Fejos Postdoctoral Fellow: Larisa Jasarevic

Upon receiving a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2020 Larisa Jasarevic was able to pursue working on her film, “Beekeeping in the End Times”. We are thrilled to be able to share the following trailer and blogpost.

Beekeeping in the End Times_Teaser.mp4 from Beekeeping in the End Times on Vimeo.

At the closure of the Fejos Fellowship for Postdoctoral Ethnographic Film, awarded to the “Beekeeping in the End Times” for 2021, I can report a number of accomplishments, a frank uncertainty about the film’s future course, and a deep appreciation for the grant itself.

Fejos Fellowship was a phenomenal opportunity. Wenner-Gren Foundation and its reviewers gave a chance to the project that, in retrospective, was rather bold to propose. The trust bestowed, as well as the generous funds, have gotten me fully engaged in all aspects of the filmmaking process, from shooting and script writing, to producing and editing. Moreover, the grant has also launched two co-directors–and sisters, Larisa and Azra Jasarevic–both first-time feature directors, into a fulltime filmmaking venture. By the end of the year, we have a small, independent studio established in our village home (by the apiary), a trusted crew, the first cut ready, and a number of plans for the rest of the post-production and distribution process. Just as importantly, we have developed a network of the film’s friends, in and out of the film industry, which vitally connects our budding and local storytelling enterprise to film workers and connoisseurs, worldwide, as well as to academics whose impressions and advice, we hope, we’ll guide us onwards.

In what follows, I will 1) reflect briefly on the production process, including several adjustments made to the original proposal, then 2) will give a digest of the first-cut, and 3) will summarize the near future plans and, indeed, hopes.

The film’s production lasted from January through October of 2021. We started by reviewing the archived footage and drafting tentative scripts for the three main stories the film intended to depict. However, in March, when the reported number of COVID infections subsided in the region and the regulations on social distancing eased, we decided to go into a full filming mode. For several reasons. First, the field footage was shot with three different cameras and, often, too rushed to make a coherent (let alone compelling) aesthetic impression on the viewers. Second, the local ecologies were changing so dramatically over the last few years that we wanted footage to focus, more explicitly, on several emerging patterns. Third, the principle field collaborator, whom we imagined as the storyteller whose voice and presence would pull together the film’s two strands—the honeybee climate change ecology and Sufi eschatology—has passed away from a Covid infection, just weeks after the grant had been awarded. Heartbroken, we grappled with the loss the way anthropologists (and filmmakers, apparently) often handle existential issues and crises: we invested into our work. What followed was a full-fledged, intense, well-travelled, field shooting schedule that took us cross-country. We have filmed eight beekeepers and three shepherds at 32 locations in the mountainous, riverine, and Mediterranean sub-climates of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Inclusive of the vignettes shot at our village apiary, we have amassed 72 hours of footage. In the process, I also took photography and film camera classes as it soon became obvious that great and fleeting filming opportunities will not oblige our shooting schedules, made in advance, nor wait for the principle camerawoman, Azra, to be at hand. This investment paid off tremendously, I think. (The first scene in the teaser, for instance, of a honey harvest, shows just how a camera novice, like myself, armed with patience and willing to experiment, can “luck out.” The light I discovered and captured that August afternoon, in the attic, while bottling honey, has never quite repeated itself).

72 hours of footage is an accomplishment but also a liability in post-production. Predictably, we were overwhelmed and had hard decisions to make while drafting a post-production script. Luckily, we began reviewing and cataloguing materials in September, as soon as the major honey forage sites began closing off. By December of 2021, we have made an assembly cut. At the same time, we found a great local musician, Mirza Redzepagic (https://www.mirzaredzepagic.com) to write the film’s score. The original project proposal counted on a local Sufi dervish musician to write music for the film but some extenuating circumstances have made this arrangement infeasible. The turn of the events was, ultimately, for the better. Mirza’s performance scope is much wider, he runs an independent studio, which made score production much easier to conduct, and his intuition proved vital for depicting the eschatological and spiritual mood we envisioned. Hiring Mirza entailed reshuffling our original budget allocations, but Azra and I decided that the music was an integral part of the film. As a result, we are hoping to secure additional funds for sound editing and color correction, sometime later in the process. We have spent many days in Mirza’s studio since, producing music, scene-by-scene. Our first trial in collaboration was the teaser, followed by a 11-minute video, drawing on the film’s footage, which we presented as a part of a keynote for an academic conference (see https://beekeepingintheendtimes.com/The-Film). Finally, we produced the score for the first cut.

All along, I have been exploring various options for linking up with producers, production houses, and distributors in and out the region. Many trials, indeed, dead-ended. Getting a foot into the industry must be a challenge for all first-time filmmakers. After the assembly cut was finished, it became obvious that producing three stand-alone stories, as originally proposed, was not as doable (nor as desirable) as it initially seemed. It was already difficult enough to convey the rich blend of diverse themes in 90 minutes. The film is still framed by three Islamic stories, but the first story now functions as an introduction to the main themes and concerns that recur throughout the film. I am determined to try out a hand in short films in the near future, but this unruly first project, I feel, holds best as a whole. In addition, we are still hoping to develop the film’s festival route, which means that the film would not be made available online until after it has travelled to international showrooms. After public screenings, we are committed to making Beekeeping in the End Times available on the basis of free access, on our website.

With the first cut ready, we are holding our breath for the comments and impression of the handful of first viewers we have secured. Among them are producers, directors, anthropologists, journalists, and humanities scholars. We expect the comments to help us move onwards: decide how to revise, what form and scale of an outreach to plan, and, possibly, what sorts of affiliations to seek out with film institutes, producers, and distributors.

The first cut, in other words, was a hard-won achievement but it also feels as if we have stepped out onto a threshold. Only now we may know what is the potential of the story we have (or could) make. Can it travel internationally? Might the film be fit for the festivals or is it, rather, more suitable for a more modest but, nonetheless, public broadcast, including on our web page.

In this report, I am bracketing some very substantive concerns and questions we have about our storyline, about the portrayal of the characters, and, indeed, about the “end times” atmosphere we’re depicting. Suffice to say that, I suspect, much work remains to be done if the film is to shape up and travel well. I plan on applying for additional film funds in order to secure financing for the remainder of the post-production and distribution process. I have been awarded a fellowship for 2022 with the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISFR) and an affiliation with Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. These awards will not only sustain me as an independent academic but will also ensure that our village studio is up and running and that the film is enjoying our full attention through the end of the year. While the film’s future is being worked out, I will take the news of its making on the road. Giving talks on the subject of the research project itself (the book by the same title is due to be published by IUP in the Fall of 2023) and showing film excerpts, I will carry on telling the story about the bees weathering the treacherous times on our planet.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Diana Szanto

We’re excited and proud to share the trailer and blog post from Diana Szanto who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filming Manish.


Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

From 2008 to 2016 I studied development in Sierra Leone, from a particular angle: that of disability. Originally focusing on the role of NGOs, my attention progressively shifted toward local civil society. I got interested in self-organized disabled communities. My encounters in this world led me to a group of disabled musicians to whom I became attached by long lasting ties of friendship. As I was drafting my thesis, I thought it best to keep my personal life out of my ethnography. Retrospectively, it was a bad idea, but nervous doctoral students do not always make judicious decisions. Luckily, I also realized that my time spent in the company of my friends was probably the most precious part of my learning process. Silencing this experience seemed to be too much of a loss and so I came to the idea of transforming it into something more accessible than an anthropology book. I started to use two complementary methodologies: collecting field notes for a book, supposedly for an academic audience and footages destined to become a film for a larger audience. At the end, I abandoned the assumption of artificial boundaries separating imaginary audiences, but the two types of material yielded indeed two different results: a book and a film. The book (Politicising Polio in Sierra Leone) came out at the end of 2019.  The film became a collective project, but for years, it stubbornly refused to materialize.

As I am not trained in visual anthropology, I needed help in filming. I asked a friend, an accomplished French documentarist, to join me in the field.  He recruited a small but heteroclite crew, which came to visit me in Sierra Leone in 2009, 2010 and 2011. We collected more than 30 hours of footages. Shootings took place almost exclusively following the haphazard daily movements of our protagonists. Plans, if they existed at all, had to be frequently changed. For long, it remained a mystery even for us what kind of film this material can make, if only because our protagonists also frequently changed their minds about what they wanted to see represented. Several crises – of hermeneutical and personal nature – discouraged us from getting the job done.

By 2017, we had definitely gave up ever finishing the film. Then suddenly we changed our minds. That year our main protagonist died. His death put an end to a long hesitation and gave us a new impetus to leave a visual trace of his life. In agreement with the rest of the group in Sierra Leone, we decided to dedicate the film to the homage of our lost friend. What was a strong but materially baseless intention, became a realistic possibility thanks to the Wenner-Gren Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship.

We started to work in the beginning of 2019. Based on a first selection accomplished collectively, I wrote the scenario. I wanted to create a multilayered film that speaks at the same time about Manish, our hero, his micro universe with its broader global entanglements, as well as about the emotional vulnerabilities of doing fieldwork in violent terrains. We worked on realizing this plan for a year. Our team is not only diverse, but also geographically dispersed. I am based in Hungary, the first cameraman, director and editor, Denis Ramos, and his assistant, second cameraman, Ferdinando Formisano, live in France and our most important consultants, the film’s surviving main characters are in Sierra Leone. We had to find a way to overcome the distance. I travelled to France three times, the rest of the time we exchanged draft versions, ideas and opinions online.  Final postproduction was done in a studio in Hungary in the summer of 2020.

The film, Manish, is a 75 minute-length documentary. It tells the story of a polio-disabled boy, who escapes the war, finds refuge, friends and hope in Freetown, remakes his life several times but does not live long enough to see his dreams realized. The film does more than rehearsing the events. It excavates and makes visible the social roots of suffering. In a counter-movement, it also attempts to understand the nature of collective happiness and the political potential inherent in hope.

We intended to embed a singular story in its local and global historical context, in order to show its universal implications. We strived for a delicate balance between allowing Manish to inhabit the front of the stage while showing enough of the back stage to produce a nuanced and multilayered contextualization.  The multiplicity of the layers complicated the story telling. We understood that it was impossible to follow the chronology without some additional information.  After some hesitation, I assumed finally the position of the narrator. In this way, my own fieldwork, the process of navigating complicated human relations, has implicitly become part of the film.

When we finished the postproduction, we thought that the biggest part of the work was behind us. We slowly realized that what was in front us was equally huge: we have to make the film live.  Our two most obvious options are festivals for recognition and VOD for wide coverage. We started to work on the first option. For a while we were hoping that festivals would start open offline but in December 2020 we gave up waiting and started to register for online screenings.  For most of them, we are still waiting for the response.  VOD marketing can start only after the festival season. In the meanwhile, we are communicating about the film on its webpage (manish-movie.org). With the site, I wanted to pay a tribute to ethnographic filmmaking. Therefore, I imagined a double function for it. On the one hand, it presents the film, on the other, it gives more information on the ethnography that grounded it with the intention to render it “teachable”.  Under the menu item “Teaching tools” the internaute will find four short edited video sequences. They illustrate 4 important themes discussed by the film and developed more in details in the book: 1, Being disabled in the South, 2, Contemporary forms of violence, 3, Expulsions, 4, Resistances. Instead of referring directly to the film’s story, the sequences introduce the viewer into the deeper intricacies of its social, political and historic background. These snapshots, although localized, are meant to nourish an analysis of current global processes, affecting in one way or another, beyond the disabled communities of Freetown, probably all of us.

This section is dedicated to teachers, activists or amateurs of self-education who want to know more about the topic. Each video is accompanied by a short text, explaining the scenes and proposing a theoretical frame for their interpretation. The texts are completed by a list of suggested questions for class discussions, a glossary explaining the concepts, as well as by a short bibliography. The four texts together provide a good enough summary of the book’s arguments and make these available for those who do not necessarily have time to read hundreds of pages.

The webpage is also a place for fundraising. A Donation button invites the visitors to contribute to a Fund established in Freetown to financially help the disabled communities to which Manish belonged. It is managed by a local NGO, One Family People, created by the protagonists of the film. 10% of all income realized by the documentary will go to the people who participated in its realization.

We had to postpone the public premiere in Sierra Leone because the crew refused to travel in the heights of the pandemic. According to a cautious new plan, maybe we can visit “Salone” in June. In Sierra Leone, disability activists will not have to wait until the film is released officially. One Family People has access to it and can screen it on demand.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Gina Knapp

Wenner-Gren is proud to present the following blog post and trailer from Gina Knapp who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filming Voices of Kula.

Voices of Kula Trailer from gina knapp on Vimeo.

Voices of Kula

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

Voices of Kula is a feature-length ethnographic film that tells a story of empowerment, of local responses to cultural and economic changes and of the strive to revitalize cultural heritage. A group of elders from Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea and a cooperating anthropologist set out on an intriguing journey around an island network in the South Pacific to strengthen kula, a traditional system of exchanging shell-valuables around a ‘ring’ of approximately 40 islands. Fearing the destructive impacts of cash-economy on kula practice, the team takes action to fight misconduct and the corruption of the system. I joined the group on their fascinating quest for economic and cultural autonomy.

Voices of Kula (86min) was produced from footage taken during two research expeditions around the ‘kula ring’ in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, in 2016 and 2018. The two expeditions were part of the research project “The value of precious objects”, that was funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council Canada (SSHRC) and hosted by the University of Regina, Canada. I took part in this project as external researcher, visual anthropologist and filmmaker with the main task to document the research process. The project was prepared, organized and coordinated by Dr. Susanne Kuehling, University of Regina, who has been working as an anthropologist in the region for more than twenty years. Neither the research nor the film could have been accomplished without the strong relationships Dr. Kuehling had previously built with numerous communities in Milne Bay, primarily on the islands of Dobu, Fergusson and Normanby.

The idea for the project was proposed to Dr. Kuehling already in 2012 by kula elders. They expressed their concern about a decrease in kula practice and asked for her support in organizing a trip around the ring of islands to conduct a survey of the state of kula, and to discuss the situation with the communities in the network. A few years later Dr. Kuehling had organized the funds and in January 2016 the project started in the town of Alotau on the mainland of Papua New Guinea.

Since the project was very well prepared and supported by the local kula players, I had an easy start in a research site that I had never visited before. I was familiar with filming and researching in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, but the island region was new to me. So was traveling for two months across a not always “pacific” ocean. This project opened up new horizons on professional and personal levels while at the same time posing many challenges.

We left Alotau on a very basic, chartered vessel in January 2016 for the first expedition. ‘We’ refers to a team of 16 kula players from different islands, a boat-crew of three, Dr. Kuehling and myself. We spent the following 60 days traveling on the boat from island to island, documenting as many shell-valuables as possible and holding meetings in the kula communities. In these meetings, the research team and the communities identified a number of core-problems that affect kula exchange today, among them the selling of shell-valuables, the cheating on partners, the increasing costs of hosting a kula partner and bribery in general. Most of the problems are triggered through the impact of cash economy. In one of the meetings, a player suggested that a set of binding kula-rules should be developed and written down to stop such practices. A draft was sketched, discussed and completed along the journey. To the team’s delight, even the paramount chief Pulayasi from Kiriwina (Trobriand Islands) expressed his support for the project. By the end of the first trip the team had documented more than 1.200 ‘active’ kula shells and gathered all ideas for a written ‘kula law’.

Two years later we started our second research expedition, now with a smaller group and in the other direction of the exchange circle. We revisited the island communities, equipped with laminated photos of the previously documented objects for educational workshops in local schools and large photo-posters for the village elders to have an overview of the circulating kula shell-valuables. We also brought along the written proposal of the kula rules. Kula players around the ring discussed and adjusted the document until it was finally confirmed by the island communities. A 20min clip from the last journey’s footage that I had brought along was watched with great enthusiasm by all. People around the ring reacted immensely positive and emotional to the research project and the film. In total, I collected 110 hours of footage.

Filming the two journeys was not an easy task. Light (the south pacific sun plus ocean) and sound conditions (boat engine, wind, waves) forced me often to compromise on the quality of the recordings. I was a one-person film team with occasional assistance from highly motivated and skilled, but untrained team members. Neddy Daniel was a great help and became a wonderful camera man by the end of the first trip. We used a Sony PXW-XZ150, a GoPro Camera, a Lumix and an iPhone 11plus. For sound recordings, I used two ZOOM 100 sound recorders and a SONY clip microphone.

I tried to keep as much in the background as possible when filming and refrained from interfering in meetings or conversations to get a better shot. I did not set up scenes. Before filming, we always asked – and recorded – if everyone agreed. In fact, people loved being filmed and I rather had difficulties to not-film people than to film them. Nevertheless, filming conditions at the meetings on the islands were very difficult. The numerous speakers were usually sitting widely separated from each other on the beach or a common meeting place and I sometimes had problems to adjust my camera position in time – not to mention the sound issues. The many languages spoken on the islands we visited posed another challenge. I was lucky and am grateful especially to Trevor and Synod Timoti for their ongoing translations and explanations. The cooperation with and between the team members, their motivation and support and the hospitality of the island communities we visited were overwhelming.

Voices of Kula largely follows the chronology of the research expeditions but inserts from different locations have been made to strengthen coherence in the narrative. This refers especially to meetings from different islands that have been intercut. As the name Voices of Kula suggests, I dismissed the idea of a voice-over to frame the narrative. Instead, my interlocutors reveal the story through interviews, dialogues, informal conversations and their actions. On very limited occasions I have used diagrams to illustrate a few statements. I am aware that this interrupts the inside-perspective of the film but I considered it important to summarize some points for a non-Melanesian audience. I edited the film in FinalCut Pro 10.9. Except for the title song, all music was provided by local island string bands. The title song Co era so is from the New Caledonian artist OK!Ryos. The rights have been granted by Mangrove Productions, New Caledonia.

I am now looking at submitting the film to film-festivals, for example RAI, GIEFF (German International Ethnographic Film Festival) and FIFO (Festival du Film Océanien, Tahiti). I am still researching options for distribution. Once the film has been released and screened publicly, it will be hosted online on the website of the University of Regina, Canada. Dr. Susanne Kuehling (Head of the Department of Anthropology) will arrange the upload. This online-version is important for granting free access to the film to a broad audience, specifically people in the Milne Bay region. It can be watched on mobile phones or laptops but not downloaded.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Vanessa Wijngaarden

The Wenner-Gren Foundation is excited to share the trailer and blog post from Vanessa Wijngaarden who in 2017 received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on Meeting ‘the Other’ In Maasailand: How We See Them, How They See Us.

Trailer Maasai Speak Back from Vanessa Wijngaarden on Vimeo.

Meeting ‘the Other’ In Maasailand: How We See Them, How They See Us

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

This film project involved the use of material filmed in Tanzania in 2012 (Research Permit No. 2010-343-NA-2010-174, ), as well as the collection of new material. The Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) granted Research Permit No. 2018-544-NA-2018-211 for this latter phase. Dr. George Mutalemwa of St. Augustine University of Tanzania, Mwanza operated as a local research collaborator. Although the application for the research permit was already submitted December 14, 2017 and followed up on in the subsequent months, the permit was only obtained November 8, 2018 (valid until Oct 25, 2019). In line with the Immigration Act of the Tanzanian state, this research permit is only valid in combination with a Residence Permit Class C. Although I had previously executed research in Tanzania from 2010-2012, and for that purpose had obtained a Residence Permit Class C without any difficulties, the new government of Tanzania seems to have a less open policy towards foreigners and increased the complexity of immigration procedures. This led to a further delay in obtaining the permissions, but in November 2018 the Residence Permit (No. RPC11110195) was nevertheless obtained.

Filming in Tanzania was carried out in the Arusha region from November to December 2018. I was received with enthusiasm by the community, where I have lived intermittently and counted as a member of the village and local church for the past nine years. In cooperation with the village leader and several representatives (balozi or ɨlbálosini) of the community, a letter of consent was written in English as well as Swahili, in which the agreement between me and the community with regard to the participation in the project and dissemination of the audio-visual material is outlined. This letter was signed and approved with consensus by the rest of the community. In cooperation with Paulo Ngulupa, re-visited members of the community in their circular villages (boma or ɨnkaŋitíe). We first approached the families as a group, showing material we shot of their villages being visited by tourists in 2012. For many community members it was a great surprise and joy to watch themselves and their family in audio-visual material shot such a long time ago.

As the Maasai society is very hierarchical in terms of age and gender relationships, it is hard for anyone but the most highest ranking person present to speak in response to the presented images and questions. I thus decided to approach the people featuring in the videos individually with audio-visual clips in which they themselves featured, providing translations of the Dutch tourists’ conversations in these clips, and asking accompanying questions. In this fashion I visited and filmed 28 community members (8 men and 20 women), executing interviews ranging from 30 minutes to over 2 hours in length. In addition, my research assistant and I interviewed each other in order to reflect on the process of research and filmmaking. The community members provided their considerations and interpretations with regard to their interactions with the tourists, and recorded video messages to send to them. This material was shot with a Sony HDR-AX2000 AVCHD camera. In addition, we used a Sony HDR-CX405 4K AVCHD handycam to document the research and filming processes, also from the perspective of the research assistant.

The end of the month of December 2018 and the month of January 2019 were dedicated to re-visiting the Dutch tourists that were part of the original footage from 2012. All tourist groups I contacted responded positively to the invitation to participate in the follow-up project. Most tourists were visited as a group, while two tourists were interviewed individually. In total, 18 tourists participated, who were filmed during six visits at their homes all over the Netherlands. In preparation of each of the visits, I selected the most interesting segments of the respective tourists’ interactions in 2012, and presented these in combination with the accompanying translations, film material of the Maasai counterparts reacting to the scenes, as well as the personal video messages the relevant Maasai had recorded for them. I filmed the sessions, which took 2.5 to 4 hours each. Most of the Dutch participants changed their ideas of themselves and the Maasai, and many were deeply touched and even emotional as a result of the Maasai’s responses and explanations. All agreed with the purpose of the research and film, and signed the consent forms for use of the audio-visual material.

The total of material collected consists of 13 hours of village visit interactions of the main characters shot in 2012. This is supplemented by 40 hours of filmed cultural tourism interactions of other research participants, and 100 hours of other material shot at the Maasai location, both of which are valuable as B-roll material. The Maasai interviews undertaken in 2018 consist of 43 hours, and the tourist interviews undertaken in 2018/2019 consists of 20 hours. In addition, with the handycam 6 hours were filmed in Maasailand and the Netherlands, which are useful as B-roll and for future reflexive analysis. The total of 76 hours of A-roll material was logged, transcribed and translated during the months of February till June. In addition, logging of the B-roll material was finalized, and several paper edits were constructed. The months of July till October 2019 I dedicated to learning Adobe Premiere Pro (I previously worked with Avid Media Composer) and to create the rough cut. The COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa (starting March 26, 2020) and my resulting forced emigration to Europe (April 26. 2020), the project suffered some delays in the fine-cut stage.

The final film is a feature length documentary (106 minutes) and consists of five chapters (the first being structured as a hook), a bridge, a conclusion and mid-credit scenes. Every chapter evolves around the visit of a different tourist group at a different circular village and features two or three small storylines. The storyline as well as the visual aspects of the film, which playfully feature the differences and parallels in the landscapes and living spaces of the Maasai and Dutch, investigate how relationships across difference are possible, in fact, contrast and continuity are presented as constantly entangled. Essentially, the film explores how we may deal with difference and inequality, and the Dutch as well as Maasai reflections on poverty, hunger, honesty, hospitality, greed, forgiveness and trust, are presented as in conversation with each other. This stimulates the viewer to reflect on the narratives (s)he holds about ‘the other’ and ‘the self’ and in how far (s)he is satisfied with these ideas, adding another layer of reflection.

Stay tuned for more information about the release date of Meeting ‘the Other’ In Maasailand: How We See Them, How They See Us.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Laura Coppens

Wenner-Gren is proud to present the following blog post and trailer from Laura Coppens who in 2018 received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filming on Taste of Hope.

Taste of Hope I Official Trailer from Srikandi Productions on Vimeo.

Taste of Hope

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

‘Taste of Hope’ is a feature-length observational film and tells the fascinating and complex story of a workers’ cooperative in the small town of Gémenos. The film aims to convey how precarious workers are making sense of economic uncertainty in the midst of the ongoing crisis of capitalism by cultivating hope and desires for a potentially better future. Where idealism clashes with harsh reality, I observed the factory workers as they faced inevitable challenges. In 2010, Unilever announced the closing of the profitable Fralib tea processing and packaging plant in the South of France. After 1336 days of resistance, the workers celebrated their victory against the giant multinational and became owners of the factory. Now, with the take-over of the company and production under workers’ control, a new struggle has begun. Can this alternative project be viable within an oversaturated, highly competitive market? For two years, I accompanied the workers in their daily struggles. Between general assemblies, cash-flow problems and tea tastings with potential clients, deception, and conflict emerge. Ultimately, the documentary poses the question: How do we need to work today so we might live in a better world tomorrow?

‘Taste of Hope’ premiered at the Visions du Réel film festival in April in 2019 and won two awards: the Jury Price of the SSA/ SUISSIMAGE and the Zonta Award for the most promising female filmmaker to watch out for. After one year of successful festival run, the film continues to be screened in mainstream and ethnographic film festivals all over the world.

The film emerged from my ethnographic research about different manifestations of what can be called ‘economies of hope.’ The Postdoctoral Fellowship for 2018-2019 allowed me to work on the editing and post-production of the film and to explore visual modalities for telling the tale of a hopeful worker’s struggle. ‘Taste of Hope’ builds on recent documentaries that address the resurged phenonemon of autogestion in the South of Europe, such as Next Stop Utopia (2005) in Greece and The Nothing Factory (2017) in Portugal. However, both these films focus on the actual strike and factory occupation and do not show the daily life under worker’s control. I have used the film medium as a research method to explore and capture the processes and social interactions through which political subjects come into being affectively and hope is materialized. Through audio and images, I aim at conveying the hopes and imaginations of the workers and demonstrate how affect opens up new emancipatory possibilities in the domain of workers’ self-management.

As I further show in the film, the hope invested in a workers’ economy is not only an aspiration but also consists of a tangible dimension, implying that the political and economic future possibilities inherent in workers’ control projects are also always realized in the present. This sphere of social and political activity can be described as a workers’ economy of hope in which becoming knowledgeable about the economy and autogestion, in addition to building and maintaining solidarity networks as well as heightening awareness of ecological and democratic modes of production, are important sites in which individual and collective hopes are materialized. Thus, hope is produced and entailed in a wide range of workers’ knowledge practices like work and labor processes or product development, among others. Self-managed factories are sites of political struggle that must continually be enacted. It is precisely this process of enactment on a daily basis, the conceptualization of autogestion as a social practice and political activity that is the focus of my film.

Past and scheduled Screenings (selection):

  • Visions du Réel, Nyon (world premiere) | Winner Prix du Jury SSA/ SUISSIMAGE & Prix ZONTA
  • Kaleidoskop Film Festival, Vienna
  • Open City Documentary Festival, London
  • DokuBaku International Documentary Film Festival, Baku | Winner Audience Award
  • Margaret Mead Film Festival, NYC | Nominated for the Margaret Mead Filmmakers Award
  • DOK Leipzig International Documentary Film Festival, Leipzig |Nominated for the Healthy Workplace Award
  • Duisburger Filmwoche, Duisburg
  • Ethnographic Film Days, Bremen
  • FIPADOC, Biarritz | Nominated for the Impact Award
  • Soluthurner Filmtage, Solothurn
  • DocPoint Helsinki
  • Festival Millenium, Brussels
  • Dokfilmwoche Hamburg
  • ”Between Women Filmmakers” Caravan/ Cairo International Women’s Film Festival, Bilbao
  • International Documentary Film Festival ELBE DOCK | Competition

Reviews (selection):

“Unobtrusive and humane, ‘Taste of Hope’ is reminiscent of American documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s studies of institutional cultures and workplaces. Proper to her training as a social anthropologist, director Laura Coppens is keenly sensitive to place and people. This skill for observation comes through in the film’s treatment of the factory as a unique environment, as well as its attention to daily rhythms and the interpersonal dynamics of people.”

– Stephani Lam, Film and Visual Studies, Harvard University

“Instead of making grand gestures or political statements, the filmmaker works with the camera and with a thoughtful editing in order to understand how to weave together new possibilities of communal existence. The result is a superbly crafted observational exercise. A little manual of self-defense and resistance in the face of a neoliberalism that wishes for workers to keep their heads down. A taste of hope indeed.

– Giona A. Nazarro, programmer and film critic

“The fact that the filmmaker is allowed to be present when delicate topics are discussed is a testament to the relationship of trust that she has built up during the two years of shooting. The example of ScopTI shows how existence in a market economy demands compromises – which is not new, but it is always important to discuss together. After all, the wishful thinking about how workers’ self-managed companies should function cannot be reflected often enough under real circumstances, which are very different depending on the industry, size etc. ‘Taste of Hope’ is quite well suited to contribute to a solidarity exchange in movements and networks of collective economies.”

– Elisabeth Voss, economist and publicist

“Employee-owned business are the future. There have been too many narratives about people losing jobs and security lately, and this is extremely important to acknowledge. But we also need stories that instill hope, that show that there are other options available. ‘Taste of Hope’ is an incredibly smart film, that it doesn’t only concentrate on the force of spirit that led the ScopTI employees to become their own bosses: it also asks ‘what’s next?.’ Coppens arrived to film the factory when the rush of resistance had already worn off, and the more mundane, but crucial challenges started adding layers to the new labor system at place. This way, ‘Taste of Hope’ became a more complex, thought-provoking case study of workers reclaiming their agency, with emphasis on the essential practical side of things. Necessary viewing for those interested in how labor relationships will evolve in the future, with a delightful field trip to a tea-making factory as a bonus.”

– Katya Kazbek, Editor-in-chief supamodu.com

Link to website: https://tasteofhope-film.com


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


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.


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.


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.