilla Marketing: Counterinsurgency and Capitalism in Colombia (University of Chicago Press, 2018).

My Fejos Fellowship allowed me to rethink and revamp this project. Rather than trying to weave a single narrative out of the eight stories, I decided to focus on one former guerrilla. This required not only taking the truck out to film crucial landscape shots, but also an extensive reframing of the narrative and all new editorial challenges. I’ve worked very hard with great partners in Colombia to figure out how the funky form and compelling content of the film could best come together. It’s been a challenge but I am happy with the result.

The film now focuses on the life of Javier Alexander, his troubled childhood, his education and military experience in the FARC, and his decision to desert after the devil makes repeated appearances in his dreams. Alex (the protagonist) can only vanquish his devilish dream by going back to his roots, a Shaman from the indigenous community that he comes from. His narrative is not linear, but bounces from present to past, from dream world to real world. Its topsy turvy jumble is apropos for the life in limbo that most former combats live, between a militant past and a civilian present, between the countryside and the city, between their experiences as victims and perpetrators — a world in limbo.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Jenny Chio

Wenner-Gren is thrilled to share yet another great trailer and blog post from one of our Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship recipients, Jenny Chio. In 2017 Dr. Chio received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on “These Days, These Homes: An Ethnographic Portrait Film.”

These Days, These Homes (preview 2018) from Jenny Chio on Vimeo.

These Days, These Homes

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

During the grant period, my work was focused on preparing for and conducting a final period of in-country research (May-June 2018) when I met with Wu and Qin again in Kaili, Guizhou. They had both moved into new houses, again, so filming and production was concentrated on shooting these new spaces as well as holding more “reflective” conversations about changes in their lives and our relationship. I also discussed the next steps of the film with them, letting them both know that I will prepare a cut for their review before any distribution or full public screening. After returning to the US from this in-country research, the remainder of the grant period was used to organize footage (video and audio) and to prepare for a final footage review/logging and editing. In reviewing all of the footage from 2018, 2017, 2015, and 2006-2008, I have begun to develop a stronger sense of narrative in the film as well as to experiment with using first-person voice-over narration to help structure the film.

These Days, These Homes will be an ethnographic portrait film focused on the lives of two ethnic Miao women in Guizhou, China. Wu and Qin, as they are referred to in the film, were both born in China’s post-reform 1980s and both married into the same village, Jidao, at approximately the same time, fourteen years ago in 2004. In 2006, I arrived in Jidao with the intent of studying the village’s nascent tourism development program, and over the period of my fieldwork in Jidao, Wu and Qin both became close friends and interlocutors. Since that time, I have visited them wherever their lives have taken them: from Jidao, to the factory towns of south China (Wu), to the nearest provincial capital city Kaili, where both Wu and Qin now reside, at least part time. These Days, These Homes uses the spaces of their lives – their homes in the village and the city – to illuminate and reflect upon the gendered experience of modernity for ethnic minority women like Wu and Qin, whose lives are still unfolding against a backdrop of rapid, almost unimaginable socioeconomic transformation across rural and urban China.

The majority of the film takes place inside the homes of Wu and Qin, and it will span multiples spaces and multiple years. In the time I have known her, Wu has moved numerous times, from her husband’s village house in Jidao to south China’s Guangdong province to a farmstead built by her family on the outskirts of Kaili city and now, in 2018, to a new concrete one-bedroom apartment within one of Kaili’s informal settlement communities. For Chen, her work as the village clinician and in Jidao village’s tourism has brought her new challenges and new sources of income. Within the village, she has moved three times: from a small apartment attached to the village clinic to her husband’s family house to a newly built home with guestrooms for tourists. Then, in 2018, she and her immediate family (her husband and two children) moved into a brand-new high-rise apartment in one of Kaili’s more well-to-do residential complexes, where they spend their weekends away from the demands of village life. Thus, for both Wu and Qin, their homes reflect not only their individual or household ambitions but, more significantly, refract the parallel but divergent paths taken by these two women.

Framed by their domestic environments and engaged in their everyday, domestic duties (from cooking for their families to preparing to host tourists and guests), the film features conversations with Wu and Qin in which we reflect upon our relationships to each other, the time that has passed since we met, and the times to come down the line. Once completed, the film will be structured in two parts, one each on Wu and Qin, followed by a short coda. My own reflections will be included as a first-person voice over narration, following in the style and tradition of the essay film. Visually, I will keep the emphasis on the spaces of home and domesticity, as these are the spaces in which I interact with Wu and Qin most frequently, but I also will include some footage of their lives in the city and village.

Over the next six months, I will workshop some of my ideas and rough cuts with audiences at UCLA, where I have been invited to give a public talk on the film project, gender, and modernity in China, and at USC in the Center for Visual Anthropology as part of their work-in-progress seminar series.

 

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Flavia Kremer

The Wenner-Gren Foundation couldn’t be happier to share the trailer and blog post from Dr. Flavia Kremer who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2015 to aid filmmaking on Is a non-Bororo man a Mr. Wrong?

In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right – Teaser from Flávia Kremer on Vimeo.

In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

For my project  “Is a non-Bororo man a Mr. Wrong?” I produced two film documents: In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right (40 min) and Dumping Mr. Wrong (approx. 60 min), which are in dialogue with each other.

These films will be the first two episodes of a micro series entitled Tales of Love and Bororo Myth, which explores the anthropology of love and kinship among the Bororo people in Central Brazil. Research and fundraising for the third episode is already underway. The film will follow a group of Bororo gay men in order to research the relationship between gay love and Bororo myth.

Tales of Love and Bororo Myth

The production of the micro series Tales of Love and Bororo Myth is a response to the challenges I faced during fieldwork, which transformed my initial research project. Departing from the first version of the visual ethnography In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right, which is an integral part of my PhD thesis entitled Gendered Prohibitions: Using Film to Explore Continuity and Change among the Bororo people in Central Brazil, I proposed to develop a “new genre” of ethnographic film: a kind of ethnographic “romantic comedy”.

The archetypal “romantic comedy” is often viewed as a “woman’s film” and the genre is generally treated with disdain by (often male) film critics (Mortimer 2010). The “rom com” genre explores the topics of love, marriage and women’s issues with the biological clock (i.e When Harry Met Sally). In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right  is an “ethnographic romantic comedy” for it also deals with the search for love and explores the character’s concerns with finding “Mr. Right”, conciliating love and career, as well as the ticking of the biological clock. However, Mr. Right can only be understood as a “rom com” in the context of ethnographic film.

My proposal to produce an “ethnographic rom com” also encountered some resistance from critics, who argued that my project imposed the framework of a “Hollywood genre” to the Bororo context. I disagree with these critics. The traces of a “romantic comedy” genre that we can find in Mr. Right were not imposed on the Bororo. Rather, they emerged ethnographically. In other words, I only realized that the film could be interpreted as an “ethnographic rom com” in the edit suit, when the film was already finished. For this reason, my proposal to the Wenner-Gren Foundation was to develop this idea further. I planned to show how, through Mr. Right, the Bororo challenged the “boy meet girl” narrative structure of the “rom com” (McDonald 2007). Mr. Right is mostly a “a girl meets boy” type of film. As such, it challenges Lévi-Strauss’ theories of “the exchange of women” and shows how, among the Bororo, it is women who exchange men.

Feedback from Bororo viewers is a key element of the research project “Is a non-Bororo man a Mr.Wrong?”. For my Fejos Fellowship, I proposed to return to the Bororo village to screen Mr. Right and assess the impact of the film among Bororo viewers; a stage of the filmmaking processes that has been historically neglected in visual anthropology (Martinez 1992). The film Dumping Mr.Wrong, which I shot specifically for my fellowship, explores the reception of Mr. Right as a film document in the Bororo village. The initial plan was to produce a single film, one that would incorporate Mr. Right as memory, feedback, and develop the concept of an “ethnographic romantic comedy” further. However, by the time I began shooting, the reality of the main characters of Mr. Right, Daniela and Jordana, had changed dramatically. They had babies with non-Bororo men, who left them single. The footage from 2016 is not as lighthearted as the footage from 2011. Both Daniela and Jordana mentioned that their lives have been difficult since having babies and leaving Mr. Wrong behind. Moreover, in the feedback sessions, it became clear that a sort of “Bororo prophecy” had confirmed itself.

Bororo mythology designs specific paths of marriage for each clan. It prescribes the path one should take on the moral village plan in order to find their true husband or wife. Not marrying mythical Mr.Right is a risky business for Bororo women. If one marries out of their path, the “true wife” can claim their husband back. A “true wife” even has the right to claim her husband back and beat up the woman who invaded her path. None of the film characters married Mr. Right according to Bororo law. They had their children with men from different indigenous groups. Daniela had a baby with a man from the Xavante nation, the historical enemy of the Bororo, and Jordana had twins with a man from the Chiquitano nation. However, as the Bororo law would say, their “true wives” have taken them back. The Xavante left Daniela for a Xavante woman and the Chiquitano left Jordana for a Chiquitano woman.

There’s a melancholic mood in the footage of 2016 that problematised the project of refining the ethnographic “rom com” genre. For this reason, I decided to create the micro series Tales of Love and Bororo Myth and divide the footage in two parts. This new approach will give me the liberty to portray the reality of Daniela and Jordana in a lighthearted way, without compromising with the notion of ethnographic “rom com” or the film. The second episode, Dumping Mr.Wrong, follows the main characters of Mr. Right in new adventures in the city of Cuiabá and the Bororo village of Tadarimana, Brazil. We see the upshot of three stories involving mythical Mr. Right. The film cites Mr. Right as memory, but focuses on the cultural and subjective tensions of three Bororo girls, who share past memories and present experiences with mythical Mr. Right: our shy Leandro “DiCaprio”, who remains caught in the middle.

During the research process, I often wondered if making a series would create more problems than it would solve. I concluded that I have created a practical problem in order to solve a theoretical problem. In my application, I sent In Search of a Bororo Mr.Right as a pilot film to the foundation and proposed to refine the ethnographic “rom com” genre, which I developed in my PhD. So I revisited my fieldwork material from 2011 and edited a brand new version of Mr. Right including new footage from 2011, which introduces a new aspect to the film: fierce competition between the two sisters for mythical Mr. Right. I also included aerial images of the Bororo village taken with a drone in 2016 to help us visualize the moral village plan. The new version of Mr. Right does refine the ethnographic “rom com” genre as I had proposed, however, the footage that I shot specifically for the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 2016 brings in a melancholic aspect that clashes with the formula of my ethnographic “rom com” approach generated in Mr. Right. When I decided to deliver Tales of Bororo Love and Myth, I created a practical problem and doubled the amount of work I would need to complete the fellowship. On the other hand, it gives me the opportunity to handle the material I shot in 2016 in its own terms. There are fundamental differences between the two filmmaking processes, in 2011 and 2016, which inevitably shaped the footage.

Dumping Mr. Wrong will not fit on “the old romance formula of transformation of young lovers” (White 1984:44), while Mr. Right fits this formula perfectly. In Mr. Right the main characters are filmmaker and subjects looking for their perfect mythical match. The film breathes transformations of love, youth and hope. Dumping Mr. Wrong brings to the table a number of new topics to explore, both theoretically and ethnographically. The footage from 2016 brings in children as central subjects. Observational footage changes the focus of the film from the search for Mr. Right, to the dispute between babies over Mr. Right, or left, boob! In a culture where grandma’s (or auntie’s) breasts can be great pacifiers, the babies’ search for an available breast takes center stage in the footage. Children also become the center of interviews as the main characters’ love is now devoted to them, unconditionally, with little space for Mr. Right and much less Mr. Wrong.

Other aspects of the “romantic comedy genre” can be explored to tackle the footage in Dumping Mr. Wrong. A closer look at Shakespeare’s romantic comedies and an investigation of representations of motherhood in the “rom com” genre more generally, will help us to define whether or not Dumping Mr. Wrong is an ethnographic “rom com”. I won’t give a final word on the development of Mr. Wrong. New characters, and new topics of anthropological interest emerge in the filmmaking process but I won’t spoil the rest!

Stay tuned.

UPDATE:

We’re proud to announce that In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right will be appearing at the Society for Visual Anthropology Film & Media Festival this November and has been selected to receive the Jean Rouch Award for participatory anthropological film. The SVA Film Festival will run concurrent with the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association November 20th- 24th at the Vancouver Convention Center.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Simone Mestroni

Dr. Simone Mestroni was awarded a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2017 to aid filmmaking on After Prayers. We’re thrilled to announce that After Prayers has been selected to appear at the Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Media Festival in San Jose, California this November. Please enjoy the trailer and blog post below!

trailer after prayer_2017 from Rizoma on Vimeo.

After Prayers

Fejo Postdoctoral Fellowship

During the three months fellowship the post-production of After Prayers, a documentary based on Phd research on Kashmir’s conflict, has been completed. More specifically the final editing has been carried out at Rizoma Film studios in Rome with the collaboration of Donatello Conti. Subtitling, titling and color correction were also realized at Rizoma’s during February 2018. At the end of February, the trailer, meant to be used for festival submissions and promotion, was also realized with Conti’s editing support. Audio mixing and designing were then realized in Trieste at A-Lab studios, by a team composed by Francesco Morosini, Emiliano Gherlanz and their assistants. I have been personally following all these operations as beside the technical aspects of the audiovisual editing, many of the creative aspects of the documentary came as a result of the final stages of the post-production.

Beside some editing adjustments and audiovisual polishing the structure of the film hasn’t radically changed from the rough cut version which was presented for the grant application. The basic idea of conveying ethnographic findings into the visual language was accomplished, and After Prayers seems to be able to give an immediate feeling of what the conflict is in the daily life of Kashmiri people, describing the ways violence perpetuates into the valley’s routine throughout ideological, emotional and embodied layers. More than making theoretical findings explicit, the film aims at representing the sensorial and affective aspects of the conflict, so that the audience will be able to empathize with the characters, feeling the pain of a martyr’s mother, as well the rage of a rioter throwing stones at Indian soldiers, or the moral strength of a maimed mujahideen.

Since March 2018, when the film was almost finished, I have started preparing the festival submissions plan, trying to find a balance between different type of events: marked-oriented, ethnographic and human rights related. At the present time After Prayers has already been selected for Doc/player, the online industry oriented platform of Sheffield Doc Fest. This means the film has been shortlisted among the best 200 among thousands applications, and has been privately screened in front of very specialized audience. Notwithstanding this the premiere status is still intact.

At the moment After Prayers has been submitted at almost forty documentary and film festivals and I’m actually waiting from upcoming notifications. Among the ethnographic festival After Prayers will run for Filmes do Homem (Portugal), Jean Rouch (FR), SVA (USA), RAI (UK), Ethnografilm (FR). Considering the academic background of the film I have decided to give a priority to these festivals even considering the chance to hold a premiere in a very specialist environment: the ethnographic dimension can become the documentary’s strength in a broader panorama, and this specific curricula can become a good kick to achieve access to other networks.

At the same time I have already discussed screenings of After Prayers in academic contexts, as Dublin’s School of Law and Government, University La Bicocca di Milano, University Roma Torvergata,University of Messina, University of Catania, University La Sapienza. These screenings are still to be fixed according to festival’s plan and  premiere  requirements. In Italian Universities the documentary will be presented along with the discussion of my ethnographic book on Kashmir’s conflict, Linee di Controllo (Lines of Control), which is going to be published by Meltemi in September 2018. Regarding the dissemination process, the book and the documentary are meant to work in a synergy, ideally pulling the film’s audience into the book’s reading and anthropology students into the audiovisual language, so to blur the borders between the two fields, hopefully opening a fertile dialogue.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Paul Wolffram

The flow of great content continues from our Fejos fellows! Dr. Paul Wolffram was awarded a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2014 to aid filmmaking on What Lies That Way? We are proud to share the following trailer and blog post for his project.

WHAT LIES THAT WAY – Official trailer from Paul Wolffram on Vimeo.

What Lies That Way?

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

Production Stage.

January 3 – February 25, 2015

The production period of this project was undertaken in the months of January and February 2015. The cinematographer and I were able to spend almost seven weeks in the Lak region of Southern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. In an environment where transportation and communication are often unreliable we were very fortunate to complete the production stage without any significant problems. The cinematographer and I both managed to maintain good health and returned to New Zealand in late February without contracting malaria. This is the first time I have returned from Lak region without malaria! Much of our video, audio and computer equipment did not return in such good order. The heat and humidity of the rain forest played a heavy toll on both of our audio recorders, one of our cameras, an external hard drive, and the computer we took to log footage. Fortunately, I anticipated the conditions and was able, through the support of this grant, to take backup hard drives and spares for the other essential equipment. I have never taken so much electronic equipment into this region before and providing power to the equipment also presented a significant challenge. We were able to recharge most of our equipment on a daily basis using a solar panel. We shot several hundred hours of footage totaling almost three terabytes of audio and video recordings.

The proposal for the film involved my own initiation into the sorcery practice locally known as Tena Buai. The Tena Buai master whom I hoped would conduct this initiation with me and guide me through the process was insistent that I actually initiate with a more senior sorcerer. Fortunately, I had previously met this master and he was also happy to conduct the initiation process. The initiation itself was a particularly arduous undertaking. I was required to fast in isolation in the rain forest for four nights and five days. During this period of no food and no water I experienced extreme dehydration. I consumed the Buai substances on the second day and was able to endure the initiation process without incident. Throughout the initiation I was frequently visited by the master sorcerer and his assistance. The cinematographer visited the location every second day to film key processes and I was able to record some of the isolation stages myself with fixed cameras.

The insights and understandings gained through this process, the weeks of preparation in the region before the initiation and the two weeks in the region following the initiation, combined to form an amazing experience. This experience of deep engagement with another way of thinking about the world, spirituality and shamanistic practice has been captured in some unique footage and sound recordings. As this account suggests, this was an extreme experience, and one that I only felt able to undertake following what is now more than 15 years of working with that Lak people. The Fejos fellowship allowed me to conduct this highly participatory oriented research with adequate funding support to cover many of the potential contingencies that arose in the course of this fieldwork.

Post-Production Stage.

July 2015 – May 2016

Returning from Papua New Guinea in late February 2015 I was only able to backup footage before returning to teaching duties between March and June 2015. With the support of the fellowship and my host institution I was able to dedicate a total of six months on the post-production of this film from July – December. I spent a total of four of these six months logging, syncing, and preparing the footage for editing. This process took much longer than I anticipated. This was in part due to the addition of conforming footage from earlier shoots into a usable editing format. It was late October 2015 before I was able to begin the first assembly process and late November before editing proper began. Working with a very experienced supervisory editor, Annie Collins, from the early stages of logging and binning I was able to push through the early labor intensive stages. I have also been fortunate enough to have the experience of a renown local producer, Catherine Fitzgerald, who co-produced my last feature documentary.

Editing continued into 2016 and was finally completed with a ‘locked off’ film in May. Between May and October final coloring, sound design, and audio mixing were conducted. The film has also been subtitled in English, German, French and Italian with the assistance of Victoria University of Wellington’s translation services.

In November I returned to my host communities in the Lak region and was fortunate enough to be able to screen the film for all the key participants over several weeks. The film was met with much interest and has certainly invigorated interest in the traditional practices associated with Buai shamanism throughout the region.

Final Comments

This has been an incredible projet that has resulted in a unique film work that explores not only the spirituality of the Lak people but also my own ongoing relationship with the people as an ethnographer and film maker. I believe the film has the potential to reach a wide viewership, and to engaged both ethnographic viewers and a general audience.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Fejos Fellowship team for your support.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Simon Uribe

The Foundation is proud to share a trailer and blog post from Dr. Simon Uribe who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on Frontier Infrastructures.

SUSPENSIÓN_TEASER_Abril2018_Subt_INGLES from PAUSAR on Vimeo.

Frontier Infrastructures

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

In October 2015, I was awarded the Fejos Fellowship in ethnographic film to support the project “Frontier Infrastructures”. This project originated form my PhD research, originally conceived as a history and ethnography of transport infrastructure in the Colombian Amazon (the results of this research were recently published in the book Frontier Road: Power, history, and the everyday state in the Colombian Amazon, Wiley-Blackwell 2017). As stated in the project’s preliminary abstract, “Frontier infrastructures” sought to explore the material, affective and moral relationship between humans and transport infrastructures in the Colombian Amazon. Specifically, the film would follow different persons in their everyday journeys across various man-made and natural infrastructures (roads, rivers, trails) in order to explore and interrogate the different ways in which they make sense of their past, present, and possible futures through the perceived and lived realities that such infrastructures embody or symbolize.

Although the central aim of the project has remained the same, the film’s story and plot have undergone substantial changes for different events and circumstances that we (myself and the film crew that has collaborated in the conception and materialization of the project) encountered during the last two and a half years.

The first turn in the project had to do with an event during an early trip in December 2015 aimed at selecting locations and characters for the film. In the middle of this trip we came across a scene –the building of a large concrete bridge part of a large road project- that would later become a central feature in the story. At that point, we decided that we would follow workers, engineers and contractors for a period of time in order to capture their material and affective relations with infrastructure. During the next eight months we carried out two film trips, basically following the everyday life of the road project.

In January 2017 we traveled to the Putumayo for a final three-month period of filming. At that time, we found that works were indefinitely suspended due to lack of funding, so our daily routine became now to capture all sorts of situations that emerge in a road project that seems to go nowhere (it was also in that moment that the film acquired its current and final title: Suspensión). A few days before leaving the Putumayo, however, a tragic event that affected us in several and unexpected ways took place. In March 31st , a torrential flash flood hit Mocoa (capital of Putumayo) killing around 400 people and leaving several parts of the city totally destroyed, including the house where we were living. We managed to recover the film material recorded during those months but lost equipment and other goods. Sadly, Guillermo, the film’s central character, died in the event.

The March 31st event forced us to reconsider several aspects of the film, yet it also reassured our commitment to bring the project to completion. In September 2017 we were granted a very prestigious grant from Colombia’s Film Development Fund (FDC), which provided the required funds to carry out two more film trips and to cover the post-production costs. This grant also allows us to access different film festivals and distribution markets for the next two years. Last February, for instance, we attended the co-production market at the Berlinale, an important event for documentary film-makers worldwide. We hope to attend similar events in the near future in order to secure the widest audience possible for the film. Also, I will show some parts of the film and discuss the project next June in Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Studies Summer School of Social Sciences, to which I was selected as fellow together with a small group of scholars from Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Catalina Tesar

In 2007 Catalina Tesar received a Wadsworth International Fellowship to aid training in social anthropology at University College London, supervised by Michael Sinclair Stewart. After completing her Wadsworth Fellowship Dr. Tesar received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on “O Taxtaj: The Chalice”. We are proud to present the following trailer and blog post.

TAXTAJ TEASER from Ciprian Cimpoi on Vimeo.

O Taxtaj: The Chalice

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

Romanian Cortorari Gypsies from Transylvania convey a strong commitment to the possession of specific putative objects, namely chalices (sg. taxtaj, pl. taxtaja) which were bequeathed to them by their ancestors and passed on from father to son. Though chalices are permanently tucked away in the granaries and houses of neighboring Romanian peasants, and thus invisible in everyday life, they are in fact an ubiquitous topic, stirring up passionate talks and feelings. Like the hereditary regalia of medieval European nobility, chalices are symbols of the prestige of a family, instigating machinations, theft, fights among brothers and matrimonial strategies to keep them inside the family. Chalices are central to the arrangement of marriages which is the Cortorari’s chief preoccupation at all times: parents of girls seek to marry their daughters off to grooms who own a valuable chalice, while parents of boys demand big cash dowries from the bride’s family to offset the value placed on their chalice. In reality, people are continuously challenging the hierarchy of chalices which, far from being objective, depends on their owners’ ability to boast their value. On the occasion of a marriage arrangement, the groom’s chalice is pledged to the bride’s family and will remain entrusted to them until the young couple beget a son — the ultimate guarantee of the endurance of a marriage. Therefore, there is a yearning among young couples to bring forth a baby boy to weld them together.

My PhD research — which was funded by a Wadsworth International Fellowship — resulted in a thesis titled ‘Women Married off to Chalices’: Gender, Kinship and Wealth among Romanian Cortorari Gypsies that I defended at University College London in 2013. Focusing on the articulation of gender relations with the flow of chalices in the process of marriage, the thesis adopted the stance of the generation who arranges the marriages of their children or grand-children. At the time of my PhD fieldwork, namely between 2008 and 2010, I was in my early 30s, an age at which a Cortorari woman is in the prime of her motherhood, if not already a grandmother. I was thus embraced by women of my age, which pointed my research in the direction of their understandings and representations of gender issues in relation to ceremonial wealth.

The documentary I have made as a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship recipient gives voice to the generation that had been almost entirely left out of my PhD dissertation, namely the newly wed and especially the women in this life stage. Upon marriage, women go to live with their husbands’ families. As young daughters-in-law (bori), most of the chores in the household become their responsibility. Moreover, until they give birth to a son, newly wed women live under the continuous threat of being forsaken by their husbands and their families. They live in a limbo and often seek refuge from the harshness of their marital family into their parental family. Daughters are not desired because they bring for their parents and grandparents the prospects of paying big cash dowries to marry them off. The young couple who have already brought forth a daughter live under the pressure to bring forth a son. It is a pressure which is laid on the couple by the older generations in the extended family and equally internalized as a longing by the young couple. The son is seen as the essence of the family; he ensures both the succession of generations within the household and the passing on of the chalice to future generations. If they have a daughter and a son, parents can arrange a marriage by exchange (of daughters), and this kind of marriage ideally results in the writing off of the dowry. In case a female baby comes after a first-born daughter —and they use ultrasounds to find out the sex of the foetus — the couple resort to pregnancy termination.

The documentary follows the couple Peli and Nina, both in their mid-20s, parents to a five-year old daughter, as they strive to bring forth a son to redeem the chalice belonging to Peli’s family from the trust of Nina’s parental family. The viewer is taken along on the rough journey that the couple and their families must make as they negotiate the twists and turns of  Cortorari marriage making and breaking and engage in passionate arguments over the chalices.

In making this documentary, I took on at least three challenges: 1) I wanted it to reach beyond an anthropological audience; 2) I wanted to avoid the use of authoritative voice-over and allow the characters to speak for themselves instead; and 3) I wanted the film to help clarify and offset preconceived notions or prejudices about the Roma, so I used an inside perspective to convey the broader picture of how they live. The result is a documentary deeply grounded in anthropology yet creative. The film opens and ends with scenes featuring ceremonial events, involving big gatherings of people, a wedding and a discussion about chalices respectively. Both of these scenes stage Cortorari central cultural tropes, namely  marriages, wealth in chalices, and dowries. Between these two big scenes, we get a chance to have a close look at how the couple Peli and Nina live and experience these very cultural tropes in their everyday lives.

‘The Chalice’ is a feature-length observational and participatory documentary. Pure observational scenes entwine with non-conventional interviews in which the characters tell their private stories to the camera and to me while minding their own business. One of the secondary characters, Peli’s sister Băra – who is married to brother of Peli’s spouse (a marriage arranged by exchange of daughters) – confides her own experience as a daughter-in-law expected to bring forth a son to the camera and recounts the story of her brother’s marriage. She does so while reflecting on idioms that are central to the Cortorari universe, such as family, household, arranged marriages, and the lived condition of women. All her appearances in the film consist of indoor footage in the form of confessional interviews – in choosing this, I wanted to convey that this particular character is representative of (almost all) Cortorari women of her age and marital status. The camera never follows Băra outside of her house – as the house, and its nearby surroundings, is anyway the space to which newly wed women are confined.

Peli and Nina live under the same roof as Peli’s parents, Costică and Uca, and a sense of transience and uncertainty looms over their household, both in regard to material possessions and to human relationships. Their main source of income is the money earned by Costică and Uca begging abroad, which is little and unpredictable. Peli trained as a clown selling balloons on the streets in Italy, but the urge to conceive a son to redeem his family’s chalice has kept him coming and going between Italy and his home village. Nina’s parents have supplied livestock to her marital household, and most of the time Nina is busy looking after them. Five years have passed since Peli and Nina were matched, and Costică is impatient to get back his family chalice. He thus periodically lashes out against Nina for not having conceived a son yet, and to her family who hold his chalice. When Nina finally gets pregnant, the foetus is a baby girl and she has to go through pregnancy termination. We learn about the termination of Nina’s pregnancy from her five-year old daughter Rada who is a witness to all of her mother’s pregnancy ultrasounds. Similarly to Băra, yet less articulately than her aunt, Rada is there to make the viewer aware of the condition of women in Cortorari society. She is the symbol of the next generation of Cortorari women who will follow a life-trajectory punctuated by similar events, namely they will have their marriages arranged for them and then give birth to a son and/or resort to pregnancy termination in case they bear a girl. The arguments over chalices relentlessly bursting through the fabric of the Cortorari everyday lives – as shown in the prologue to the film – is the very source of the predictability of scripted individual life courses.

The shooting started in December 2016, when the pressure on Nina and Peli to bring forth a son turned into a genuine battle ground for their respective parental families, and stopped in November 2017, when the couple learned the sex of their baby and resorted to pregnancy termination. Throughout 2017 shooting sessions alternated with editing sessions. At the beginning of 2018 I completed a rough cut with the story line of the film.

In October 2017 I pitched the project at the ‘Romanian Docs in Progress’ Industry Section at ASTRA International Film Festival in Sibiu. My film was awarded entrance to the 2018 Outlook International Market by the head of the Industry program at Visions du Reel International Festival. This will be a great opportunity to find co-producers and distributors for my film. The documentary will be launched in the fall of 2018.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Natasha Fijn

Once again we are proud to present a trailer and blog post from one of our Fejos Postdoctoral Fellows, Dr. Natasha Fijn. In 2016 Dr. Fijn received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on Two Seasons: Multispecies Medicine in Mongolia.

Two Seasons Trailer from Natasha Fijn on Vimeo.

Two Seasons: Multispecies Medicine in Mongolia

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

We bumped along a rough dirt track across rolling Mongolian grassland. Ganbaa, the driver, was heading for a spring encampment of an elder, who is often called upon to carry out bloodletting on horses. I was in the field to focus on filming cross-species medicinal practices amongst herders for a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship. Part of my interest was in how medicinal knowledge is still passed on within herding families in the form of practical mentorship.

As we passed a free-roaming horse herd beside the rutted road, I exclaimed ‘Zogsooroi!’ (Please stop!). Tiny hooves were protruding from a mare as she lay heaving on the ground. We tumbled out of the vehicle but our approach on foot caused the mare to painfully rise and walk a few steps away. The rest of the herd surrounded her as a means of protection from the strangers. I began filming while Ganbaa retrieved some milk from his vehicle and began whispering an incantation, sprinkling the milk three times to the heavens (Tengger). Both he and I were concerned for the foal, as although the head had emerged there didn’t seem to be any movement. We drove up the hillside to a nearby encampment and were immediately welcomed by a young herding couple. When the herder looked through his very old monocular he commented nonchalantly that the foal had just been born. We leapt up from small stools and hurried down the hill to where the mare was still standing.

Unlike earlier, the mare allowed the familiar herder to approach and inspect the placenta. He was clearly someone she trusted and, like her newborn foal, was perhaps one of the first humans she saw in the world. The herder picked up a brown, rubbery object near the placenta, in Mongolia called the ‘foal’s bite’ (or in English the ‘foal’s bread’). He gave it as a gift to Ganbaa, even though he could have sold it as medicine. Ganbaa was excited by the experience, as it was a sign of good fortune for our travels, witnessing a foal born during daylight, while the herder added that it was the first born for that year within the herd, another auspicious sign. Later, as we set off down the road again, Ganbaa sang songs featuring foals, still elated from our lucky encounter. As I looked out at the expansive rolling landscape from the back seat, I felt elated too, as I could clearly see that what we had just witnessed would make a poignant scene for the start of the documentary.

Such events are the best aspects of observational filmmaking, as without structuring according to a script, or the re-creation of scenes, spur-of-the-moment happenings become important elements. The birth of the foal and the herder’s family would not have occurred as a result of a list of shots, or a pre-planned script. The scene encompassed many aspects that I wanted to convey within the film in relation to multispecies medicine in Mongolia, such as: the significance of other beings, not just humans; how ritual and psychology are connected with medicinal health; the importance of timing and the seasons; the nurturing and welfare of mothers and their newborns and that multispecies medicine includes products that are derived from both domestic and wild animals and plants.

I lived in Mongolia for a year in 2005 and again in the spring of 2007. During my PhD fieldwork I found that an almost daily task was the treatment of extended family members, including herd animals by knowledgeable practitioners. One chapter of my book, Living with Herds: human-animal coexistence in Mongolia (2011), describes a multispecies form of Mongolian medicine, yet I wanted to return to the countryside to delve into the topic further through filmmaking. In between, my academic research and filmmaking was focused on Aboriginal Australia, until I returned to Ulaanbaatar in the autumn of 2016 for the coordination of a workshop on ‘One Health’. I knew that the most active times of year are spring, with many births and extreme fluctuations in weather conditions. The other key season is autumn, when herders collect medicinal herbs, while preparing hay for the long and hard winter months.

For the purposes of filming this multispecies medicine film, I re-visited two extended families after not having seen them and the beautiful river valleys for ten years. Many of the children were now all grown up and even getting married, yet daily life and routines with the herd animals were still much the same. With their wonderful generosity and cooperation they re-connected me with the local herding community. I discovered the benefits of a longitudinal perspective of researching in the field and noted many subtle changes over time, particularly in the availability of modern medicine.

Ganbaa became not just a driver of the vehicle to carry me into the field from the capital of Ulaanbaatar, he became a collaborator while in the field. He offered to take me to his homeland where he grew up and where his extended family and friends still reside. Through his familial connections in the area, we were warmly welcomed in the homes we visited. He insisted on gifts of a bottle of vodka and his latest book of poetry, spontaneously reciting poetry in every home we visited. Ganbaa is a great orator and managed to loosen even the most reticent herders’ tongues. I gave him background information on what I wanted to learn from the herders we visited. During informal interviews and conversations, I let Ganbaa ask questions, in order to allow the discussion to flow smoothly. I wanted to avoid external interruptions and it meant I could concentrate on responding to the conversation with the video camera. If I needed to change a shooting position, or film some different shots of the surroundings, it was only then that I would interject and ask a question to occasionally redirect the conversation for further insights.

The two other homelands within the film were where I had lived in 2005 and the spring of 2007. Nara, as matriarch of a large extended family encampment, is Buddhist and adheres to ritual and ceremony to keep her family and the herds healthy. The film includes other characters within Nara’s homeland, however, such as her son. I filmed Nara’s son with his own young son observing, while he nurtured a newborn foal in freezing temperatures. Mongolian medicine involves many different forms of treatment, including preventative strategies, moxibustion, bone-setting, antibiotics and vaccinations. I chose to focus primarily on medicinal herbs and bloodletting, which meant that I could draw upon the differing knowledge of herding men and women. It is often the women who collect the medicinal plants, prepare and dry them, and ultimately administer them to the family, or young animals. Bloodletting, on the other hand, is passed down along male patrilines and is usually practiced by men.

The third field location where I filmed was in Bor and Bömbög’s homeland. I had lived in the same valley previously within Bömbög’s mother’s encampment, which meant I had established strong bonds with the extended family. Herders are often reticent to admit that they have any ill animals at all, as a successful practitioner and herder pride themselves in preventing illness in the first place. Some individual casualties, however, are inevitable in such harsh environmental conditions. Bor has been a leader of the local herding community and is well respected for his herding knowledge. Because both he and his wife have confidence in their abilities, they were willing to reveal that they had individual herd animals that were injured and allowed me to film the treatment of them. Bor drove me to the nearest township to visit the local doctor, who also practices traditional medicine, and was comfortable with me filming the doctor diagnosing his ailments.

The concept of a homeland (nutag) and a strong sense of place are important to semi-nomadic herders. I felt the unique environmental conditions should be an important aspect within a film focusing on Mongolian medicine. While editing the footage together, in terms of structure, I chose to focus on the three different areas I filmed in spring and then again in autumn, hence the title ‘Two Seasons’. Layering the two seasons with the three locations meant the film is divided into six separate parts: Ganbaa visiting his homeland in spring; Nara’s homeland in spring; Bor and Bömbög’s homeland in spring, then again all three homelands in autumn. Although the inter-titles focus on just four main protagonists, the different homelands encompass many other knowledgeable individuals from different inter-connected herding families that I filmed within the project.

Filming within a multispecies context in a remote cross-cultural field location requires a form of both observational and participatory filmmaking. Participant observation requires time, embedded in context on location, but it also means that the filmmaker is there and attuned to situations when they happen to occur. Having already spent over a year in the Khangai Mountains ten years previously, it meant I could quickly reintegrate with families and an inherent trust, while new relationships could be formed through collaboration with Mongolians with an ongoing connection to their homeland.