Observational Cinema

Observational Cinema

Anthropology, Film, and the Exploration of Social Life
Grimshaw, Anna; Ravetz, Amanda
Distribution: World
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.


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.

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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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