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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/be94-tx77


AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Shadowing Meanings: the things we do (or not) with subtitles


d(d)eaf/hearing impaired

ethnographic film


In his 1995 essay Subtitling Ethnographic Films, David MacDougall concludes that “ethnographic films that so easily convey what other people say would do well to remind us that there are also more obdurate, private, and unknowable dimensions of their lives”. As anthropologists working with bits of film, or as filmmakers working with a bit of anthropology, we take MacDougall’s closing statement as an opening. We wonder: How do we create a “shadowing of meanings” (ibid) when we inscribe subtitles, or when we refuse to subtitle ethnographic films? We bring together conversations about participatory documentary film with the following: displaced and refugee youth in Iran, deaf filmmakers working in Swedish public broadcast, Cambodian Muslim home movies chatting off silent histories, the multiple translations and reinterpretations provoked in the films of Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook as her Thai interlocutors engage with “masterpieces” of Western painting, and past cinematic ethnographic canon such as “To Live with Herds” and “The Axe Fight”. We scratch eyeballs, earbuds, and skulls as questions come crashing: how can hearing audiences experience sign language through the image and beyond translation? Can we find in good-ol’ ethnographic films and their subtitles the subversive markings of unreliable narrators so to enact a surprising reveal and yet not totally undermine the entire filmic engagement? How many forms and routes can coloniality take when we work with partners in crime in and away from fields that require various forms of claims and inscriptions, echoes, and erasures? What happens when the ethnographer-editor turns away from the film for an instant and unbeknownst a subtitle lurks in to re-write the whole film? Disclaimer: no answers.  Hope: an acknowledgment of the problematics of playing with words and signs in a world that exceeds language.  What we want: merely to start a discussion that we believe is often lacking in documentary making and viewing. We open this roundtable to an audience who may also have one too many words to say/write over images that beg them not to (or trick them into swirling back-and-forths).


Transcript English (automatic)

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