Beyond observation: A history of authorship in ethnographic film (2021)

  • Talk
  • 1h 24m

Beyond observation: A history of authorship in ethnographic film. A discussion with Paul Henley

More than just introducing the best in new ethnographic films, the RAI FILM Festival also aims to take stock of major new works of scholarship in the field of visual anthropology. For the 2021 RAI Film Festival, we feature Paul Henley’s Beyond Observation (2020). Henley delivers a grand tour: from the birth of cinema in 1895 up to (nearly) the present day. In his expansive work Henley challenges us to reconsider how we tell and teach the story of ethnographic film. Whether we agree with his vision or not, this book is sure to serve as a new point of reference in a field that is continually looking to reinvent itself. One of the most important contributions of Beyond Observation is the re-examination of the “canonical” underpinnings of ethnographic film. This panel discussion uses this book to pose broader questions: What is the canon of ethnographic film? Who decides? What work might an ethnographic film canon do? And: Do we really need one?


  • Paul Henley served as the Director of the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester from 1987 until 2014. Trained in documentary at the UK National Film and Television School he has since made numerous films. His many academic publications include The Adventure of the Real (2010), a major study of the work of Jean Rouch. He is currently co-editor of a new series of monographs published by Manchester University Press entitled: Anthropology, Creative Practice and Ethnography. And he was a Director of the RAI Film Festival five times over 25 years.

  • P. Kerim Friedman is an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures at National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan. His research explores language revitalization efforts among indigenous Taiwanese, looking at the relationship between language ideology, indigeneity, and political economy. An ethnographic filmmaker, he co-produced the Jean Rouch award-winning documentary, Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! about a street theater troupe from one of India’s Denotified and Nomadic Tribes (DNTs). Kerim is also a co-founder of the anthropology blog anthro{dendum} (formerly Savage Minds).

  • Harjant Gill is associate professor of anthropology at Towson University. His research examines the intersections of masculinity, transnational migration and popular culture in India. Gill is also an award-winning filmmaker and has made several ethnographic films that have screened at international film festivals and on television channels worldwide including BBC, Doordarshan (Indian National TV) and PBS. Gill is an alumnus of the Point Foundation and a former recipient of Fulbright-Nehru Research Fellowship and American Institute of Indian Studies Performing Arts Fellowship. He also co-directed the SVA Film & Media Festival (2012-2014) and co-edited the Multimodal Anthropologies section of the journal American Anthropologist (2017-2020). His website is here.

  • Shilyh Warren is Associate Professor of film and feminist studies in the School of Arts & Humanities at UT Dallas. She is the author of Subject to Reality: Women in Documentary (U of Illinois P, 2009), and numerous of essays on documentary, feminism, and women’s cinema. She’s curated a number of film programs featuring women’s documentary and experimental filmmaking in North Carolina, New York, and Dallas, and she often serves on the jury of the Dallas Video Fest.

The panel is moderated by Stephen Hughes, Festival Director, RAI.

A live discussion with the contributors will take place on Zoom on Monday 22 March, 13:30 - 13:55 UTC. Find the papers’ abstracts and a link to join the live discussion here.

Please note, we are taking Zoom security seriously to ensure a safe space for discussion. Everyone wishing to join the live discussion will need to have a verified Zoom account. Sign up for free here.