Reflexive Essay

My film project ‘Untucked Margate’, came from my anthropological interest in gender and identity and my interest within the LGBT community. I did not want my film to have some political agenda, or make the film into a controversy. I wanted to show a “minority” group just as they are in their everyday setting/life. This is what I aimed at in the process of making my film. I wanted to show the audience the perspective of the drag queens. I wanted to show how they lead normal life’s to everyone else, and prove any misconceptions or ideas people may of had about drag queens, to have it dismissed and challenged. In this sense, I was trying to education people on what drag queens do, and why they do it. “We do not grasp an image of the world but rather construct representations that substitute for the world”(Grasseni 2011,p.42). This is what I wanted to portray in my film.

My inspiration came from films such as Paris is burning and Tangerine. Particularly, Paris is burning, this challenged gender and identity at the time, and was one of the first documentaries to show what drag queens do. The film was hugely successful still to this day, and is why a number of drag queens first get into drag themselves. It can be seen as a history to drag. As Paris is burning set the stone of drag, it helped put it on the map at the time, and is still relevant today.

I first got in contact with the group, asking them if they would like to be in the documentary and they kindly agreed. I then took it upon myself to go to one of their shows but without any camera equipment, just to introduce myself and get a feel of the group and to make the comfortable around me, and find out who I was. The first meeting with them, with me introducing myself and talking about my ideas for the film helped bring a bond between us. This helped make them feel more comfortable in front of the camera. The drag queens were very much involved throughout the creative process as I was. We discussed ideas for the film, what they wanted to bring to the documentary. Communication and collaboration from both parties really helped shape the film and bring a realness, authentic feel to the film. I feel like this is a very important element to have when working in film. It is very important to include collaborative work. It  enables informants to produce or contribute to documents they want, it enables research and the creation of other forms of academic knowledge

For Rouch (1989) “the process of film making is an act of belief, the belief that his films are as much a product of his unconscious “filmmaker’s” mind as they are the careful documentaries of an “ethnographer”(DeBouzek 1989, p,306) . He acknowledges the ambiguous nature of the relationship between the person who films and those who are filmed, a relationship that brings into question the nature of an absolute “truth” seen from a single point of view. Ambiguity and the unknown rather than posing a problem to the “surrealist ethnographer,” is actively pursued; it is through ambiguity that another reality can reveal itself. I included this in my approach when it came to editing. I wanted to portray the film as ambiguous, I want people to make their own interpretations of the film.

Berger (1972) described what we see is influenced by culture and what we see at that time and how we interpret it. Berger argues that using ethnographic media it can make us look at the world differently, that sight is a way of consulting what we see. However, with visual, the films and photos do not always represent a true representation, there is often a mystification of what we are looking at. This could be due to the editing process how we synthesize at the moment of filming/relationship between editor and subjective author/presentation of rushes to those who participated.As just like writing ethnography the anthropologist chooses what he thinks is relevant to show the audience. I found this a problem when it came to editing my project. I found out that it is very easy to manipulate your footage, and edit in a way that you want it to look, even know that it is not necessarily what the person is communicating. I think this is a prevalent problem within anthropology, we never know what is authentic, or if it is a true representation. We often make that decision ourselves. However, in my film I did not want to manipulate the footage, I wanted it to come across as authentic and represent a true representation of the drag queens.

Throughout the whole process of making my film, I learned the importance of reflexivity, subjectivity, authenticity and the relationship between the camera and the film-maker. “imagemaking is largely a form of extension of the self towards others, rather than a form of reception or appropriation. We are using our bodies and cameras as kindred spirits” (MacDougall 1998,p,27). I think this emphasises the importance of the relationship between the film maker and their subjects, and how you communicate with them. I feel like my film relates to a number of themes and theoretical underpinnings within anthropology itself. For example, as I have already mentioned topics such as gender and identity. As more often than not these are very sensitive subjects, and difficult to define. As visual anthropology is on the rise, and being taken more seriously by the discipline, I think it is important to consider all aspects of visual anthropology, and how effectively they can present ethnographer and research.

 

A Reflection on Rabiger

51P++w3Go9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Rabiger’s emphasis on ‘self-inventory’, where he wants you to discover your own issues and themes, how to make the film personal to you, about your experiences. I took this into consideration when initially coming up with ideas about what I wanted my project to be about. I wanted to make something that was challenging, something out there, something that would make people think and change their opinions and ideas. Through countless ideas and going back-and-forth, I finally decided to make my project on drag queens.

Through Rabiger’s advice of observing what is around you, looking at traditional stories as a source of inspiration, and to think about the mood and pace, and how to communicate your film to a global audience. This helped me in planning the structure of my project, I wanted to film something that was local but enable to a much bigger and wider audience. Mood is key in determining the overall direction and feel of your film, so it is important to consider what mood, emotion you are going to be portraying in the film.

 

 

Filming Exercises

The filming exercises that I did in class, helped prepare me for when it came to filming my documentary. The filming exercises helped me gain confidence with the camera, and I learned how to use the camera fully to my advantage. By learning how to pull focus, set the white balance and what best audio equipment is best to use, really gave me an advantage when it came to filming. As I did  not have to spend a long time setting up the camera, or playing around with it, not knowing what to do. Because of all the exercises that I learned in class, I knew what to do and I was less likely to have any mishaps or make any mistakes whilst filming.

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Through the filming exercises that I did in class with my symbolic camera, I gained confidence filming in front of strangers and therefore, I felt more comfortable behind and in front of the camera. I was able to experiment with different camera angles, and try out new things and experiment with the use of the camera. This helped me when it came to filming the real thing, as I felt like I had gained enough experience using the camera to be confident when filming and using it to my advantage.

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In group discussions, each of us were able to discuss our ideas about our projects, get feedback from the rest of the group. I found this very useful to get feedback and different people’s perspectives and views on things. It is this part of the collaborative process that I find crucial whenever you are producing a piece of work.

Collaboration

What inspired to make my film was from my anthropological interest in gender and identity, and my interest in the LGBT community. It was through a recommendation from a friend that led me to choose to make my film about Untucked Margate (a group of drag queens living in Margate). My first time meeting with them to introduce myself and ask their permission to be in the video, I knew that it would be a great collaborative project.

Collaboration played a very important role in my decision in choosing my topic for my film, as well as in the filming process itself. Through group discussions I was able to tell people about my ideas and get their feedback and input on what they thought. I found this very helpful in the creating process. I was able to ask other people about any issues or opinions I had in my creative process, and the feedback they offered helped me get an idea of what direction I wanted my film to take. Collaboration enables informants to produce or contribute to documents they want, it enables the creation of other forms of academic knowledge, such as reflexivity.

 

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‘In his refusal to give his subjects access to the film, the filmmaker refuses them access to himself…. In denying part of his own humanity, he denies a part of theirs…. he inevitably reaffirms the colonial origins of anthropology: It once was Europeans who determined what was worth knowing about “primitive” peoples and what in turn they should be taught.’ -David MacDougall (1998)

I watched several films that inspired me and gave me ideas on the film that I wanted to create. My inspirations came from films such as Paris is Burning, Tangerine and Mirror Mirror. They gave me lots of ideas, and helped me create a story for the film that I would wanted to produce.

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When it came to the filming process, particularly for one event that I was filming, I needed more than one camera. I asked Soffia (who is also on the same course) to film with me, so that I could get footage from two different aspects. This part of the collaborative process really helped me with filming. As it allowed for better creation of intersubjective knowledge to be made between both of us and the audience.

 

 

First Time Filming

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The first time that I recorded, I encountered a few challenges that came my way. Firstly, due to the location of where I was filming (inside a bar) I had to consider aspects such as background noise, music playing, how the use of microphones and people signing would affect the audio and sound quality. So all these challenges I encountered on my first time filming for my documentary. I found myself constantly checking and changing the audio levels so that it would not be distorted or too loud or quite. This proved very challenging. Lighting was also another issue, as the bar was very dimly light and quite dark. I was afraid that the footage was not going to be very good, that you would not be able to see much, or the quality of the footage would not be to a high standard. However, when watching back the footage that I had filmed, to my surprise the quality was good and usable.

Going into filming, I had already an idea about what sort of shots and angles that I wanted to film, which helped me with the direction and flow of the film. I knew that I wanted several close up shots and varied angles to capture the drag queens facial expressions, as well as their make-up and outfits.

My Symbolic Camera

I was set the task to construct a symbolic camera that reflected my approach and technique towards cinematography and videography. My aim was to make my symbolic camera look as realistic as possible. I chose to make a hand-held camera, because when I was younger, I remember my dad always having a hand-held camera capturing whatever antics that me and my sister were getting up to. At the time, I thought how great it was at capturing movement and sound.

I believe that hand-held cameras create a more authentic representation of the subject(s) that you are filming. It is very much a hands-on approach. It captures the intimacy between the subject and the film-maker which, I would like my documentary to portray.

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The images above show me using my symbolic camera to ‘record’, and observe people’s behaviours and reactions to me ‘filming’ with my symbolic camera. The reactions I got were mixed, the majority of people were unfazed with the presence of the camera whereas, other people’s behaviour changed as they thought they were on camera. Some people were totally unaware that the camera was not real, I caught people looking back and forth at the camera, trying not to look directly at it as they thought they were being filmed. Whereas, others were more aware of the fact that the camera was fake but still continued on as if they were being recorded. The key thing that I learnt from this experiment, which I will carry on when it comes to filming my project (especially when it comes down to interviews) is to make the individual(s) that you are filming relaxed and comfortable with the camera on them. As you will get a more authentic representation of that individual.