David MacDougall- Theoretical Intervention in “Beyond Observational Cinema”

David MacDougall’s theoretic of visual engagement pushes against “the magical fallacy of the camera” and its “omniscient observation” (123) towards a filmmaker’s self-aware positionality where a “filmmaker acknowledges his entry upon the world of his subjects and yet asks them to imprint directly upon the film their own culture” (125). Moving along the grain of Rouch’s theoretic, MacDougall works to invert the anthropological structure of  “exhaustive analysis” and focuses on the part “which may stand more accurately for the whole” (126). Working within this structure MacDougall’s intervention provides a more genuine experience for the subject as the documentary is participatory and not peripherally observational: “Ethnographic filmmakers can begin by abandoning their preconceptions about what is good cinema. It is enough to conjecture that a film need not be an aesthetic or scientific performance: it can become the arena of inquiry” (128).

MacDougall’s vision and intervention bleeds into John Ellis’ section on “Slow Film’s” radical gesture of refusing montage. We assert that an American Family is a variant of a sanitized montage while Harambee’s slow film process.


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