Friday, December 14, 2007

itam hakim hopiit

The Victor Masayesva 1981 film of Itam Hakim Hopiit film visits the culture of the Hopi that are left on the Second Mesa. This film does not contain anything about American civilization, rather the entry of the Spanish. But the film was purely to tell the Hopi story in a Hopi language and Hopi manner.

I think it is useful to watch the film in Hopi with and without the subtitles of English voice over. The story, as the article "Seeing with a Native Eye" points out, is completely led by the "complex concept of narrative structure in which the content of the storytelling is of critical important to the sense of the film."

We are shown the origin tale of this particular tribe and the oral tradition is important to pass on to the youngest generations even though they may be too young, they understand its importance. Either way there is this hypnotizing mood that the Hopi storyteller places you in. It may be the association of images and the storyteller's voice that places the viewer in a trance. "As a filmmaker, Masayesva's presence is felt. It is his mind and imagination that selects and captures images of activites and traditions that form and sustain Hopi culture."

There are questions that Faye Ginsburg in the essay "Parallax Effect" brings up that helps take a look at the film.

"Specifically, I am interested in how indigenous film and video offer productive challenges to the assumptions of the genre of ethnographic film by (1) reframing questions about the representation of cultural differences; by (2) highlighting mediamaking as a dimension of contemporary (and historical) social, cultural, and political processes; and by (3) expanding the discursive field that can bring a variety of subjects into conversation around questions raised by these media as they travel across boundaries of difference. "

I think an important fact that was not addressed in the film because of the overwhelming effect that the film has is the presence of the camera.
Ginsbury writes, "The legitimacy of one's presence with a camera in any setting (especially when power relations are unequal) should always be raised, not simply as a textual question referred to through reflexive cinematic strategies, but in social relations that are secured before a film or video project even begins." Before this she wrote, "The making of images by anyone, whether by 'outsiders' or 'insiders,' is problematic when ethical and social rules..." Ginsbury goes on to talk about how that just because one is an "insider" does not mean that there would not be a problem with their own subject.

Because there is not outside source that the filmmaker is addressing, there could be something from the filmmaker's own community that they could find problematic.

Number Our Days

The 1976 film by direct Lynne Littman "Number Our Days" however depressing that it may make us feel was a beautiful film about the aging process. In Venice Beach, CA we are shown the elderly center particularly for the Jewish community of that city. It is a place where one can make friends, be feed, sing, dance, and be merry. Or so this is their mission.

This film shows the never ending struggle for respect and a sense of belonging. Although the elderly in this film do not long to be alive for much longer as most of everyone has passed away, there is a trait that they have attained which is a lack of fear of death.

Although Littman's voice-over was slightly on the corny side at times, I think it proofed the point that this project was an extremely close one to her. It is a personalization effect.

The clips of the old woman in her apartment talking about her choices in life (entertainer or wife), the close up shots of the old woman crying for her lost son, of the woman who wanted to thank everyone in the center for including her into the "family" are both beautiful and heart breaking.

There is no doubt though however that one who has not thought about her before, would have a different perspective of an elderly person. That they are not just the bitter pasts of the earth walking around in the world. Yes, they are the past, but they want to impart their knowledge. They are containers of wisdom, and to take advantage of their stories and not toss them aside would be a wise thing to do itself.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

La Purisima

Part of Ethnography is to take a look at various cultures and their rituals, everyday occurrences. Religion is a big aspect to regard when studying people. With Yanonmami it was the trance-like spiritual cleansing that involved physical regurgitation. In Nicaragua, from late November to early January people participate in La Purisima, the Immaculate Conception of a the Virgin Mary.

The following components are necessary for a successful celebration:
A statuette of the Virgin Mary that must be on loan and blessed from a near by church
Rented chairs
Nicaraguan candy
Nicaraguan toys (carved whistles, trinkets and the like)
Chicha (pink sweet corn juice)
Nacatamales (a larger version of tamales)
Program of songs to be sang to the Virgin

There are three different methods to celebrate this
1) Hosted by the church
2) At one on a specific date
3) Traveling to houses (In a Halloween fashion)

I make the Halloween comparison because people will go from house to house and in order to receive food or drink (coffee) they must pray one mystery of the Rosary and sing to the Virgin. From the movies gathered below, most of them are from Nicaragua.

Here in the United States there are still Purisimas held by those that immigrated during the Sanidinista era in Los Angeles and Miami (those are the most well-known).

In the U.S., it is much more of a recollecting of Nicaraguan patriotism. I have never been to a purisima in Nicaragua. But when in purisima, here in the states, there is a chant that the gatherers will always say

Quien causa tanta alegria? La concepcion de Maria!
Que viva Nicaragua! Que Viva!

Which basically translates to : Who is the cause of all this happiness? The Virgin Mary.

It is this pride that people carry with them when they go these purisimas. Very often people will begin to talk about their pasts in Nicaragua, whether or not they still go back after having been away due to the Sandinista occupation. Most if not all Nicaraguan-American children that grow up here, know what it is to have to sit for hours, while their parents tell the stories of their childhood.

Women stay inside to gossip, while the men are outside drinking.

I used to see it as something very boring until I received the gifts to which I was later disappointed by in the evening, as the presents were fruits. But it soon became tradition. The giving of fruits is tradition, as is the tradition that you will not receive a drop of food unless you sing.

Below are clips of purisimas in Nicaragua:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Museum and its Tiny Visitors

The Museum of Natural History, not only a popular tourist attraction of the city, is the magnet of schools. Students, hundreds, gather some days in the week for three hours to absorb as much information as possible with the time allotted. My mission was to get to document this. The delicate subject of attaining photos of children, will be problematic, as photos will be a sensitive entity. Requesting permission as delicately as possible, the Education Department was a blessing to me, allowing me to shadow various Teaching Volunteers around the museum.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhoto Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Buses are not taken to the garage of the museum, as neighbors complained about the amount of noise that used to occur when the buses used to park out front. On this particular day, there was an expected number of 70 buses arriving to the museum.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket The Teaching Volunteers in this photo are the people who take different carts representing different halls (North American Mammals, African Mammals, Ocean Life) in the museum where students will travel to. On this particular, instead of being assigned to different halls like they normally are, because the program that normally shows the schedule was not working, the volunteers were given the hall of their choice. "You can tell a lot about a person from what hall they use," one of the leaders joked when people would take their time to think very carefully about where they would be teaching. After their meeting, one of the leaders gave a tour of the meteorite room, a sort of orientation, about things the volunteers could mention when showing the room to students.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhoto Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Before the students, teachers, visiting parents can enter the museum on their own, they must wait in the designated areas. This below photo was one of the first batches of groups to arrive, each section was filled at least ten minute was after the photo was taken.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Donna Sethi, who seemed to be my guide, like the missionary was to those who went to study the Yanomami, showed me the ropes of how things are run. She believes that the museum is more kid-friendly than other museums (MoMa, the Met) which she does admit are completely different experiences. In the Lower Level where students meet, there are various trays and boxes where schools places the children's lunch into, so that they won't have to carry them around. A lunchroom has been built (as shown above) where the students can eat at lunchtime.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ethnographic Film Project

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An interview with the director from "The Birthday"

Since it was brought up in class how necessary it was for the story to know more about the director in order to understand the film more thoroughly I found an interview with the Negin Kiafar:

n 1976, Ayatollah Khomeini, imposed a fatwa to allow people with hormonal disorders to change sex if they wished, because the Koran doesn't say anything on the subject. Transsexuals don't have to fear prosecution and they even can change their birth certificates. But the challenge is the traditional, religious Iranian society in which the transsexuality is still concerned as a disease.

The Birthday follows a young man who decides to become a woman. His conservative parents try to come to terms with their son’s decision and after a lot of discussions they accept the new sexual identity of their son, who already had a boyfriend before the operation.

“The Birthday” is a film which offers a window into a world we rarely see from an Islamic society.

Shohreh Jandaghian –To begin, Please tell about you and your path towards filmmaking.
Negin Kianfar – I was born on1969 in Tehran and have studied cinema in Art university of Tehran, majoring in film direction. I work as a dubbing actress for feature and documentary projects for IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) and private section since 1367. I am also painter and had 2 years course under supervision of master Aidin Aghdashlou and participated in many exhibitions at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Also one of my paintings is purchased by the same museum.

Shohreh – Is “The Birthday” your first documentary?
Negin – I made some short films and some more like experimental stuff but The Birthday is my first long documentary.

Shohreh – What was your motivation for making a documentary about Transsexuality?
Negin – I was working with Daisy Mohr, my partner in the film, who is a print journalist, on many different subjects and we crossed this topic and I thought not just the transexuality but the gender crises and identity crises is an issue in the whole world. And I was amazed by my first character to change his life to be able to experience the feminine side of the life in the society which is not the best for women. The other reason was that I found doing sex-change is allowed by the law but it’s not socially accepted and in general talking about sex issues is a big taboo in the society in which I live and I decided to break this taboo.

Shohreh – You mean it is legal to carry out gender reassignment surgery in Iran?
Negin – It is legal but the procedure is quiet difficult and takes long time, because the judge has to be sure that the case is not homosexual because authorities consider homosexuality as a disease and they are not accepted by the law or even the society. And that was another thing which amazed me and inspired me to work on this subject.

Shohreh – For a traditional male-dominant society like Iranians’, which case is less acceptable: male-to-female transsexual or vice versa?
Negin – Male to female is less accepted because we’ve heard a lot through the history like Mard-e-zan nama ( man with female appearance) or female like behaviour, and it’s shame and funny remark, but the other way around is more accepted because they considered as shir-zan (brave as a lion) and it’s a compliment. I think I explained this reason very explicit in the film when Afshin’s brother talks about his sister’s childhood.

Shohreh – What major problems do Transsexuals face in Iran?
Negin – They are not accepted by society, neighbores, family, relatives and etc. And they cannot get a job. Even police officers or moral police forces are not informed of their situation and rights.

Shohreh – Then it shouldn’t be so easy to get in contact with them.
Negin – we did few weeks research and found big group of them and ended up in the clinic and finally found our film characters up there.
It was difficult to persuade them to be present in front of the camera at the beginning but during the research we built up the trust and they got convinced that this film inform the society to break this taboo and send the message.

Shohreh – What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Negin – Convincing the family to be in front of the camera the first day (just the first day), bringing out Saye and Afshin (two of the transsexuals) together because they preferred to not to come outside. And the most difficult part was getting in to the clinic and waiting room and the surgery room and all the permitions.

Shohreh – You’ve directed the film with Daisy More. Could you tell a bit about your co-directing and how it went?
Negin – It was a very good experience but more difficult for me because she couldn’t speak Farsi and I had to translate everything for her to be able to follow the lines and it was heavy job for me because I had to talk to my characters and build the friendship at the same time and sometimes it was complicated situation and no time for translation. But we agreed on everything and never had a problem during the work.

Shohreh – Could you go into a bit of detail about the production of the film?
Negin – Daisy and I paid for everything and then at the later stage Columnfilm joined us for postproduction and finding a broadcaster.

Shohreh – How about Iranian audiences’ reaction towards the film?
Negin – The film has not shown for public yet but different group of people watched it in private sessions and I received great feed backs. They all loved the film and the characters and were surprised how close camera got to their private life and how open they had been in front of the camera. I had a request from Shahid beheshti University to show the film for anthropology‘s class.
And a prestigious Iranian art magazine (The Seven) had a review and critic for 5 pages and it dragged lots of attention.

Shohreh – What about your upcoming project?
Negin – It’s going to be a film about Religion and Relationship.
Shohreh – I can’t wait to see that! Good luck with it!

Margaret Meade Film Festival

Although there is no direct link between the Judith MacDougall film, "The Art of Regret" and the Iranian film "The Birthday" there is an ethnographic quality that it embodies, being viewed at the Margaret Meade Film Festival in November.

The first film by Judith MacDougall, "The Art of Regret" was a film of how photos are method of capturing life and yet as this technique revolutionizes constantly the capturing seems to be almost becoming fictitious. MacDougall travels to Hong Kong, where not only is it increasing faster every year a technological center to catch up with its neighbors, China and Japan, it is losing the antique taste that it once had.

Photos can be easily manipulated for customers would go to the mall and want to have a good laugh. Something one would think would be taken lightly not seriously. However, as for a young boy, it was amazing to see how something simple in changing his original wardrobe and making him appear like a girl, disturbed him greatly.

Yet there is still a struggle of conserving the antique and memory of what Hong Kong once was. As can be seen in the exhibit by a photographer, there are those that want preserve this antiquity. The exhibit contained old and new photos of different years of the same spots in Hong Kong.

There was this notion of truth that photographs has a criteria of fulfilling. There was a question asked: If the image, that the camera is capturing, is falsified then does that make the image false? In my opinion I would have to say that yes, it is false. Because the photo is no longer in its original place, then this manipulation that takes place in the photo editing falsifies the true image that was captured.

As discovering the true image goes, "The Birthday" had this theme. The film takes the controversial issue of transsexuals in Iran. Two couples are followed in the film and we see how they deal with their new gender roles. It is acceptable for a woman to change to a man, but were it to be the other way, then that would be deemed unacceptable by Iranian society.

It was interesting to see just what an attraction the Margaret Meade Film Festival is, and it was pleasure to have an experience to watch an ethographic film outside of class.