Mediating Cultures: Participatory Ethnographic Filmmaking in Applied Contexts

By Dr. Martin Gruber - Speaker

In my doctoral research I examine the role participatory ethnographic filmmaking plays in the context of a large multidisciplinary research project on environmental issues in Angola, Botswana and Namibia. Drawing on ethnographic filmmaking and “Participatory Video” (PV), I implement film workshops with representatives of rural communities as a means of including them in the project.
Participatory and collaborative approaches date back to “early” ethnographic filmmakers such as Robert Flaherty and Jean Rouch. Until today, a number of filmmakers have applied such approaches for ethical and political reasons and/or to enhance their work. However, many anthropologists and filmmakers have labelled their own or other people’s activities as participatory or collaborative without giving important background information. Questions of who exactly participates, in which ways, and with which intentions and benefits are often ignored, which makes their evaluation difficult. In my presentation, I propose different criteria for the assessment of participatory or collaborative films on the basis of a review of anthropological literature. I will further describe my own experience of implementing a participatory film-workshop with a group of villagers in the Kavango Region of Namibia and develop guidelines for the facilitation of such films in applied contexts.


Martin Gruber studied Visual Anthropology at Goldsmiths College, London and Social Anthropology at Hamburg University. He has been working as a freelance researcher and filmmaker for various research and development projects. Currently Martin Gruber is producing films on environmental issues in Angola, Namibia and Botswana together with local farmers for “The Future Okavango” research project. He is doing a PhD about participatory ethnographic filmmaking in applied contexts at the Department of Anthropology and Cultural Studies at the University of Bremen.


Gruber, Martin (2010): Film making as an instrument of research communication and capacity development. – In: Schmiedel, U., Jürgens, N. [Eds.]: Biodiversity in southern Africa. Volume 2: Patterns and processes at regional scale: pp. 326–331, Klaus Hess Publishers, Göttingen & Windhoek. Gruber, Martin (2008): Aufklärungsfilme als Beispiel angewandter Ethnologie? Ethnoscripts 10 (2): 184-190.

Go back