As we begin to dive into our larger ethnographic films, I found this video about lighting to be helpful. In the video, Film Riot explains the importance of lighting and how it creates a feeling. What they mean by feeling is that the lighting that is cast onto the subject will have a set tone to the video based on previews films. For instance, if we have a video that cast light on the subject with a dark background, it creates a very serious tone. If we add more lighting in the background, it creates a friendlier tone. Therefore, as we begin to unveil the stores of our subjects, we can emphasize the theme of the final video by using lighting and background color when interviewing our subjects.
Nanook of the North doesn’t require much introduction by me. The landmark project has been mentioned before, though its focus on Nanook and the other Inuit demonstrates an odd staging on closer inspection. I’d guess there was extensive film not used for the hour long film, but the sheer drama of the documentary seems almost too good to believe. Disaster, and setback is common place and the luck that the unwieldy 1920’s equipment happened to be in the right place at the right time seems hard to believe.
This staging makes me question the overall authenticity of the entire film, its reasonable to expect some embellishment, especially considering the commercial nature of the film, but the film itself seems to be at least partially staged. The overall production was solid, with an engaging narrative, but its authenticity seems roughly on par with the Kony 2012 viral video. I was entertained but disappointed in the end, which is just as much as I expected.
Brandon Stanton, the film’s videographer, originally started Humans of New York in 2010 as a photoblog featuring interviews and photographs exploring the lives of people who live in or travel to New York. To convey the stories of subjects in a stronger medium, Stanton premiered Humans of New York: The Series on social media earlier this month. Each episode features different individuals whose stories center around a certain theme. The most recent episode explores the challenges and joys of maintaining relationships between individuals.
As Layan mentioned in her post, ethnographic films connect the filmmaker, the subject, and the world together. One of the strongest ways that Stanton accomplishes this through the film is through silence. He does not interject at all throughout the film; rather, he lets the subjects, the music, and the sequence of shots shape the plot of the film. To transition from one couple to another (3:10-3:26), Stanton includes clips of both couples mentioning the song “La Vie En Rose” to describe their romantic relationships. Without saying a word, Stanton makes the couple’s points even stronger by featuring this connection between the two interviews.
As a photographer, Stanton’s photography background and experience shines throughout the film. Stanton also uses a variety of shots. Although he does not use a strict rule-of-thirds shot most of the time, views of the subjects slightly off-center from the camera, along with views of the street and background, add to the personality of the interviewees. At times, the combination of the background and the interviewees even serves to lighten the mood (12:54).
Although the film might have been stronger and presented a more complex picture of relationships if it was longer, overall, this episode conveys the stories of the interviewees in a relatable way, but more importantly, the film speaks to the broader human experience with relationships.
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In this video, the International union for the Conservation of Nature goes to Maramasike, Solomon Islands to learn how the initiative MESCAL (Mangrove Ecosystem Conservation and Livelihoods) is working to ensure the protection of their Mangrove forests and resources that are provided by them.
I really find this work peaceful as it seemed as if the camera moved fluidly between different roles in the community. One, as a method to capture formal interviews, but two also as Solomon Islanders would act, react, and gesture with its presence. some points these interactions occurred for example were when the women were waving the camera operator to come check out their oyster harvesting station. Another instance was when one of the divers gave the camera a smile and thumbs up before finding a mangrove crab. Another instance was when one of the young boys happily ate a grub and smiled after the delicacy.
I think it’s really powerful when your have a comfortable audience with your camera. This is not always the case for ethnographic study as man people can find the camera intrusive and disrespectful however, the Solomon Islanders didn’t seem to mind at all. This makes we wonder a bit more about the camera operator’s demeanor/ethnicity, familiarity with the Maramasike community. I feel like having prior experience, knowledge, or commonalities may greatly help the integration into a community for study. Which brings up a question: how, as cinematographer/ethnographers, can we build this level of trust/comfort with communities we may have little to know experiences or knowledge with. I feel like not saying anything/not interacting can be off putting as you become a ‘fly on the wall,’ at the same time I feel it may be necessary for instance if your ignorance becomes disruptive.
This video was also very well put together and supported with B-roll that was gathered. Clips were merged in at the right times to convey messages and strengthen points. For instance, when the first diver was in the water swimming and the camera was above the water, I was just waiting for when both the camera and the diver would descend beneath the surface. That time was built up properly and I loved the slow acclimation into the water as well. By slow acclimation, I mean how the camera started with the diver subsurface, then gradually went deep and deeper with the diver to see more of what the diver was doing/experiencing under the water.
This was a really good documentary. Turn up for the South Pacific.
Abby Ordillas, Richy Tovar, Victor-Alan Weeks
Journey with us as we take a look into one of Davidson’s most active organizations in terms of service and community relations.