The thought of doing something creative has always filled me with horror. As soon as I am tasked with a creative brief I instinctively cringe. Growing up I was always raised with an appreciation of cinema and art as well as literature and history. It was just when it came to creating things ourselves that my family faltered. I had always wanted to do Visual Anthropology ever since I came to Kent and I would sporadically think what I would make a film about. When January came around I had no ideas or inspiration. I listened to people in the seminar talk about these amazing and heart-breaking stories about their families and friends I was just stuck. My family was so normal, absolutely nothing out of the ordinary that would make an interesting or visually appealing film. I began to work my way through the Rabiger exercises and eventually I came to the question – “what makes you different than other people?” Immediately I knew that I would focus my film on my religious upbringing and how to come to terms with my contested identity.
Objectivity is always held up as the gold standard of all anthropological research. One is expected to put personal agendas and opinion to the side in pursuit of representing a truth of sorts, free from bias and predisposition. In this project, I replaced objectivity with reflexivity. The use of archive footage firmly consolidated the idea that I acknowledge that my formative experiences have shaped how I view my religious identity today.
For me the main thing that I got out of the module was the process of actually making the film itself as opposed to the finished product. Rabiger’s ‘self-inventory’ exercise brought out a lot of stuff that I realised I had never confronted. The Catholic Church is a very problematic institution and there are several aspects of it that I find very hard to align with my identity as a liberal woman in the 21stcentury. But at the same time, I have always found a certain degree of comfort in the unchanging and stoic institution being a constant presence in the background of my life.
Being Catholic was never something that I took any notice of up until when I went to Secondary School. Before then I was always surrounded by people who were just like me, I never had to justify anything or defend myself as we were all in exactly the same position. Not only was I sheltered in so far as my family but in my Primary School as well. I went to a Church of England Secondary School when I turned 11 and all of a sudden, I was suddenly confronted with this idea that there were other ways to religious without such a rigid and strict structure. It was as if every stage in my life I acquired more religious and personal freedom. From the tighter confines of the Catholic church growing up to the more relaxed approach to religion at my Protestant High School. Then came University where all of a sudden, I was thrust into an environment where I was not only the only Catholic but I was one of a very small minority of people raised with any personal connection to religion.
I think the finished project of my film reconciles the two constants in my life. My family and my home which are very connected to my religious identity, as well as my friends who don’t really know that side of my identity but who are always open to learn about that side of me.
Collaboration is at the heart of visual ethnography with the success of the project being rooted in the ability to incorporate this into a visual medium. From the Visual Anthropology theory module of first term I found that the film I connected to the most was ‘Chronique d'un été’ where Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin include a long section at the end where they show their participants the film. This pioneering use of Cinema Verite was something I strove to emulate so I included a section in my film to show my housemates that side of me that they had never really encountered before.
Still, something screamed in my head that I was not important or interesting enough to focus a whole film on myself. So I found myself wanting to both create something personal to me that I had intimate knowledge of, while simultaneously widening the focus to keep the self-reflection but including those who I was closest to in my life.
I filmed both sections of the film at different times, with my parents back in February and my friends at the start of April and I think you can definitely tell the difference between the two sections. In the first half of the film I was so concerned with setting up perfect shots and sticking to a more structured style and I found myself obsessing over the smallest details and constantly doubting the material I shot. The second half I felt much more comfortable with the filming process and so conversation flowed more freely.
I think as it stands the film represents those who I am closest to and how they view religion. But for me it was about the act of making the film and in confronting my own personal beliefs while making the film. It opened up some really beautiful conversations about religion and identity that I captured some of on camera, and some off. I think the act of making the film brought me closer to those around me and also allowed me to explore some deep-seated feelings regarding religion that I wasn’t aware I even had.
I still feel undecided about how I view religion and as to where I fit in with regards to the Catholic Church but I feel that I did achieve a resolution through the act of making the film.