Observational Cinema

Observational Cinema

Anthropology, Film, and the Exploration of Social Life
Anna Grimshaw and Amanda Ravetz
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 11/17/2009
Format: Paperback 25 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-22158-2
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Once hailed as a radical breakthrough in documentary and ethnographic filmmaking, observational cinema has been criticized for a supposedly detached camera that objectifies and dehumanizes the subjects of its gaze. Anna Grimshaw and Amanda Ravetz provide the first critical history and in-depth appraisal of this movement, examining key works, filmmakers, and theorists, from André Bazin and the Italian neorealists, to American documentary films of the 1960s, to extended discussions of the ethnographic films of Herb Di Gioia, David Hancock, and David MacDougall. They make a new case for the importance of observational work in an emerging experimental anthropology, arguing that this medium exemplifies a non-textual anthropology that is both analytically rigorous and epistemologically challenging.

Author Bio

Anna Grimshaw is Associate Professor in the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts, Emory University. She is author of Servants of the Buddha and The Ethnographer’s Eye: Ways of Seeing in Modern Anthropology.

Amanda Ravetz is Research Fellow at Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design, Manchester Metropolitan University.


“This first critical history and in-depth appraisal of observational cinema examines key works, filmmakers, and theorists, making a new case for the importance of observational work in an emerging experimental anthropology.”

“Grimshaw and Ravetz not only demonstrate felicitous linkages between visual and social anthropology, which is highly welcomed, but between anthropological gazes and artistic visions. We need more of these kinds of expanded multidisciplinary works for they break new ground and expand the space of imagination.”
 — Paul Stoller, author of The Power of the Between: An Anthropological Odyssey

“Arguing from the works of André Bazin, Colin Young, Herb Di Gioia, and others, the authors make a case for continuous long shots, respectful engagement with subjects, a humanistic perspective that values the quotidian of people's lives, and a reluctance to indulge in pre-information about the subject matter of films' targeted topics. . . . Recommended.July 2010”
 — Choice

“Observational Cinema is a fascinating and much-needed study of an important body of work. ”
 — American Ethnologist

“Grimshaw and Ravetz offer an appealing study of the observational cinematic method in ethnographic research. XVI, No. 3, 2010”
 — Anthropological Notebooks

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Table of Contents


Part One.
1. What Is Observational Cinema?
2. Social Observers: Robert Drew, Albert and David Maysles, Frederick Wiseman

Part Two.
3. Observational Cinema in the Making: The Work of Herb Di Gioia and David Hancock
4. Observational Cinema on the Move: The Work of David MacDougall

Part Three.
5. Rethinking Observational Cinema
6. Toward an Experimental Anthropology


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