Anthropology Goes to the Movies: Film, Video, and Ethnography
Taught by: Collen Ballerino Cohen
What is your course about?
I was inspired to think about employing digital video editing in my course on ethnographic film through the Mellon Teaching with Technology grant. Previous support from a Luce Grant had enabled me to travel to UC Fullerton, to work with a colleague who had set up a digital media lab for his anthropology department. Through observing what he did in his lab and classes, and with support from Mellon and the Dean, I was able to set up an anthropology digital media lab, and to use it in teaching my Anthropology Goes to the Movies. The purpose of this course is to explore the use of film and video as media for representing ethnographic knowledge. As we look at ethnographic films, we raise questions of ethnographic representation, in general, and then ask how and whether ethnographic film solves or perhaps exacerbates problems of representation.
How does this particular technology enhance your teaching goals?
A key exercise in the course involves students in putting together their own ethnographic video, using clips from my own fieldwork. After they have produced their videos (using Final Cut Pro) they are asked to think about the way this medium coveys an ethnographic story, in comparison with an article and my field notes on the same subject. Students can also 'reversion' classic documentaries, using a digital video editing program like Final Cut Pro, so that the reversioned documentary tells a very different story than the original. By making their own video, and by reversioning classic documentaries, students understand the ways in which film and video can be manipulated and can be used to evoke a desired audience response; they also learn about what it can't do, and in particular about the difficulty in trying to present a non-exoticized view of cultural difference. In both instances, the visual literacy of students is enhanced far beyond what a simple critical reading of a film or video text allows. This, in turn, enables them to think more critically about conventional practices such as ethnographic writing.
The Student Response
How have your students responded to your use of technology?
Students work in groups on their projects, and this allows a more comfortable introduction to new technologies while encouraging collaborative learning. While the first couple of hours using Final Cut Pro can be daunting, we offer a lot of support, using the anthropology digital media lab assistant, and the Media Cloisters students. By the time they have completed the first project, students are thrilled -- not so much with their new "skills" (which they are often eager to try out in their final projects), as with what the process has taught them about the telling of ethnographic stories, using film and video
What are the challenges you faced teaching this course?
The most obvious challenge in teaching this course is getting students comfortable with using digital editing applications. But as challenging is getting students to become careful and deep "readers" of visual texts. They are so accustomed to being viewers -- of television, film, video, computer screens -- that it takes some real discipline and practice for students to learn how to watch, what to watch for. What's great, though, is that as they are learning new visual literacy skills, they also become more critical and careful readers of written texts.
What new directions would you like to explore with technology in your teaching?
I would like to move in several directions. I have used Blackboard to get students to talk about the films they have viewed and the readings pertaining to those films, so that when I come into class, I can be sure that the discussion covers issues that students have raised. I would like to explore more uses of social software, like blogs. With particular respect to the ethnographic film course, I would like to work more with sound technologies, so we might explore more deeply this aspect of "meaning making." I have just developed a new course (which grew out of the ethnographic film course), Indigenous and Oppositional Media Practices. In this course, I will make similar use of digital editing technology, to have students make "reverse ethnographic" videos. But I would also like to make use of moos and blogs to have students explore the potential of the internet my oppositional media movements.