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Ethnographic Film

Jay Ruby


It is commonly assumed that an ethnographic film is any documentary about nonwestern cultures. There is scholarly debate about its parameters. Some suggest all film is ethnographic ( Heider 1976 ), while others restrict the term to films produced by anthropologists ( Ruby 2000 ). There are no up-to-date histories of ethnographic film. The scholarly literature in the field is concerned with assumed dilemmas between science and art; questions of →  accuracy , fairness, and objectivity (→  Objectivity in Reporting ); the relationship between written and visual anthropology; and collaborations between filmmakers and anthropologists (see Banks & Morphy 1997 ; Crawford & Turton 1992 ; De Heusch 1962/1988 ; MacDougall 1998 ; and the journals Visual Anthropology and Visual Anthropology Review ). The common definition will guide the discussion that follows. The earliest ethnographic films were the Lumiére Brothers' “actualities,” one-reel, single-take episodes of human behavior, such as “Leaving the Lumière Factory” (1895). Among the first anthropologists to produce researchable footage was Felix-Louis Regnault, who proposed, in 1900, that all museums should collect “moving artifacts” for study and exhibit. Scholars, explorers, missionaries, and colonial administrators often made footage for research and public display. However, the crude technology, lack of familiarity with ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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