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Talk with Alison Louise Kahn

10 AND 11 JUNE 2010

The first step of our project was to transfer the 1930s footage from 16mm to a digital format. This digitisation of Blackwood’s and Bower’s footage means that we can now begin making it accessible to a wider audience as, although the material is still viewable in its original form, we can now preserve it on a different format and save it in a digital archive, which ultimately makes it accessible to more viewers and allows us to make a documentary on a digital editing system. We thought that it was essential for the audience to understand the context of the footage and in this first of three seminars we are going to present the outline of the overall project and then screen and discuss the footage under two main headings:

The making of a documentary film around film archives- beginnings, styles and materiality (Alison Kahn)
Film as Object (Fatos Ustek)

The Overall Aims of the Project

To create a documentary film around Beatrice Blackwood’s and Ursula Graham Bower’s footage from New Guinea and Nagaland. Connect the footage to the filmmakers’ lives, discuss contexts in which they filmed, describe the subjects and objects in the footage including references to the object and photograph collections at the PRM. This 50 min documentary will be used as an educational resource and be accessible via the PRM.
To provide the general public with a way of understanding our approach to the making of the documentary in the way of public outreach lunchtime seminars such as these. Feedback questionnaires will be given to the audience who are asked to comment of the pieces of film screened on the day. This is a ‘shared anthropological’ approach that will give the public direct access and commentary on the making of a documentary. Instead of commenting of a film in its final state the public is allowed the opportunity to be included in the making of the film and comments could be used in the film to show the process of the filmmaking and explain decisions for the edit.
To provide a teaching forum for the over 60s which provides a training of the use of a digital camera and explanations of the digital process and how the ageing community might benefit from knowing how to access and use information presented on a digital format.
During the workshops we will film interviews with the over 60s as they tell their own stories referencing their own objects and photographs, and possibly talking about the central subject matter of our project i.e. their experiences of Papua New Guinea and Nagaland. With permission from the participants these interviews will be connected to the 1930s PRM footage through links accessible from the PRM website page which we are creating for this project. These interviews with the public will be called ‘memory boxes’ attached to the project.
The PRM website page is for the user to cross reference the footage and some of the objects and photographs in the PRM that relate to the footage with textual information attached. There will also be links to extracts of the film, and links to the Memory Box Interviews connected to the project from the general public and specialists on the subject. There will be a limited number of copies of the documentary on DVD available at the Pitt Rivers.
In an association with Loughborough University we have invited specialists on the ageing population and digital media to observe the digital film workshop on the 11 June and to provide feedback questionnaires about the workshop. This will help us understand how access to digital media is affecting the lives of the over 60s. This feedback information is integral to our project and provides qualitative and quantitative assessment of our approach, teaching methods and subject material, which is a requirement of our funding body.

PART I– The making of a documentary film around film archives- beginnings, styles and materiality (Alison Kahn)


How do we approach a film archive that forms part of a museum’s collections? What questions do we have when confronted by material that is not accompanied by sound, or a voice-over? How do we piece together footage from the past?

A documentary is a useful way to present footage from the past because it allows for comparison of images. It allows comparison of like with like. In one short sequence we can show how evidence of the past in moving images brings to life what is really dead. Images on film suddenly highlight the movement of time; we ask if the relatives of these people would recognise their ancestors. There is something mysterious yet sacred about bringing the past back- even if it is only in the form of a few moving images.

The connection to time then provokes questions that link the past and the unknown to things we do know: there are objects in the Pitt Rivers that were in the film. We have publications from the filmmakers about the people of the region but little about the hows and whys of the making of the film itself. We do not know the names of the people in the film. In the New Guinea material we do know that Beatrice Blackwood asked the people of the Upper Watut to demonstrate the use of their tools and the making of their fabrics and the footage was captured to help demonstrate the use of objects to researchers back in Oxford.

Here are four beginnings we would like you to see. Each time we would like you to think about how we are framing the footage.

Collections to the footage (5 mins sequence)
Footage to the Collections (5 mins sequence)
Collections to the footage with voice-over (5 mins sequence)
Collections to the footage with music and voice over (5 mins sequence)


So, framing is an important device for the presentation of archival footage. What formulas are we familiar with? The presenter-led Andrew Marr presentation of anecdotes in the recent The Making Of Modern Britain; the talking-head individuals explaining the footage made by their relations in the Thirties in Colour, or the voice-over historical setting for The World of Albert Kahn archives that shed light on people and traditions from Europe all but lost by the end of WWII.  Here are a couple of variations on those styles:

A young child’s impression of the Pitt Rivers. A pencil lined sequence of a child entering the world on the other side of the world, ‘where the wild things are’! (Beatrice Blackwood footage) ( 3 minutes)

Ursula, the filmmaker talking about Stone-Dragging to Alan MacFarlane, a Cambridge academic capturing one of the last interviews with the elderly Ursula Graham Bower. Here we bring in her voice to describe the footage of stone dragging, which she filmed in Nagaland in the late 1930s. Two separate filmed sequences brought together to shed light on soundless film. (Ursula Graham Bower’s footage) (7 minutes)


The last piece of footage will show how two pieces of the same footage can give a very different impression of what was really there. We have two versions of some of the footage filmed by Ursula Graham Bower: one at the Pitt Rivers and the other lent to us by Alan MacFarlane for use on this project. What is happening? (2 minutes)


Part II – The potentiality of the film archives, their potential and meaningfulness in contemporary society where image is under continuous transformation of condition. (Fatos Ustek)
Beginnings – styles – materiality – immateriality

I will be following the same outlines whilst bringing out our experience now to its contemporary domains. I will be reflecting on the footage we have seen and will introduce a contemporary artist’s , Ursula Biemann, recent video work X-Mission.

What does it mean to archive? How do we relate to the production of knowledge while we are researching on an unfamiliar past? How do we relate footage from a familiar recent past? How does knowing and not knowing condition power of the gazed?
When we evaluate the daily media footage today how do we reproduce the notion of documentary and fiction? What are the conditions of the contemporary society’s relation to image and visual domain?

How does the framing effect the production of reality? How is it possible to see the grand scale of interrelation of things?

Introduction of the film and Ursula Biemann
X-Mission, Ursula Biemann

What is the objecthood of film besides its material nature of chemicals interacting under the light? What does image as object mean? Can we capture the shift from the age of mechanical production to era of digital production on the course of the transformation of material into non-material?

Does digitalisation of image bring us immateriality in the way in which the source and the cause of existence of film is no longer a body whilst its remnants resonate content and claim relation? How do we produce the relation to digitalised archives? What would be the course of representation?