Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Documenting Ourselves

Documenting Ourselves: Film, Video, and Culture

Sharon R. Sherman
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Documenting Ourselves
    Book Description:

    Since Robert Flaherty's landmark filmNanook of the North(1922) arguments have raged over whether or not film records of people and traditions can ever be "authentic." And yet never before has a single volume combined documentary, ethnographic, and folkloristic filmmaking to explore this controversy.

    What happens when we turn the camera on ourselves? This question has long plagued documentary filmmakers concerned with issues of reflexivity, subject participation, and self-consciousness.Documenting Ourselvesincludes interviews with filmmakers Les Blank, Pat Ferrero, Jorge Preloran, Bill Ferris, and others, who discuss the ways their own productions and subjects have influenced them. Sharon Sherman examines the history of documentary films and discusses current theiroeis and techniques of folklore and fieldwork.

    But Sharon Sherman does not limit herself to the problems faced by filmmakers today. She examines the history of documentary films, tracing them from their origins as a means of capturing human motion through the emergence of various film styles. She also discusses current theories and techniques of folklore and fieldwork, concluding that advances in video technology have made the camcorder an essential tool that has the potential to redefine the nature of the documentary itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5794-8
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiii)
    Michael Owen Jones

    Sharon R. Sherman has writtena unique book, long needed and destined to be an oft-cited and frequently quoted authority on its subject. The first of its kind, her volume analyzes the subject matter, conceptual underpinnings, and cinematic techniques in that large body of visual productions known as “folkloristic films.” In addition, the author explores ways in which films and videos document and reveal much about ourselves as individuals (whether filmmakers or subjects), culture bearers, and members of a common species. Because folklorically oriented filmmakers have often been schooled in or influenced by other cinematic models, Sharon Sherman sets their...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  6. 1 Folklore, Film, and Video: In the Beginning
    (pp. 1-60)

    The folklore documentaryis ubiquitous. In a world bombarded by visual images, most of us have become not only receivers of the image but its manipulators as well. We take photographs, produce home movies, and shoot videotape of life’s events. Often, these visual documents represent the realm of folklore: they record such events as birthday parties, weddings, ethnic gatherings, and religious occasions. At the same time, the films and videos we create reveal much about ustous and others.¹ As a folklorist, filmmaker, and videographer, I believe the use of film and video becomes a reflexive process of interpreting...

  7. 2 The Folkloric Film: Definition and Methodology, Texts and Contexts
    (pp. 61-124)

    The film movementin folklore begins much later than that of other fields, but it reflects all of the techniques and preoccupations of earlier documentary filmmakers.¹ Like the “films of fact” shot in the early 1900s, folklore films are often made up of short clips of interesting phenomena captured for posterity. Certain folklore films have a heavily narrated and expository style similar to those documentaries made before World War II and lasting through the 1960s. Other folklore films utilize either a cinéma vérité or postvérité approach or one that combines sync-sound or voice-over with linear depictions for the recording of...

  8. 3 Documentation: Interactional Events and Individual Portraits
    (pp. 125-166)

    The event filmhas been a necessary outgrowth of shifting theoretical models in folkloristics. Scholars made observations about the social or cultural setting to expedite cross-cultural, cross-regional studies or in-depth cultural analyses. Like anthropologists, folklorists might analyze the content and context to demonstrate possible functions of folksongs, narratives, and other folk expressions; filmmakers explored the cultural milieu in which folklore was generated. In their published work, folklorists described situations in general terms; that is, tales are usually told at a feast, or a wedding, or at the storyteller’s home, or among certain ethnic groups. Films facilitating this stance resulted in...

  9. 4 A Search for Self: Filmmakers Reflect on Their Work
    (pp. 167-206)

    Folklorists often privilegethe voices of their informants, allowing their words to eclipse those of the folklorist. Of course, folklorists, like filmmakers, then edit the material to construct their own notion of what is significant.¹ Cutting and splicing the interviews, they impart the answers to those questions that interest them. An interactive discussion in film addresses the subjects both the folklorist and the interviewee find significant, just as it does in the field. The folklorist’s job is much like that of the quiltmaker or the filmmaker: to cut up all the pieces and put them back together again to create...

  10. 5 Projecting the Self: Filmic Technique and Construction
    (pp. 207-222)

    Film is always a construction. Film “truth,” whether it be cinéma vérité,kinopravda, or observational cinema, is a misnomer because film is never objective. Even the placing of the camera for a film consisting of a single “take” (uninterrupted shot) is a manipulation. The camera reflects the filmmaker’s view.¹ Most filmmakers believe, however, that their manipulation creates a “greater truth,” what Flaherty’s wife, Frances, called “that high moment of seeing, that flash of penetration into the heart of the matter” (Jacobs 1979:8). The film’s structure is the mark of the filmmaker’s truth and the truth he or she discerns in...

  11. 6 Structure Shifts and Style: A Montage of Voices and Images
    (pp. 223-256)

    Effective folklore films provide a sense of involvement in the event for the audience by following the actual structure of the processes of narrating, singing, ceremony, dancing, playing, and similar events and conveying them as holistically as possible through myriad styles. How one chooses to present folklore shifts as a result of one’s growth as a filmmaker at the same time as one’s attitudes about film and technique shift. A look at my own work quickly reminds me how filmmakers change not only what they choose to shoot but how they do so. Filmmakers are not the only ones who...

  12. 7 Visions of Ourselves
    (pp. 257-276)

    These words written by Steve Goodman (before the video boom) express the desire to control events in our lives by controlling images on videotape. Goodman laments that he can’t predict the future, but in terms of today’s video user, he did. Today the videotape is becoming as commonplace in fieldwork as the tape recorder. The focus on events and reflexively oriented fieldwork naturally leads from film to video. As more of us make home videos, we become accustomed to the added capabilities of instant feedback. These experiences pose new research questions about ourselves and others, and video data are exponentially...

  13. Filmography
    (pp. 277-284)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 285-294)
  15. References
    (pp. 295-306)
  16. Index
    (pp. 307-322)