Experimental Ethnography

The Work of Film in the Age of Video

Experimental Ethnography

Book Pages: 416 Illustrations: 56 b&w photographs Published: May 1999

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Media Studies > Film

Experimental film and ethnographic film have long been considered separate, autonomous practices on the margins of mainstream cinema. By exploring the interplay between the two forms, Catherine Russell throws new light on both the avant-garde and visual anthropology.
Russell provides detailed analyses of more than thirty-five films and videos from the 1890s to the 1990s and discusses a wide range of film and videomakers, including Georges Méliès, Maya Deren, Peter Kubelka, Ray Birdwhistell, Jean Rouch, Su Friedrich, Bill Viola, Kidlat Tahimik, Margaret Mead, Tracey Moffatt, and Chantal Akerman. Arguing that video enables us to see film differently—not as a vanishing culture but as bodies inscripted in technology, Russell maps the slow fade from modernism to postmodern practices. Combining cultural critique with aesthetic analysis, she explores the dynamics of historical interruption, recovery, and reevaluation. As disciplinary boundaries dissolve, Russell contends, ethnography is a means of renewing the avant-gardism of “experimental” film, of mobilizing its play with language and form for historical ends. “Ethnography” likewise becomes an expansive term in which culture is represented from many different and fragmented perspectives.
Original in both its choice of subject and its theoretical and methodological
approaches, Experimental Ethnography will appeal to visual anthropologists, as well as film scholars interested in experimental and documentary practices.


“The breadth and range of this book is fantastic. Russell tackles many interesting problematics and she does so through an eclectic choice of examples. This will stand out as a major and unique redefinition of the fields of experimental cinema and visual anthropology.” — Ivone Margulies, author of Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman’s Hyperrealist Everyday

“This is an extremely important and innovative book. Russell brings together two distinct fields from film studies that have previously remained separate—the avant-garde and ethnographic film—and reconstructs their relationship in such a way that both fields are significantly transformed.” — David E. James, author of Power Misses: Essays Across (Un)Popular Culture


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Catherine Russell is Associate Professor of Cinema at Concordia University and the author of Narrative Mortality: Death, Closure, and New Wave Cinemas.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Preface xi

Introduction to Experimental Ethnography

1. Another Look

2. Surrealist Ethnography

Documentary Before Documentary

3. The Body as the Main Attraction

4. Ethnotopias of Early Cinema

5. Playing Primitive

The Undisciplined Gaze

6. Zoology, Pornography, Ethnography

7. Framing People: Structural Film Revisited

Other Realities

8. Ecstatic Ethnography: Filming Possession Rituals

9. Archival Apocalypse: Found Footage as Ethnography


10. Autoethnography: Journeys of the Self




Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, Prix AQEC-Olivieri

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2319-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2287-0
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