The grace of ungraceful moments: subtle discord in ethnographic filmmaking
(University of Manchester)
Paper short abstract:
Drawing on footage from my fieldwork in a gentrifying favela in Rio de Janeiro, I explore what is possible to learn about mutual trust and ethics when film production elicits reciprocal moments of wonder, discomfort and joy.
Paper long abstract:
Zuzah, a rich foreign entrepreneur asks a resident of Vidigal, a gentrifying favela in Rio de Janeiro, how he could invest in the area. The subtle tension this question provoked - as I was filming the chance encounter - evoked the essence of the favela residents' predicament and of my research. There was discord in in Vidigal about whether gentrification would benefit long-term residents or not, which touched on important moral issues for those involved. The resident in case was my friend and collaborator Ninho, with whom I often explored the alleyways and streets of Vidigal. As Zuzah addressed him, Ninho looked at me with an uneasy smile, seemingly indicating I should stop filming, which I did. When Ninho and I reviewed the footage, he pointed out that although my own questions had provoked the situation, his reaction conjured up an important intangible element of his experience. "Why did you stop filming?" Ninho asked me. "- Because you wanted me to... - Well, I'm glad you caught it."
This paper will explore issues of mutual (mis)understandings, trust, and ethics arising from fleeting moments of 'grace' (Rouch 2003) in 'ungraceful' situations that transpire when one uses a camera as a research tool. An audience may not catch these fragmented gifts. The full richness of their meaning may require more background information than moving images can offer. However, they extend multiple layers of ethnographic wonder and knowledge that can carry on unfolding long after their moment of genesis. The presentation involves a talk and fragments of a 10-minute film.
Grace: unexpected moments in ethnographic films