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Film Response Essay

1779 words - 8 pages

The evolution of film technology, has given anthropologists the ability to employ films to present ethnographic data. Although this privilege has contributed immensely to the collection of anthropological knowledge we have today, it has increased the issues with regards to misinterpretation. Both films expose the fact that it is common for an untrained individual to misinterpret the epistemological assumptions made by the films’ authors and that, frequently, a sense of cultural superiority can form. In many cases, anthropological films may authorize uncertainties with regards to the other. Additionally, they may, unintentionally, confirm negative stereotypes or expectations that other media ...view middle of the document...

First Contact, on the other hand, “offers contrasting viewpoints” and it “lacks a heavy-handed narrator’s voiceover” (Wogan 15). The film consists of two groups of people separately recounting the experiences they had during their “first contact” with the other culture. The Australians explain that their group was looking for gold when they happened to discover the New Guineans and the New Guineans recount the arrival of the Australians.
The Ax Fight is not scripted. Asch and Chagnon were already there to do ethnographic research and the fight broke out. When the film starts, the conflict had already begun and they are unsure as to what is going on. They filmed the fight without any knowledge of what was actually going on. They later added a narration of the actual conflict. Unlike in The Ax Fight, in First Contact Anderson and Connolly, basically, conducted an interview. They had pre-determined questions and a specific purpose for asking them. They wanted to record and present the specific moment in which the Australians and the New Guineans first met and they asked questions that would yield the information they wanted.
First Contact lacked the presence of a narrator and therefore forces the audience to form its own perspective or interpretation of the two different groups. However, instead of an anthropologist completely imposing his interpretation of the occurrences, the film almost entirely consists of the Australians and the New Guineans expressing their views, how they felt about their experiences, and how they interpret the events that have occurred in their own lives. The Ax Fight, on the other hand, has the narration that informs the audience of the significance of the relationship between the fighters and the actions that instigated the conflict. However, lacks any interaction between the Yanomamo and the filmmakers. Instead of merely stating what they believed the importance of filming this event was, having a member of the village explain what it meant to them would have been a valuable asset.
Critics have viewed the lack of narration in First Contact as an invitation for “racist interpretations” or very contradictorily, have admired the ‘liberal critique” Connolly and Anderson have provided. On the other hand, for The Ax Fight, like the responses of some of the students in our course, one might say that the narration may be too much and that it confirms a negative stereotype. For instance, at the beginning of the film, Chagnon claims that “Large Yanomamo villages are volatile, and the slightest provocation can start a violent outburst” (Chagnon and Asch).
A parallel between these two films are what they highlight an issue with the reception of ethnographic films. Anthropologists have recorded their students’ impressions and interpretations to the different films. Wilton Martinez conducted a study with The Ax Fight and Peter Wogan did something similar with First Contact. Both studies demonstrate that cultural imperialism...

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