Ethnographic film is film for a small geeky audience with an interest in micro-anthropological studies of audiovisual and experimental character. In short, it is about using the medium of film as an academic language to describe, analyze, intervene, and generate new knowledge about human life. Movies can bring us close to human experience in ways that are almost impossible in ordinary academic articles. Ethnographic film is also a platform
for dialogue between researchers and the people being studied, who are always co-creators of the analytic product. As cinematic analysis starts from the very moment you turn on the camera, films provide unique insights into the creation of anthropological knowledge. Christian Suhr is in charge of persona film’s production of ethnographic film.
Descending with Angels
By Christian Suhr, 75 min, 2013
‘Descending with Angels’ explores perceptions of illness and healing among Danish Muslim. In particular, I examine categories of mental illnesses that in a Western context often are described by diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, stress, schizophrenia, etc. In an Islamic context many of these illnesses are perceived as divine trials. Often these illnesses are understood as the result of harmful attacks by spirits, evil eyes, or magic.
The source of healing is ultimately provided by the divine, which is addressed through the reading of Quranic verses, exorcisms, holy water, or the removal of dirty blood. I explore how these illnesses and their healing are experienced and understood by Muslim healers and patients. As part of my project I also look at how Muslim patients meet the Danish Psychiatric system. Here different interpretations of similar symptoms often give rise to conflicting discussions about possible treatments.
‘Descending with Angels’ is part of a PhD-project based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork among Danish Muslims. Filmmaking is used as a method to get close to human experience. Video allow us access to human emotions and sensations in ways that are almost impossible in traditional academic writing. In my research I try to exploit the qualities of both written and cinematic means of expression.
Overall, my project is about how humankind encounters the unknown and the invisible. Suffering is in its essence invisible and irreducible. In a healing process, it is, however, essential that the disorder is given some form or shape, so that action may become possible. Film production can also be understood as a means of giving a tangible shape to the invisible. In my work I explore how cinematic language and montage can be used creatively to evoke the invisible.
Awards and international festival screenings
Awarded for “Best Documentary Feature” at the Berlin Independent Film Festival (February 2015)
Awarded with the “Special Student Film Award” at the Göttingen International Ethnographic Film Festival (May 2014).
- ETHNOCINECA (Vienna, May 2015
- Ethnografilm (Paris, April 2015)
- World Film Festival (Tartu, March 2015)
- Days of Ethnographic Film (Ljubljana, March 2015)
- Berlin Independent Film Festival (February 2015)
- SVA Film and Media Festival (AAA, Washington, Dec 2014)
- American Academy of Religion – Screening at the Annual Meeting (San Diego, November 2014)
- Athens Ethnographic Film Festival (November 2014)
- Munich International Ethnographic Film Festival (November 2014)
- Sardinia International Ethnographic Film Festival (Nuoro, Italy, September 2014)
- Göttingen International Ethnographic Film Festival (May 2014)
- Beeld voor Beeld (Amsterdam, Dec 2013)
- CPH:DOX (Copenhagen, Nov. 2013)
- NAFA Film Festival (Bilbao, October 2013)
- RAI International Ethnographic Film Festival (Edinburgh, June 2013)
- University of California, Berkeley, USA
- University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
- University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA
- University of Manchester, UK
- University of Heidelberg, Germany
- Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
- KU Leuven, Belgium
- Atlas Stad Antwerpen, Free Hands, Belgium
- James Cook University, Cairns, Australia
- University of Copenhagen
- Aarhus University, Denmark
- Anatomisk Teater in Oslo, Norway
- A number of psychiatric hospitals and cultural centers in Europe
New Book: ‘Transcultural Montage’, co-edited by Christian Suhr and Rane Willerslev, afterword by George Marcus, New York: Berghahn 2013.
New article: ‘Can film show the invisible: The work of montage in ethnographic filmmaking’, co-authored by Christian Suhr and Rane Willerslev (Current Anthropology 43(3): 282-301).
Unity through Culture
By Christian Suhr and Ton Otto
58 min, 2011
“The Intangible Culture Film Prize” + “Richard Werbner Award for Visual Ethnography”, RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film, London 2011
Soanin Kilangit is determined to unite the people and attract international tourism through the revival of culture on Baluan Island in the South Pacific. He organizes the largest cultural festival ever held on the island. But some traditional leaders argue that Baluan never had culture. Culture comes from the white man and is now destroying their old tradition. Others, however, take the festival as a welcome opportunity to revolt against ’70 years of cultural oppression’ by Christianity. A struggle to define the past, present and future of Baluan culture erupts to the sound of thundering log drum rhythms.
“…the various disputes that come forth during the film will provide an excellent teaching tool and springboard for myriad discussions associated with issues involving kastom, tradition, change, authenticity, performance, identity, cultural politics, exchange, and the impact of the West on traditional societies.” —Karen Stevenson, American Anthropologist, p. 534-536, September 2012
Documentary Educational Resources (DER, Watertown, USA)
Film Festivals, Screenings & Awards
- The Archaeology Channel International Film Festival, USA, 2014
- Freiburger Film Forum, Germany, 2013
- Kratovo Ethnographic Film Festival, Macedonia, 2013
- European Association for Social Anthropologists Biennial Meeting, EASA, Paris, 2012
- Anthropology in the World, Royal Anthropological Institute/British Museum Centre for Anthropology, London, 2012
- “The Intangible Culture Film Prize”, RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film, London, 2011
- “The Richard Werbner Award for Visual Ethnography”, RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film, London, 2011
- Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival, Taipei, 2011
- Society for Visual Anthropology Festival, AAA Meeting, Montreal, 2011
- Hawaii International Film Festival HIFF, Honolulu, 2011
- The International Festival for Ethnological Film, Belgrade, 2011
- VISCULT – Festival of Visual Culture, Finland, 2011
- Days of Ethnographic Cinema, Moscow, 2011
- The NAFA Festival, St Andrews, 2011
- IUAES/AAS/ASAANZ Conference 2011 Perth, 2011
- Royal Anthropological Institute Festival for Ethnographic Film, London, 2011
- Broadcast, Taiwan Indigenous TV, Taipei, 2011
Ngat is Dead
By Christian Suhr and Ton Otto co-directed by Steffen Dalsgaard
59 min, 2009
Awarded with “Prix du PATRIMOINE CULTUREL IMMATÉRIEL”
Jean Rouch International Film Festival, Paris 2008
What do anthropologists mean when they claim to study the cultural traditions of others by participating in them? This film follows the Dutch anthropologist Ton Otto, who has been adopted by a family on Baluan Island in Papua New Guinea. Due to the death of his adoptive father, he has to take part in mortuary ceremonies, whose form and content are passionately contested by different groups of relatives. Through prolonged negotiations, Ton learns how Baluan people perform and transform their traditions and not least what role he plays himself. The film is part of long-term field research, in which filmmaking has become integrated in the ongoing dialogue and exchange between the islanders and the anthropologist.
“Straddling the permeable genres of ethnographic, participatory, and narrator-driven documentary, this one-hour DVD will be an extremely useful teaching resource. It presents anthropological insights prompted by filmmaking grounded in long-term familiarity and involvement with a community. It also demonstrates the benefits of an anthropologically trained film crew. … As an ethnographic film that demonstrates the value and developing insights of long-term fieldwork,this is excellent.” — Mike Poltorak, University of Kent, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Volume 16, Issue 4, December 2010
Film Festivals, Screenings & Awards
- Freiburger Film Forum, Germany, 2009
- Royal Anthropological Institute International Festival of Ethnographic Film, Leeds, England, 2009
- “Prix du Patrimoine Culturel Immatériel”, Jean Rouch International Film Festival, Paris, 2008
- Beeld voor Beeld, Bogotá, Colombia, 2008
- DIEFF, Delhi International Ethnographic Film Festival, Delhi, India, 2008
- 13th Mostra Internacional do Filme Etnográfico, Brazil, 2008
- IV Moscow International Visual Anthropology Festival, Russia, 2008
- VISCULT 2008: The Festival of Visual Culture, Finland, 2008
- SIEFF, Sardinia International Ethnographic Film Festival, Nuoro, Italy, 2008
- XXII Pärnu International Film Festival, Estonia, 2008
- Beeld voor Beeld, Amsterdam, 2008
- Days of Ethnographic Film, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2008
- Worldfilm: Tartu Festival of Visual Culture, Estonia, 2008
- BILAN, Jean Rouch International Film Festival, Paris, 2008
- The International Ethnographic Film Festival of Quebec, Canada, 2008
- XVI International Festival of Ethnological Film in Belgrade, Serbia, 2007
- TIEFF, Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival, Taipei, Taiwan, 2007
- NAFA, Nordic Anthropological Film Festival in Trondheim, Norway, 2007
Want a Camel, Yes?
By Christian Suhr and Mette Bahnsen
36 min, 2004
‘Want a Camel, Yes?’ takes us to the pyramids in Giza, Egypt. We are shown the interaction between camel drivers and tourists. Through price negotiations, conversations and interviews, we get an insight into how they imagine and understand each other and what they think constitute a good trip to the pyramids.
Distribution: persona film