Anthropological Fieldwork and Ethnographic Documentary Film Essay

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Anthropological Fieldwork and Ethnographic Documentary Film
Final Paper
Xu Wei
Question 3
Others on the screen Most people have the desire to know and even observe others’ lives. Then for meeting this need, the documentary films showed up. And when facing these objects on the screen, people show complicated feelings about it. After watching the films, some people might change their attitudes among one certain group of people; some people might take actions based on the harvest of the films. As for it, trueness is apparently one of the major factors to judge a documentary film. “Taxidermy” as Fatimah Tobing Rony described in his book The Third Eye could be one method of documentary films to show reliability. “Taxidermy seeks to make that which is dead look as if it were still living.” (PG101) However, this kind of film style still show some issues especially based on races and genders. It could not help expressing biased information on the situation that either the director made it on purpose or unintentionally. First of all, when making these documentary films based on different races, it has no choice to disturb these local people’s life. Lightly, they break into undiscovered places and open these places to the world and change the way that how local people treat the world. For example, in the film of Dennis O'Rourke's Cannibal Tours, local people’s lifestyle totally changed after the visitors coming from whole world. In the past, they live a autarkical living style that they don’t care money that much. However, after the breaking out of global influence, they become influenced by the capitalized community that they sell products and even feel eager to get money. I remembered one women in the movie yelled with anger that “I want money, why don’t they buy something? Why they are so rich I am so poor, they must buy my goods.” The opening of the documentary films might change the life of local people. And even the director got a lot of money from the documentary films, local people could not get any profits. What’s worse, the objects of the films might be taken away from their home and treated inhumane. As several examples showed both in The Third Eye or Notes on cultural fusion in the Americas “Many of the people exhibited during the nineteenth century were presented as the chiefs of conquered tribes and /or the last survivors of ‘vanishing’ races. Ishi, the Yahi Indian who spent five years living in the Museum of the University of California at the turn of the century ,is well-know example. Another lesser-known example comes from the U.S.-Mexico War of 1836 when Anglo-Texan secessionists used to exhibit their Mexican prisoners in public plazas in cages, leaving them there to starve to death.” (PG41 The Other history of intercultural performance)
What’s ironically, the documentary value of the film lies in its portrayal of essential humanity while the objects’ treatments are nearly inhumane. Not only when they were alive, but also when they were dead, their bodies still not be returned. These treatments could be painful to their family as it mentioned “Wallace was adopted and grew up in New York, only to discover as a teenager that when his father had died the scientists had staged a fake burial, and that indeed this father’s bones were at the museum. As Wallacc explained in a letter to a friend: ‘You can’t know the sad feelings I have…No one can know unless they have been taken from their home and had their father die and put on exhibition, and be left to starve in a strange land where the men insult you when you ask for you won dear father’s body to bury or to be sent home. These are civilized men who steal, and murder, and torture, and pray and say science’‘”
This subhuman treatment leads to the second issue of the racist on the documentary films. The reason for this treatment is that the director thinks other races are just “aboriginal samples” or “primitive”. When facing people in different races, even though