Village Tales: an exploration of the potential of participatory documentary filmmaking in rural India.
Authors: Sudbury, S.
This is a PhD by practice, consisting of a documentary film, Village Tales, and an accompanying thesis; I locate my practice in the context of documentary and participatory filmmaking. In this research I want, as an experienced documentary filmmaker, to bring together the techniques of both ethnographic and participatory filmmaking, with approaches used in documentary production. The former with its emphasis on the voice of, in this case, rural women in India, and the latter with its concern to engage an audience through narrative and imagery.
The research question is ‘to what extent can a combination of observational documentary techniques, video diaries and participatory filmmaking methods be used to explore the interior and everyday lives of women from another culture?’ The thesis covers the period of time from 2008 to 2014, which includes research, filmmaking, scripting, editing and screening the documentary to different audiences.
The documentary explores what the anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod (1991) calls ‘dailiness’; that is, films built around the exploration of relationships, feelings and experiences. Leslie Devereaux uses the term ‘sticking close to experience’ when describing this attention to everyday life (1995:72). My documentary is situated in the everyday because the women work primarily as housewives and mothers and the ‘everyday’ is an important site for the construction, maintenance and challenging of gender roles and power.
More specifically, Village Tales is concerned with a regional government community initiative in rural India, set up to train local women as video reporters so they can make films about subjects important to them; these films are then screened to other villagers to raise community awareness. However, my documentary is also about some of these women’s daily lives as I asked four of them if they would turn their cameras on to their everyday lives and make video diaries about their own personal concerns.
The exegesis charts the creative and intellectual terrain that the documentary project as a whole explores. It includes an historical account of participatory filmmaking in the developing world and the use of video diaries, by broadcast television in the UK. I ask that the accompanying DVD is watched after reading Chapters 1-3 of the thesis.