Annotation: De Brigard, Emile. 1975. The History of Ethnographic Film

De Brigard, Emile. 1975. The History of Ethnographic Film. In, Principles of Visual Anthropology. Paul Hockings (ed.). Pp. 13-43.The Hague: Mouton.

Reflective of his position as an outsider anthropologist, the author acknowledges “We now turn our cameras on ourselves for a good hard look at our own societies, thus redressing an imbalance which the “native” subjects of ethnographic films have found highly offensive” (14). The author presents a succinct yet comprehensive history of ethnographic film, which he says began as a phenomenon of colonialism, and continues to be part of history, as a part of the struggle for independence in the developing nations. The author traces the beginning of ethnographic filmmaking from Felix-Louis Regnault in the 1890s, a physician who became interested in anthropology, who used chronophotography to film human movements. The author further divides the time period of visual anthropology to pioneer period (Alfred Cort Haddon during the Torres Strait Expedition), which was then followed by applied anthropology, which he cites as the origin of colonial cinema. As an example, the author writes about the case of the Philippines in which the American colonial administration used film in educating the northern natives about Western sanitary practices. De Brigard continues the history of ethnographic filmmaking by also citing the works of Mead and Bateson in Indonesia, the lack of film production during the WWII, and then the development of Rouch’s work towards “cinema verite.” With its function of politicization, cinema verite, as de Brigard writes, came to be developed during the historical turn of France’s disengagement from Algeria. The development of cinema verite, as well as the other movements that followed, is situated by de Brigard as part of a continuous shift in the conventions of filmmaking and spectatorship.


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