Outreaches are sensitive to film and there is a lot I am going to have to consider before shooting it. For those who don’t already know, an outreach is a group of volunteers who walk around the streets giving sandwiches, soup and/or coffee to homeless people, the society who run such outreaches, Canterbury Homeless Outreach, look to feed the homeless but also provide a friendly face, information about local charities and just the chance to chat.
I have already decided to not film homeless people as although as an experienced outreacher i know some of them well, I feel it would be unfair and isolating and although it would be interesting it does not fit with the film of my film in following a president. I hope that most of my footage is Becky and others handing out food, walking around town and getting the food from Pret a Manger. I also hope to collect audio from our walk around town to use as a natural sounding backing track for that section of my film.
I am now updating this post based on my experience of filming and the outreach went really well which i hope is reflected when i edit it into my film. We set out and I got some good shots of us picking up the food from Pret. I made sure to ask the managers permission before using their company name in my film which they said was okay. We went on the outreach and saw all the usual faces we normally do. I got asked many times what my camera was for and many wished me luck with my project. Ziggy and others even asked me to appear on camera but didn’t feel it was appropriate to my film and being an experienced outreacher sometimes those sorts of things can go terribly wrong. We moved on and being a sunny day I got lots of clear shots and filmed the outreach route we normally take. Filming the outreach was a success and I got plenty of footage of outreaches without revealing the identities of those who didn’t want to be filmed – now to edit it effectively into the film!
Shooting Becky as the subject for my film is relatively easy yet unexpectedly challenging at the same time. In the first instance it is a simple process, filming and shooting your best friend who you live and see everyday makes the process of creating and capturing certain moments accessible and fun. Yet i think to some extent the relationship i already have with Becky and the society has effected my filming, As a volunteer in Canterbury Homeless Outreach I am already aware of most of what goes on, who is in the group, the problems they face. As Beckys close friend it is almost on a daily basis we discuss the day to day problems within the society, homelessness in Canterbury and similar topics so i am well informed as know a lot about Beckys activity and homelessness in general. In many instances this is a positive it means i can make a well informed ethnographic film from an insiders perspective, However when it comes to filming and putting together my ideas for narrative and structure there is so much i already know that I risk ignoring the perspective of the audience who may know very little about homelessness. Being involved with Becky and the society has given me a unique opportunity to film from the inside out however at some points i feel it also makes me less curious and inquisitive around the subject matter than i would maybe be if i was making a film about something i relatively knew nothing about. With this unique opportunity to film Becky as a president, personal outlooks seem rather menial, yet i think it has effected my ethnographic film more than i expected as it has altered ways in which i create narrative and piece together information and as I am also a member of the society i am rather biased in presenting Beckys experiences and the group in the most positive ways. I am being rather reflexive here, yet it is important to recognize the biases i might impose on the film as many visual anthropologists do, as by recognizing such effects we can aim to produce a more valid and ethnographic film.
So filming was going well, I had decided to film Becky doing her usual Homeless outreach President thing, and with the lead up to Help the Homeless Week (HTHW) I had found a semi-narrative structure to film, and i knew there would be rather a lot of action and drama for Becky during the busiest week for the society of the year!
Unfortunately two days before HTHW I went back home, (not uni home but home home) with raging fever so my lovely mother could nurse me back to health. Unknown to me that in two days I wouldn’t be picking up the camera to film, but being referred to the Accident and Emergency with severe kidney infection!
Totally thrown of course by this, I felt disheartened and lost about my ethnographic film, and with deadlines approaching I knew I had little time left to film and knowing Becky would also be busy with her essays too I was truly stuck. In hospital while I was worrying about what I was now going to do for my project my mum kept telling me it was okay ‘I can get extensions and concessions’ not exactly what you want to hear when its not time that matters but the events you are actually missing which cant be re-created. I was angry confused and sick as a dog all at the same time.
Once I e-mailed Mike a felt a little more relaxed about the situation as he suggested other ways to look into Beckys life as a president – just a shame i did miss all the potentially good footage but i guess we will now never know! Mike also suggested adding pictures of my time in hospital but unsurprisingly i didn’t take any pictures of myself in what felt like my death bed – sorry to disappoint!
Moving on from the set back and being away for over a week, I have come out the other side and looking positively towards making my film. I have a few new ideas on ways to get Becky talking about homelessness such as a walk around Canterbury, with Becky explaining to places and memories of encounters with homelessness and hopefully this will be enough to create some exciting ethnographic film from a very unique perspective.
Exercises in class have opened my eyes to what an ethnographic film truly entails – just about anything! The beauty of ethnographic film is the ambiguity which results in endless possibilities to record, document and anthropologically investigate any subject or topic. In class through
improvisational and collaborative techniques I found myself able to open up to the things around me and find inspiration in people, objects and many other unlikely places. It seems almost anything can be anthropological if investigated, questioned and presented in the right way.
I found inspiration from chatting and discussing with other members of the class and by collaborating my ideas with others I was able to expand my conscious understanding and develop it further in relation to others opinions. Exercises in class with partners and groups using space and body contact created free flowing ideas and an understanding between individuals. Collaborating ideas through contact and discussion represented and helped my understand myself and how, while filming I am going to collaborate with others in the production and filming of my project.
I have decided to take the opportunity to explore themes and topics surrounding homelessness and attitudes towards it within the student community in my short ethnography which will follow my housemate, Becky as President of the Canterbury Homeless Outreach Society.
I have already been following Becky as my subject with the camera experimenting with camera techniques and styles particularly focusing on close up shots to create hope to create forms of depth within the ethnography. I also have experimented in many different settings such as the societies bucket collections and meetings to try and gather ideas of the form and structure the film is going to take.
I have been having a few troubles with sound and volume yet throughout the process of the workshops in the week I feel like I can now overcome these problems – looks like I am learning as I go along and hopefully the footage I have and will gather will amount to something very interesting from an anthropological perspective!
I have no been thinking about what to do for this project for far too long. I have cut down some of my older ideas and searched the internet high and low for inspiration for my visual anthropology project, however i am far from certain about what i should focus my video project on but all filmmakers feel that way at the beginning of a project, isn’t that what film making is all about? I have to some extent, three solid ideas of potential ethnographic film.
1) Portrait of a President
My best friend and housemate is the president of Canterbury Homeless Outreach, a successful and charitable society which encourages students to engage with one of the biggest social problems in Canterbury. Becky is the president of the student based society that not only fund-raises but actively feeds the homeless every night on Canterburys streets giving sandwich and soup. I am an active member going on regular outreaches however many homeless are reluctant to be filmed so unfortunately i wouldn’t be able to do my project on that, however i could interview the volunteers who go on the outreaches.(maybe?)
I would hope to discover and follow the president of this society getting to know the ropes and the work it actually takes to make a student society work, following the documentary trend of creating portraits of people by following daily life. I would look to the history of the society, what it does, and how it functions. i would follow and document the president to see the society through the eyes of those than run it. This would be an interesting research project with many benefits yet I think this may be slightly boring and tedious for viewers and much of it would be interview based thus lacking creativity which i hoped to experiment with during this project.
What scares you? What keeps you up at night? The dark? The Future? The Unknown?
Fear in contemporary society comes in many different forms, i would look creatively though the techniques of Rouch and ethnofiction to document feelings and attitudes towards fear. The Blair Witch Project although mock-umentry and created for cinema has certain techniques in engaging with the senses of the audience creating visual a new cinematic experience. I would look to create an ethnofiction based on fear, how it is perceived in society, attitudes towards safety and what creates terror in individuals. I would look to experiment with many cinematic techniques to create a new experience for the audience whilst hoping to document some socio-psychological issues in society today and what impact it has on society. (although that term seems to broad)
This project would rely on the camera for most of the footage as it would look towards more traditional forms of visual anthropology to simply document what is there. With the consent of my housemates I would hide a camera within our all girls house for a set amount of time and create an ethnography based around what an all girls house gets up too in day to day life. Like many traditional ethnographys the camera would capture relationships and everyday situations while potentially challenging ideologies of an all girl shared house within a student community. I would also include interviews with the housemates and openly record daily activities (not with the hidden camera) I feel to some extent this film may be a little boring in comparison, yet its simplicity may be effective in putting across an unbiased account of ‘the other’ as every anthropologist aims to do. I could also try to engage with senses such as sound to make this idea a little more creative however i am still unsure how i would do this, this idea has the potential to seem similar to reality TV which i definitely want to try to avoid!
I will keep my blog updated with ideas and the creative process of deciding however long that takes me!