We Are Here covers themes central to anthropological discussion, particularly those regarding space. Space is complex; We Are Here shows these complexities of space. It aims to question this often assumed isomorphism between space and culture by showing the multitude of people from different backgrounds encompassing the same space, and the difficulties that arise alongside this through the refugee crisis and their position in Calais. I have explored the ways in which people use spaces in alternative ways, counter to mainstream use, such as through the gathering of the march in the streets of London. Here, individuals may differ greatly, in their backgrounds and personal reasons for being there, yet are all fighting for the same thing: equality and humanitarian justice.
My film was driven by my interest in using Anthropology to help spread awareness and instigate change in difficult humanitarian situations. I have an interest in critical Anthropology, and rethinking how we can use and look at Anthropology, particularly in terms of advocacy. This has been influenced by Nancy Scherper-Hughes: I particularly resonate with her statement “If Anthropology cannot be put to service as a tool for human liberation, why are we bothering with it at all?” (Scherper-Hughes, 2009, p.3). Although she wasn’t talking directly about using film and Visual Anthropology to do this, my film ties in nicely here as it is an accessible way for the general public to understand and resonate with Anthropology without using inaccessible literature and jargon. In a way, my film may be seen as a form of video-activism, representing activists and portraying their importance through film, stemming from a failure of mass media to cover this crisis. She also discusses how the anthropologist should wear “several hats”: anthropologist, academic, documentary journalist, human rights activist (Scherper-Hughes, 2009, p.1). I feel as though my work was closely aligned with this through my emotional investment to help and work at the warehouse particularly.
My plans to go to Calais stemmed out of an interest and importance of my own personal accord rather than for this project itself. I therefore had a particular stance and focus on helping in this instance, as Sherper-Hughes highlights as important, rather than going to film as the primary reason. This potentially altered my film, as I didn’t collect as much footage as maybe others would have if it were their primary reason for going. Despite this, I was emotionally moved and invested and so wanted to convey this environment to others and was motivated by seeing the importance of the volunteers’ work there. This focus on wanting to show the love and emotion involved in the environments I was in is almost impossible to achieve, as I feel the camera is unable to justly translate the atmosphere felt in the environment due to its reliance on the visual and sound- feelings are difficult to capture. This is a feature of Visual Anthropology often criticised, with Berendt calling for a “democracy of the senses” showing no favours towards one particular sense, such as the visual (1985, cited in Bull & Back, 2003). I tried to combat this through the use of chants and the samba band at the march, and the use of music tracks that were playing and extremely prevalent in the warehouse throughout the weekend in Calais. However, ‘affect’ is something difficult to capture and I would argue that it is the feelings that make the spaces what they are. This is something Brennan discusses in The Transmission of Affect, where she suggests that “the transmission of affect...alters the biochemistry and neurology of the subject” (2004, p.1). I agree with her in this, with ‘affect’ being “the ‘atmosphere’ or the environment [that] literally gets into the individual” (Brennan, 2004, p.1). In this way, it is almost impossible to fully represent the environments in which I experienced and filmed accurately, and is something that greatly affects how I feel about my work.
Following on from this, it is hard to detach myself from the whole experience and view the film apart from the rest of my personal experience. In this way, I watch the film back and feel slightly disconnected somehow by the short snippet of the whole journey and learning experience I endured. Having a feedback session from my first cut helped with this greatly, I was able to hear that there was enough information and that people could understand and emotionally resonate with what was being said. This particularly stemmed from my encouragement for the people I worked with to be reflexive, by asking them why they were there and why it was important. I had feedback from my peers telling me that this gave an emotional personal side to the film and allowed the audience to resonate with the subjects, humanising them more. This shows the importance of reflexivity among those within the film. Reflexivity, the recognition of the self in the field and the impact of the self on the findings, is something largely debated in Anthropology, and I filmed myself reflecting on personal feelings on the way in order to avoid becoming what Ruby calls a “recording machine” (1980, p.161). However, I didn't go further than this due to my wariness for reflexivity, partially agreeing with Matthew in that “...the use of reflexivity does not mitigate power imbalances but merely convolutes the ethnographic film by focusing on certain perceptions and worries of the producer, which in turn become the focus of the interpretation rather than the subject of the footage.” (Matthew, 2014, p.19).
In all, the most important thing guiding and hopefully arising from my work is raising awareness in showing something, and a group of people, not often covered by mass media but in great need. I hope that through showing my film, people will see the need for donations and volunteers and feel inspired to help or take action in some way, maybe not even for the same cause.
Brennan, T. (2004) The Transmission of Affect. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
Bull, M. & Back, L. (2003) The Auditory Culture Reader. Oxford & New York: Berg.
Matthew, W. (2014) Reality in Ethnographic Film: Documentary vs Docudrama. Visual Anthropology. 27(1). pp.17-24.
Scherper-Hughes, N. (2009) Making Anthropology Public. Anthropology Today. 25(4). pp.1-3.