The inspiration for this film came from my reaction provoked through viewing Wiseman’s At Berkeley (2013). The film is part of a series that Wiseman produced on institutions and answered to the absence of ‘university’ from this collection and chose what he believes to be ‘the greatest public university in the world’: Berkeley (Wiseman 2016). The film epitomises observational film and a has a lengthy runtime of four hours. My film, The Anthropocene Module, attempts to directly respond to my reaction to Wiseman’s filming, identifying its flaws and redressing the criticisms I had.
Firstly, in trying to capture an entire institution in one film, Wiseman sets a difficult task and one that cannot be done succinctly. Instead, my film narrowed its focus from an entire university to simply one school within it, The School of Anthropology and Conservation (SAC) at the University of Kent. During the process of filming, 64 universities’ lecturers and teaching staff across the UK went on strike due to pension changes (Burns 2018). This was a double-edged sword for my film, firstly a setback as it made filming a true representation of the school difficult as the staff were not in their roles for a period of four weeks.
The mission from the strikes helped me to realise another criticism I had with Wiseman’s film. A chant that resonated with me during one of the rallies was ‘we are the university’: ‘we’ being the collection of students, lecturing and teaching staff. Therefore, I began to disagree with At Berkeley’s fixation with board meetings and management as university really takes place at ground level. I also think that Wiseman loses the humanizing potential of ethnographic film by focussing primarily on meeting rooms and bureaucratic processes.
The strikes allowed me to focus my attention even further into a singular module, and attempt to capture a more precise ethnographic film. The module I chose to present was the Anthropocene, that had started just this year. It was the perfect module to represent SAC for several reasons. Firstly it embodies the synthesis that the school tries to achieve between anthropology and conservation by including themes, literature and topics from both. Secondly, it is an up and coming issue (the Anthropocene) that demonstrates the significance of both academic disciplines in the twenty-first century. Finally, the Anthropocene dilemma highlights the role of universities today which is to provide a space for critical thinking and discussion of problems.
The Anthropocene module came to be through students as they asked the convenor, Miguel, to give a keynote on the Anthropocene. The collaboration between is therefore something that I also wanted to convey in this film. This was achieved through the film’s voice being predominantly Miguels but assisted through Alex’s commentary.
The film strives to parallel the message of the module and indeed the ‘good Anthropocene’ as outlined by Hamilton (2015: 234). This is an optimistic message that rebuttals the fear mongering pattern that appears on the media, stating that we can make repair to damage we’ve done and that the future isn’t simply doom and gloom as the student in the film, Alex, puts it.
Another goal, while ambitious, is for my ethnographic film was to contribute to ‘Anthropocene anthropology’ (Moore 2015). It is questionable the extent to which Moore’s assertions that the term the Anthropocene has been accepted into the discipline, however I see the utility in promoting a paradigm that attempts to being solving key problems with our society in relation to the environment. In contributing toward Anthropocene anthropology, I mean to ‘promote anthropogenesis as a global issue with political stakes’ (Moore 2015: 36) and generate knowledge under one umbrella term to enable any transformations even as minimally as understanding the geological epoch (and narrative) a bit better.
Staying true to the Rouchian principles of representation, I wanted the product of my film to have some collaborative quality. The revelation that cinema evoked a first within discipline whereby ‘[the anthropologist’s] work is not being judged by a thesis committee but by the very people he came to observe’ (Hockings 1995, 96) in one to be admired and something I tried to incorporate. Throughout editing, I would send drafts to those that appeared in the video asking if their message was adequately conveyed. While there are problems in that as a directory my word was final, I believe this process was invaluable in producing the final film as the insights that were shared helped to sculpt the narrative.
Overall, I’m satisfied with the film. The starting point of the film asks questions and the concluding minutes, build upon these questions but with a sense of optimism and an attitude that all should come away with given the Anthropocene dilemma. The film seeks to also silently protest the flawed mentality that a university operates within the walls of executive meetings – the university is what happens everyday among students and staff in or outside of the campus.
Burns, J. 2018. ‘University strike: What’s it all about?’. BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43140729 [Accessed 6 Apr. 2018]
Hamilton, C. 2015 ‘The theodicy of the “Good Anthropocene”’. Environ Humanities 7: pp.233–238
Hockings, P. (1995) ‘The Camera and the Man’, in Principles of Visual Anthropology, Second Edition, Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter. Pp. 79–98
Moore, A. 2015. ‘Anthropocene anthropology: reconceptualizing contemporary global change’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 22: pp.27-46
Wiseman, F. (2016). The Seventh Art – Frederick Wiseman Interview. Accessed 09/04/2018 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2XWDL3pUHY
At Berkeley (2013) [film] Wiseman, F., New York City: Zipporah Films