Focus 2016: Sensory Ethnography Lab

by Daniel Ribas / 15 09 2016

The programme of the 3rd Porto/Post/Doc is being prepared in recent months. In addition to the competition and other usual sections (Transmission or Teenage), the festival will devote two Focus: the Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL) and the Brazilian director Eryk Rocha. These two Focus will allow spreading in Portugal two bodies of fundamental work of contemporary documentary cinema. In particular, the focus dedicated to the SEL will cross the festival, since one of the dominant themes of this edition will be the "sensory cinema". The directors Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor (the latter also director of the laboratory) will be at the festival.

The SEL is a laboratory that combines sensory ethnography and cinema. This laboratory is integrated at the Harvard University and promotes both courses devoted to anthropology and ethnography as a PhD on "Media Anthropology." In the context, this laboratory has produced several documentary films with a common philosophy: the ethnographic and sensory approach to communities that are filmed and from that assumption, the construction of a sensory cinema, in which the image and sound have the same importance.

Among the films produced by SEL, one that became best known was Leviathan, codirected by Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor. The film looked for, in a surprising way,  a new perspective on the lives of fishermen and craft of fishing. Using all new digital features, Leviathan became a paradigmatic example of a contemporary sensory film, for the proximity of the point of view of the camera to the daily practices, depicted through the use of the GoPro cameras (the shots in which the camera is immersed in fish are famous). To that point of view, the film was combined with sound, allowing a new relationship between the viewer and the film.

Many other directors and films were made in the laboratory context, given the same assumptions, from Sweetgrass directed by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, on the practice of grazing in America; as Foreign Parts, by Verena Paravel and JP Sniadecki on the end of a block of workshops in Willets Point, New York; or The Iron Ministry, by J.P. Sniadecki, a train ride in the world's biggest railway line in China.

The slow method of approach to filming locations and the interaction of the camera with the world's daily lives put  SEL's films in a new digital paradigm. Using ethnographic techniques and new technological devices, these films gave a new meaning to the concept of sensory cinema.

The Focus on the Sensory Ethnography Lab will consist of sessions with some of the films produced in the laboratory context, including Leviathan, as well as other films chosen by Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor.

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