Media praxis within ethnographic film restructures many of anthropology‘s founding positions. The naming of unequal relations of power, difference, and knowledge production between the anthropologist (author) and the Third World or indigenous native (subject) is both subject and method of this tradition. Writes Jean Rouch, “every time a film is made there is cultural disruption.” One optimistic solution proposed to this structuring disequilibrium is a participatory ethnography, or “shared anthropology,” which “as idealistic as it may seem, appears to me to be the only morally and scientifically feasible anthropological attitude today,” according to Rouch.
While maintaining a commitment to inter-cultural communication, this tradition reveals how we can’t fully understand the “other” across our differences due to the social, structural, and technological impediments embedded in and between cultures. David MacDougall writes: “Both the language of distance and the language of proximity serve the filmmaker’s purpose, but the violence they do to the film subject is also a primary source of the filmmaker’s distress.” He also, then, proposes a participatory ethnography.
Another suggestion is to re-think the author, subject, and ethnographic film entirely, maintaining while also highlighting difference. “In its scientific ‘quest to make meaning,’ anthropology constantly reactivates the power relations embedded in the Master’s confident discourses on Himself and His Other, thereby aiding both the centripetal and centrifugal movement of their global spread,” writes Trinh T. Minh-ha. Fatimah Rony’s “third eye” raises not a sense of sharing but rather one of internal splitting or double consciousness, to describe living, and attempting to represent, between and across cultures. She writes: “What does one become when one sees that one is not fully recognized as Self by the wider society but can not fully identify as Other?”
Merging theories and practices of third cinema with the post-structuralist inspirations that first energized cineastes in post-68 France, an unstable self and other, as produced and known through film and filmmaking, results. Yet, given the situated claims made in this tradition from the specific position of self or other, native or scientist, about encounters across identity, history, place, nation, and science, an unstable but rooted degree zero for cinema is also realized.