Over the last decade, ethnographic documentary has evolved in two notable directions, reflecting an ongoing dialectic in the field regarding the on and off-screen possibilities of this work. The “sensory ethnography” films that have emerged from Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab are paradigm-shifting works have emphasized the immersive and experiential as strategies of formal experimentation in the field of nonfiction filmmaking. Elsewhere, documentaries and ethno-fiction works are being made that are innovative in terms of their emphasis on the collaborative relationships with the people who are the subjects of their works, and their concerns with accountability that are evident both off and on-screen. Ginsburg suggests that their connective tissue might be understood as constituting a form of “relational documentary” built on a robust sense of aesthetics of accountability as an alternative site of filmic innovation, with considered ethical concerns regarding the people whose lives are represented in the works.
Decolonizing Documentary On-Screen and Off: Sensory Ethnography and the Aesthetics of Accountability
Faye Ginsburg is director of the Center for Media, Culture and History and the Graduate Program in Culture and Media at New York University where she is David Kriser Professor of Anthropology, and codirector of the Center for Disability Studies. Her writing and curating over the years has focused on cultural activism, from her early work on abortion activists, to her three decades of research and collaboration with Indigenous media makers, to current work on disability worlds.
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Faye Ginsburg; Decolonizing Documentary On-Screen and Off: Sensory Ethnography and the Aesthetics of Accountability. Film Quarterly 1 September 2018; 72 (1): 39–49. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2018.72.1.39
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