Preface
Experimental film and ethnographic film have long been considered
separate, autonomous practices on the margins of mainstream cinema.
Each has been endowed with its own set of critical categories, its own
historical lineage, and its own concerns drawn largely from the do-
mains of modernism and anthropology respectively. However, within
the contemporary critical context of postmodernism and postcolonial-
ism, both ethnography and experimental film have begun to fill new
cultural roles. The last ten or fifteen years have seen a great deal of
film- and videomaking that challenges the neat compartmentalization
of these modes of film practice. In light of these developments, a his-
tory of experimental ethnography emerges as a re-visioning of films
that have fallen through the disciplinary gaps of film history.
The term "experimental ethnography" has begun to circulate in post-
colonial anthropological theory as a way of referring to discourse that
circumvents the empiricism and objectivity conventionally linked to
ethnography. Examples of its literary manifestations abound, and an
enormous amount of critical work has been produced on experimen-
tal forms of written ethnography.l Immediately apparent in the work
of James Clifford, George Marcus, Stephen Tyler, Michael Taussig, and
others is that once the terms "experimental" and "ethnography" are
brought together, both terms undergo a transformation. In any me-
dium, experimental ethnography refers to a rethinking of both aesthet-
ics and cultural representation.
Experimental ethnography is intended not as a new category of film
practice but as a methodological incursion of aesthetics on cultural rep-
resentation, a collision of social theory and formal experimentation. In
the dissolution of disciplinary boundaries, ethnography is a means of
renewing the avant-gardism of "experimental" film, of mobilizing its
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