Archive for Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

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.

 

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.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Lucas Bessire

As we round out the year Wenner-Gren is pleased to present an abstract and trailer for Dr. Lucas Bessire who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on The Ayoreo Video Project.

 

ayoreo_trailer_FINAL from Lucas Bessire on Vimeo.

The Ayoreo Video Project

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

The Ayoreo Video Project is an experiment in visual anthropology and political advocacy through collaborative video-making with Ayoreo-speaking people. Developed over two years in collaboration with Totobiegosode-Ayoreo leadership and the organization Video Nas Aldeias, the project taught Ayoreo to make their own videos. It began with a video workshop in a remote village, which trained a select group of fourteen Ayoreo from five villages, three different Ayoreo tribes and both sides of the Bolivia/Paraguay border in the basics of digital filmmaking. The project assisted Ayoreo filmmakers as they conceived, shot and eventually edited videos on the topics and themes of their choice. The result is a set of four feature length films, meant as stand-alone parts of a quartet, which substantively revise previous filmic imagery of Ayoreo.  These include the first three Ayoreo-made videos and an ethnographic documentary about the process. Together, the films allow Ayoreo to tell their own stories about themselves, to speak back to impoverished representations of their humanity, and to facilitate cross-cultural dialogue in a context of violent dispossession. At the same time, the films open new directions for future reflection, research and advocacy.  They are:

Farewell to Savage.  2017. 70 minutes.  Directed by Lucas Bessire, with the Ayoreo Video Project.

Yiquijmapiedie / Our Ways. 2017. 52 minutes.  Directed by Chagabi Etacore.

Ore Enominone / Visions.  2017. 92 minutes. Directed by Ajesua Etacore, Daijnidi Picanerai, Chamia Chiqueno and Erui Etacore.

Ujirei / Regeneration. 2017. 55 minutes.  Directed by Mateo Sobode Chiqueno

“The Ayoreo Video Project” is an experiment in visual anthropology and political advocacy through collaborative video-making with Ayoreo-speaking people, members of a small, recently-contacted Indigenous group of the Bolivian and Paraguayan Gran Chaco facing several immediate threats to their lives, land and dignity. The project created a set of four feature length films, including the first three Ayoreo-made videos and an ethnographic documentary about the process. In doing so, the set of films explores how video technology allows Ayoreo to tell their own stories, catalyzes new ways of relating to themselves and the world, and opens novel spaces for cross-cultural dialogue in a context of extreme violence and marginality. The project takes the process of Indigenous video production as a visual theme and the topic for future writings on visuality, personhood and power.

The project entailed several linked activities that were completed between March 2015 and February 2017.  It began with five months of community consultations, after which my long-term Totobiegosode collaborators and I decided to host a four-week video training workshop in a remote village. For this workshop, we invited a select group of fourteen Ayoreo from five villages (Chaidi, Arocojnadi, Campo Loro, Tunucujnai, Zapocó), three historically hostile sub-groups (Totobiegosode, Guidaigosode, Direquednejnaigosode) and both sides of the Bolivia/Paraguay border to take part. The participants included both men and women, ranging in age from approximately 23 to 70 years old. Such gatherings of Ayoreo people from different communities are very rare, and this workshop was one of the few collaborative projects to unite different Ayoreo factions.

Next, we were able to enlist the pioneering Brazilian media collective Video Nas Aldeias (VNA, which has been training Amazonian Indians to make their own videos since the late 1980s) to serve as an institutional collaborator. As part of this partnership, we invited VNA associate and filmmaker Ernesto de Carvalho and Kamikia, a VNA-trained Indigenous filmmaker from the Kisedje tribe of the Brazilian Xingu, to help coordinate the Ayoreo video workshop. From August – September 2015, my collaborators and I installed basic infrastructure (generators + screens) in Chaidi, donated small HD camera kits to each village team, trained Ayoreo participants in the basics of digital video and assisted village teams as they conceived, directed and began to film videos on the themes of their choice. Kamikia and Ernesto documented most of the workshop process on video, and village teams retained copies of their footage. This was the first Ayoreo video training, the first Indigenous video workshop held in the Paraguayan Gran Chaco, and the first international collaboration for VNA. After the workshop, I advised remotely as the village teams continued to work on their films over the following months.

From April – June 2016, I returned to Paraguay. With the help of Bernard Belisário, a VNA collaborator and editor, we coordinated the editing of the Ayoreo-made videos. This meant installing basic editing infrastructure, gathering village teams and developing a collaborative editing method tailored to Ayoreo cultural norms and decision-making styles. We worked closely with village teams as they identified and constructed editorial elements within their footage, crafted a basic story-board, refined it to reflect key priorities and concerns, assembled rough-cuts, screened them in the villages and incorporated this feedback into final cuts of their films. In July 2016, I continued working with Bernard to cut a reflexive ethnographic film about the project based on workshop footage as well as archival footage I shot in those same communities a decade before. The result is a set of four feature length documentary films. These are imagined as a quartet composed of stand-alone but mutually referential chapters. The conceptual implications of the films are framed by the generative tensions between them. In August 2016, the Ayoreo films began post-production at VNA for basic color correction, audio mixing, translation and subtitling in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The Ayoreo films are scheduled for release on a trilingual DVD in late February 2017. The finished films are:

 

  • Ujirei [Regeneration] (55 minutes; Mateo Sobode Chiqueno): This is a critical poetic meditation on contemporary Ayoreo realities by a 65-year-old Ducodegose man and respected leader who played instrumental roles in his people’s transition from forest to evangelical mission. Filmed over the course of eight months on an evangelical mission, the film offers a critique of political marginality and shares one man’s visionary perspective on the destruction and rebirth of Ayoreo society. It was an official selection of the 2016 Forumdoc film festival in Belo Horizonte Brazil.

 

  • Yiquijmapiedie [Our Ways] (52 minutes; Chagabi Etacore): In this quiet reflection on making and belonging, the leader of a band that made first contact in 2004 and two others that were contacted in 1986 create material objects that were once crucial to survival in the pre-contact forest but that have little use in the present and are thus being forgotten. Working together, the three protagonists show the process of digging up a water root, creating wooden storage containers for water, and making bark ropes for a swing game.  They provide subtle commentaries on their activities and instruct younger generations about these practices.

 

  • Ore Enominone [Visions] (92 minutes; Ajesua Etacoro and Daijnidi Picanerai): This film is a remarkable ethnofictional performance about the creation and inhabitation of a dream world in the forest. Created by the survivors of a deadly 1986 first contact, the Totobiegosode protagonists play a fictional version of themselves and share their unique knowledge of traditional foods, practices and beliefs.  Blurring the lines between staged reenactments and serious engagement with present challenges, the film opens new spaces for its creators to reflect on the ruptures of the past and to envision a more inhabitable future.

 

  • Farewell to Savage (70 minutes).  This film uses footage from the workshop process, archives and a drone to craft a non-linear reflection on the power of visuality to provoke new ways of relating to the world, each other and our own past selves. In sustained dialogue with each of the Ayoreo videos, the film documents how the filmmaking process unleashed new potentials and dilemmas for all involved, in ways that pose important questions for anthropological theory, practice and advocacy.

 

For the first time, these films share Ayoreo representations of themselves, their social worlds and their ideal futures with wider publics. Doing so promises to unsettle the existing terms of politics in the Gran Chaco by offering Ayoreo a technology to tell their own stories and to speak back to impoverished representations of their humanity. As a set, the films valorize the social projects of a group of marginal people whose realities do not fit within the conventional frames of analysis or activism. Rather than measuring Ayoreo life against an ideal-type category of culture from which they are already excluded, the films demonstrate their critical and creative capacities to objectify themselves and their world in new ways. This makes the films more than illustrations of existing debates.  Rather, the films show how collaborative video production can be a form of decolonizing praxis. At the same time, the videos overlap and diverge in unexpected ways. The tensions between them convey novel insights into contemporary Ayoreo realities, the organizational force of video production, and the unfinished, open-ended nature of Ayoreo subjectivity. The videos are also archival records that register highly endangered practices, linguistic forms and traditional knowledges that are unknown even to many present-day Ayoreo. Moreover, the finished films provide an opportunity for Ayoreo advocates to establish otherwise impossible social dialogues across the deep divides of language, culture and power that structure daily life in the Paraguayan Gran Chaco. At the same time, the project takes the process of collaborative video production as an ethnographic site for further conceptual reflections on genre, emergence and advocacy.

The four films are on schedule to be finished in late February 2017.  Currently, I am seeking support to allow Ayoreo partners to organize public screenings of their works in Paraguay, both in their villages and in a neighboring town. The circulation of their films to distinct audiences in Paraguay will open new spaces for dialogue in a context of extreme oppression and segregation where such cross-cultural conversations are exceedingly rare. The videos themselves – due to their technical sophistication and critical contents – will undoubtedly catalyze wider discussions and may provide Ayoreo leverage for protesting common racist tropes of Ayoreo as degraded savages and more effectively claiming rights and resources. Supporting Ayoreo filmmakers as they design, implement and coordinate a plan of public outreach around their films will encourage them to take full ownership over the films and the contexts of their circulation. Formal distribution plans for all films are pending. While I anticipate that the Ayoreo films will screen in festivals (one already has), the Ayoreo filmmakers will decide how they will circulate. Likewise, I expect my film to circulate in academic research and festival contexts, although no formal agreements have been made.

To learn more about Dr. Bessire’s project we invite you to read his article in the November issue of Visual Anthropology Review.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Joanne Nucho

We are pleased to present a trailer and abstract for Dr. Joanne Nucho who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud.

The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud from Joanne Nucho on Vimeo.

The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud is a 90-minute experimental ethnographic film about a working class suburb of Beirut called Bourj Hammoud that was initially built to permanently settle Armenian refugees who had escaped the 1915 genocide in Ottoman lands. Today, it is a diverse district that is home to Lebanese of various sects as well as migrants and displaced peoples from Syria and all over the world. Filmed over a period of seven years, the film examines the overlapping histories of displacement through interlocutors’ experience of urban space over time. Through an innovative practice of “map-drawing interviews,” my collaborator and I, Lebanese artist Rosy Kuftedjian, asked participants to draw a visual representation of the neighborhood that reflects something that has changed over time, or that is meaningful. The results of the map-drawing interviews shape the narrative of the film, which is anchored in the city’s constantly shifting material urban infrastructures and the ways in which people variously experience rootedness and displacement through the materiality of streets, electricity cables, bridges and buildings. The result is a lyrical ethnographic reflection on space, time and material accretions of the past as narrated by longtime residents as well as recent arrivals to this city. The associated website for the film can be found here.

I am very pleased to report that my 90-minute ethnographic film, The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud, has been completed. This project is the culmination of several years of ethnographic research and filming in Bourj Hammoud, a municipal district just east of Beirut, Lebanon. A working class suburb with a diverse population, the film explores Bourj Hammoud’s rich history as a city built by survivors of the Armenian genocide settled in Lebanon in the 1920s and 30s as well as subsequent histories of displacement, exile, eviction and movement throughout the Lebanese civil war and, today, the conflict in Syria. These histories are explored through a series of “map drawing” interviews with various interlocutors in Armenian, Arabic and English, in which participants narrate the histories of Bourj Hammoud’s shifting urban terrain and conflicted histories through their own experiences in space and time. The film takes as its object the making and remaking of Bourj Hammoud’s urban materialities as well as shifting memories. The film project consists not only of a completed film, but it also incorporates an online “archive” that features the map drawings as well as excerpts from the interviews with the film participants who created them. The website is open for contributions of photographs and drawings of Bourj Hammoud by current residents as well as people in the Armenian and Lebanese diaspora who have, in recent years, taken an interest in this neighborhood which has been at the center of artistic projection about pre-war Lebanon (see, for example, artist Ara Madzounian’s recent photography book about Bourj Hammoud). The website can be found here: http://mappingbourjhammoud.com/

Organizing footage that was filmed in multiple different formats over a number of years was daunting. I first set about re-digitizing tapes and transcoding formats in order to match newer footage shot on digital formats – no small task for hours of footage. I carefully translated and logged the footage, creating rough sequences and identifying the gaps in b-roll footage, since I planned to return to Lebanon in order to conduct the map drawing interviews and further filming. One of the challenges in working with this footage is that the interviews were conducted in three languages – Arabic, Armenian and, occasionally, English. I am a firm believer that a documentary filmmaker and editor needs to log her own footage, but in this instance it would have been quite difficult for me to collaborate with someone else who knows both languages (in their local dialect form) and also knows how to edit and log footage. My primary artistic collaborator and assistant director, Lebanese-Armenian artist and drama therapy activist Rosy Kuftedjian, served as an important interlocutor throughout the logging and editing process. I shared various cuts and subtitled sequences with her digitally, and we actively collaborated across thousands of miles, as she is based in Lebanon. The thrill of digital technology and (slowly) increasing Internet speeds in Lebanon made our collaboration across a wide distance ever more possible.

I returned to Lebanon for one month of filming in 2015 in order to conduct more “map drawing interviews” with participants to enrich and expand my existing footage. We framed each map drawing interview with two questions “What has changed in this place? What do you remember?” Some of our participants answered these questions through detailed illustrations peppered with texts, others drew sparse lines and illuminated their sketches with detailed oral descriptions. We filmed all of these interviews, focusing both on the hands and faces of our interlocutors as they drew and sketched, mixing Bourj Hammoud’s past with its present and speculating upon its future. Through these powerful visual reflections on the violence of the civil war years, to countless evictions and displacements, to meditations on more recent displacements due to the conflict in Syria, the participants’ drawings collectively produce a multivocal portrait of a highly diverse area at the center of numerous tumultuous histories.

One of the most powerful experiences during this additional month of filming was an interview with a Syrian man who was sketching his commute to work each day. He had only recently come to Lebanon, and the small angular drawing of his path to work was crammed into one corner of the large paper we had given each interlocutor to draw on. He explained that his long working hours made it impossible for him to know much else about the neighborhood. This interview made me realize the power of drawing as a mode of ethnographic collaboration to illustrate those aspects of life stories that are often made marginal and the ways in which subjectivities are created in and through everyday life experiences in space.

After the additional month of filming, I logged and translated all of the new footage, which comprised of several hours. The editing process and incorporating the new footage took several months, as there were so many different years of footage, and making them fit into a narrative (though by no means a linear one) was a difficult task. Because the film has so many different interviewees and stories, I decided the best way to approach this process was to put the city at the center of the film’s narrative arc.

Divided into three sections, each part of the film illuminates some aspect of how my interlocutors’ notions of “time,” “space,” and “war,” respectively come through their narratives about Bourj Hammoud as a city, their sense of the passing of time, the changes in space and the impact of war on their own lives and the physical city. Many of the interviewees return at various points in the film, and the interviews are intercut with filmed sequences of life in the city, everything from a group of bystanders trying to rescue a stray cat from underneath a car, to a group of children playing on the street, to a reenacted sequence of one of my interlocutors going downstairs to turn on the power switch on the shared electricity subscription system that powers her apartment. The pace of the edits is meant to reflect a certain pace of time, a particular kind of speed and duration that only a film or time-based art can produce.

I photographed the map drawings themselves and began thinking about the best way to present these materials as the significant works that they are. In collaboration with Rosy Kuftedjian and Simone Rutkowitz, I began putting together the web-based project known as Mapping Bourj Hammoud. The website features an interactive map that allows visitors to click on a point on an illustrated map of Bourj Hammoud which will open up a close-up of the map drawing that corresponds to it in a separate page along with an excerpt from the interview in which the drawing was produced. The digital images of the maps themselves are stored on a Tumblr blog that will serve as an archive open to contributors who want to add photographs and drawings of this rapidly changing neighborhood, as at least one informal space, Sanjak Camp, that is documented in the film is currently being torn down.

The completed film is being prepared for festival screenings by Beirut-based post-production professional Belal Hibri and by Toronto-based sound engineer Matthew Ledermen. They are prepared to output the film into DCP format if it becomes necessary for some festivals. Daniel Fetherston provided additional post-production assistance. I am currently in the process of submitting the film to a number of festivals this spring and throughout the summer. I am also organizing my own screenings at other venues. The first screening and lecture will take place on March 15th at an invitation of sorts, a series curated by Suzy Halajian, Anthony Carfello and Shoghig Halajian in Los Angeles. With the assistance of Rosy Kuftedjian in Lebanon, I am also arranging to screen the film there, though most likely not in an art or festival context, but rather in a context that would be more comfortable for my interlocutors in Bourj Hammoud.

Moving forward I seek to adapt the film into an installation project that incorporates video and the map drawings. Making the film and the associated media available in various forms, both as a traditional ethnographic film as well as a video and drawing installation, would help present the work in a number of different contexts as well as push the work into a potentially more interactive context. The various layers of texts produced in and through this ethnographic project can have a life beyond the context of the film. As singular works, I seek to display the drawings in the context of further screenings or speaking engagements about the visual ethnographic collaborative practice that gave rise to this creative work.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Maple Razsa

We are pleased to present a trailer and abstract for Dr. Maple Razsa who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on The Maribor Uprisings: An Interactive Documentary.

Trailer: The Maribor Uprisings: An Interactive Documentary.

The Maribor Uprisings: An Interactive Documentary

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

In the once prosperous industrial city of Maribor, Slovenia, anger over political corruption became unruly revolt. In The Maribor Uprisings: A Live Participatory film—part documentary, part conversation, and part interactive experiment—you are invited to participate in the protests. Dramatic frontline footage from a video activist collective places you in Maribor as crowds surround and ransack City Hall under a hailstorm of tear gas canisters. As a viewer, you must decide collectively with your fellow audience members which cameras you will follow and therefore how the screening will unfold. Like those who joined the actual uprisings, you will be faced with the choice of joining non-violent protests or following rowdy crowds towards City Hall and greater conflict. These dilemmas parallel those faced by protesters everywhere as they grapple with what it means to resist. What sparks outrage? How are participants swept up in—and changed by—confrontations with police? Could something like this happen in your city? What would you do? What audiences see, the emotional quality of their experience, perhaps even whether they feel personally implicated in unruly protest, will all depend on the choices they make.

For more on The Maribor Uprisings check out the official website as well as POV Magazine’s in-depth review and IndieWire’s article about the nine independent films that deserve more attention in 2017. 

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Harjant Gill – U.S. Film Premiere

We are pleased to present a trailer and abstract for Dr. Harjant Gill who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on Sent Away Boys.

Sent Away Boys will be making its U.S. premier this November at the Society for Visual Anthropology’s Film Festival at the AAA meetings in Minneapolis, MN.

Screening to be followed by Q&A with Harjant Gill.

DATE: November 16, 2016, 10:30 AM

LOCATION: Minneapolis Convention Center, Auditorium 2 (SVAA Film Festival at the AAAs)

Trailer: Sent Away Boys from Tilotama Productions.

Sent Away Boys: A Rural Landscape Transformed by Transnational Migration

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

What happens to families in the absence of sons? What happens to land in the absence of farmers? What happens to communities in the absence of men? Sent Away Boys weaves together testaments of individual ambitions and family biographies from Punjab, India to chronicle the gradual transformation of agrarian landscape and patriarchal traditions through ongoing transnational migration. As the promise of a secure future in agriculture grows increasingly uncertain for young men across the region, escaping India to join the low-wage labor in countries like Canada and USA becomes their sole aspiration. In rural Punjab, being a successful man now entails leaving their village, traveling abroad, and sending money home. Through interviews with men preparing to undertake often risky journeys and women awaiting the return of their sons, brothers and husbands, Sent Away Boys shows how the decision to emigrate implicate the entire family and the larger community.

 

 

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Roger Canals – U.S. Film Premiere

We’re pleased to announce the U.S. Premiere of Wenner-Gren Foundation’s Fejos Fellow Roger Canals’ film, A Goddess in Motion at the Society for Visual Anthropology Film Festival.

Screenings are followed by Q&A with Kathryn S. Oths and Roger Canals.

The cult of María Lionza, one of the most important religious practices in Venezuela, is beginning to manifest itself in Barcelona. Through the testimonies of believers, artists and esoteric art sellers, this documentary depicts, for the first time, the appearance of this religion in the Catalan capital.

DATE: November 19, 2016, 1:20 PM
LOCATION: Minneapolis Convention Center, Auditorium 2 (SVAA Film Festival at the AAAs)

Wenner-Gren’s newest grant program, the Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in Ethnographic Film, is named in honor of Paul Fejos, the first director of the Wenner-Gren foundation and a pioneering ethnographic filmmaker. The grant allows an early-career academic to pursue the completion of a work of ethnographic film based on anthropological research already accomplished by the applicant.

 

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Roger Canals

Wenner-Gren’s newest grant program, the Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in Ethnographic Film, is named in honor of Paul Fejos, the first director of the Wenner-Gren foundation and a pioneering ethnographic filmmaker. The grant allows an early-career academic to pursue the completion of a work of ethnographic film based on anthropological research already accomplished by the applicant.

We are pleased to present a trailer and abstract for Fejos Fellow Dr. Roger Canals, who received the grant to aid filmmaking on ‘Afro-Venezuelan Rituals in Barcelona: A Comparative Study of Religious Nomadism through Film’.

Trailer A GODDESS IN MOTION – Sub English from Jordi Orobitg Produccions on Vimeo.

 

Afro-Venezuelan Rituals in Barcelona: A Comparative Study of Religious Nomadism through Film

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

Afro-Venezuelan Rituals in Barcelona: A Comparative Study of Religious Nomadism through Film is an innovative project about the cult of María Lionza which includes an ethnographic film and a website. The cult of María Lionza is a religious practice originating in Venezuela in which spirit possession is frequent. The film A goddess in motion (María Lionza in Barcelona) focuses on the increasing presence of this religious practice in Barcelona, my native city. Through the montage, I explore the transformations that this religion undergoes when it moves to another cultural context. Moreover, the film is conceived as a reflection upon the role of the ethnographer during the fieldwork and it seeks to discuss the difference between “here” and “there”, “sameness” and “otherness”. The objective of the website is two-fold: on the one hand it aims to make available the research that I have conducted on the cult of María Lionza to date and, on the other hand, it is presented as a participatory medium for the exchange of material and knowledge about María Lionza. Thus, it provides believers and artists with the possibility of sending new images of María Lionza and the cult rituals. As such, the website has been designed as a space for ethnographic experimentation.