Dilemma and Decision Ethnographic Filmmaking
News 2010

​Dilemma and Decision: Ethnographic Filmmaking

October 30, 2010

​Filmmaking is a difficult business. The dilemmas behind the making of ethnographic films were the focus of a colloquium held at Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) from 29-30 October 2010. Films shot in locations around the world including Afghanistan, Botswana, India, and Guatemala, to name a few, were shown alongside unedited clips. Participants, including anthropologists, sociologists, filmmakers and film critics from around the world, engaged in critical discussions about the editing process and the surrounding dilemmas and decisions involved in the process of filmmaking. A follow-up workshop and publication are planned outcomes of the event.

The event was organised by Professor Richard Werbner of the University of Manchester and Kathryn Spellman Poots (AKU-ISMC), and co-sponsored by the Royal Anthropological Institute and the International Centre for Contemporary Cultural Research.

Films screened at the colloquium are listed below:

•Ethiopian Troubadors - Itsushi Kawase, University of Manchester

•Amir: An Afghan refugee musician’s life in Peshawar - John Baily, Goldsmith’s College

•VERAPAZ, Belgian quest for Eldorado in Guatemala - An van Dienderen, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, University College Ghent

•Brazilian Diasporics in Portugal - Angela Torresan, University of Manchester

•Aurality, uncertainty and the impressionistic image: notes from Okinawa - Rupert Cox, University of Manchester

•Bea Wants to Know – Divination in Puerto Rico - Roger Canals, University of Barcelona

•Holy Hustlers – Charismatic faith-healers in Botswana - Richard Werbner, University of Manchester

•Beauty is Black, Hanan China - Xu Han, University of Manchester

•The Lover and the Beloved: Journey into Tantra - Andy Lawrence, University of Manchester

•Paradise on a River of Hell – Kashmir Controversies - Meenu Gaur, Independent Filmmaker

•GCVA- Ethnographic Filmmaking Sue Brook, Independent Filmmaker

Film Summaries

Amir: An Afghan refugee musician’s life in Peshawar, Pakistan (1985)
The war between the Mujahidin and Soviet forces is at its height. Amongst the millions of Afghans in exile in Pakistan are a number of professional musicians, including John Baily’s old friend Amir Mohammad from Herat. Shot and edited in the observational cinema style as taught at the NFTS, the film shows the circumstances of Amir’s life, his home, his workplace, his performance as a rubab player in the band of the successful singer Shah Wali Khan and his sense of pain and dislocation resulting from separation from his homeland.

Bea Wants to Know – Divination in Puerto Rico
Bea, a young Puerto Rican university student, wants to know more about her future and understand why, despite her efforts, her professional and personal life seems stagnated. She finds the answers to her questions through a medium in San Juan, who proposes that she take part in a spiritual cleansing ritual in order to expel bad energies that prevent her from being completely happy. Through the experiences of Bea and her friends, this film portrays the role played by popular religion in contemporary Puerto Rican society.

Holy Hustlers – charismatic faith-healers in Botswana
Charismatic, street-wise young men, living in Botswana’s capital, command the prophetic domain in Eloyi, their Apostolic faith-healing church. A crisis is escalating. Bitter, sinful accusations divide Eloyi’s village-based archbishop and his son, the city-based bishop. The church itself, ‘under destruction’, splits. Inspired in trance by the Holy Spirit, prophets are seen feeling patients’ pain in their own bodies. But, they also jostle and even batter their patients emotionally with fear of trusted relatives’ hidden malice, and witchcraft. For protection, they extract fees that the church forbids. As young city men with strong village ties origins, prophets impose their own street-wise vision of deceptive appearances and dangers in a familiar world of belonging. The tension between holiness and hustling is creative. This film shows how, in a crisis, city prophets assert themselves powerfully because they are both holy and hustlers.

Razia Velji
Coordinator, Planning & Academic Development
Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations
Email: razia.velji@aku.edu