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A Documentary Like No Other? Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab, Embodied Knowledge & The Art of Non-Fiction Film

Moore, Andrew Benjamin (2017) A Documentary Like No Other? Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab, Embodied Knowledge & The Art of Non-Fiction Film. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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This thesis explores the relationship between cinematic techniques and forms of knowledge in the non-fiction film. The purpose of many documentary films is to convey knowledge about the world to the viewer. But the degree of emphasis on this function varies enormously from film to film. The kind of knowledge that a documentary provides also shifts depending on what formal strategies it employs. The films produced by Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL), claimed by some commentators to represent a radical new form of documentary filmmaking, often eschew the epistemic and didactic function that is often associated with the documentary in favour of providing a more immediate, intimate and sensuous representation of particular locales and environments. Their emphasis on the material, physical, affective and sensuous qualities of lived experience suggests that SEL filmmakers are interested in conveying a different kind of knowledge, one that cannot be reduced to words or easily communicated with propositional statements. This thesis contributes to and expands upon existing scholarship on the relationship between film form and knowledge production and transmission, and counters the discourse of newness that has surrounded the SEL, by analysing the relationship between the cinematic techniques and ways of knowing of a number of important precursors to two of the lab’s key works: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash’s Sweetgrass (2009) and Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s Leviathan (2012). Finally, this thesis provides new analyses of these two SEL films, informed by this historical overview. It argues that the different ideas about the epistemological function of the moving image embodied in the earlier filmmaking activity have fed into the philosophy and praxis of these two films. Finally, the study concludes that the kind of knowledge that Sweetgrass and Leviathan convey can be thought of as an ‘embodied knowledge’, and it argues that it is through the use of what Laura Marks calls ‘haptic’ audiovisual strategies that these films are able to convey this kind of knowledge.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Documentary; Ethnographic Film; Embodied Knowledge; Sensory Ethnography.
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Languages Cultures and Societies (Leeds)
Depositing User: Dr A Moore
Date Deposited: 23 Apr 2018 12:23
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2018 12:23
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/19989

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