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A reflexive commentary

Reflexive Essay

My film can be regarded as having three main aims: 1) to show that the great sense of community, even if the size of the community is not a great one, is one of the forces that make us love what we do.  2) to portray passion. This is done through seeing the subjects of the film do what they love, as well as hearing about their thoughts, feelings and stories. 3) to represent the competitive nature that exists inside us all and how it manifests even in casual situations that have nothing riding on them.

Westbere Wednesdays refers to the training sessions that are held at Westbere lake every Wednesday by the University of Kent Sailing Team, of which I am an active member of. Given that Westbere is private property I did not have unlimited access to the lake. This meant that I only had the opportunity to film my footage on Wednesday afternoons from 1pm – 4pm. The approach I went with was to film whatever occurred. I wanted to capture the milling around and preparations as much as the actual sailing that happens, almost like a “day-in-the-life” style documentary. Upon reflection, this must have been inspired by Malinowski’s approach to ethnographic fieldwork and his emphasis on the importance of recording all the “imponderabilia” as much as everything else.

Whilst looking back at the first round of footage I had recorded that day; I came to the very egotistical but necessary realisation that I am in fact one of the most central persons in the group. This meant that it was hard to remove myself from the fun that was going on at the lake in order to get the footage I required, given that I am usually in charge of organising the session and mobilizing everyone. Also, when I was looking back at the footage I felt that I was missing from the images and that it would be untruthful to make a documentary about the sailing team without including myself, as my presence is usually central. In order to overcome this, I used my voice over to highlight my position and inclusion within the team and got one of the injured sailors to record some footage of me whilst I went sailing. I had already decided I would not make the film about myself as it would not have been impossible to get the shots I desired, instead I asked Thomas if he would be the protagonist. I chose him because, he has done professional sports interviews and been on camera before meaning he would be comfortable with being followed by the camera. Above all, I feel the passion he has for sailing is even more than my own, and he embodies my competitive nature too, but most importantly has an interesting story to tell, regarding his own sailing background.

During the filming process I found I was unable to detach myself from what was going on and simply just observe. (Is this supporting evidence for the trend in the anthropological move towards participatory film?). As a result, a lot of what had to be cut was overly loud shouting picked up as a result of my proximity to the mic, for example I caught myself getting involved in the action and arguments at certain points or shouting advice or instructions.

On the one hand, my membership within the group was invaluable as I was practically comparable to an anthropologist who had spent four years immersing themselves in the field; a feature Jean Rouch outlines as being extremely necessary, outlining that “the ethnographer must spend a long time in the field before beginning to shoot” (Rouch, 1973: 6), as well as be able to “perfectly understand the language of the group being filmed” (Rouch, 1973: 8) if one is to make a successful film.

On the other hand, Caroline Brettell notes that no matter how much the anthropologist believes that they are an “insider” the process of conducting any kind of ethnographic work in itself unintentionally gains them the status of an “outsider” by putting them at a different level to that of their subjects whether meaning to or not (Brettell, 1993). This was evident in from a lot of footage that I chose not to include whereby the boys had acknowledged that my role and position within the group had temporarily changed as a result of being behind the camera. (i.e. “Izzy you’re not even sailing today so why do you care?”).

The narrative that was produced as a result of the interview I conducted with Thomas is incredibly coded. There was a lot that he did not elaborate on, as, rightly so, he assumed my prior knowledge, rather than explaining everything to me as if I was an outsider. As a result, the interview lacked some important explanatory aspects, so I decided the only way to overcome this was to include my voice over. This is conventional of early visual anthropology, for example in Disappearing Worlds: to make the film accessible to a wider audience, anthropologists narrated sections (Turton 1992: 291).

The narrative was formed as a result of the b-roll I had filmed and the interview with Thomas. The aim of the interview was to have a free-flowing conversation and see where it would take us; whether it would produce anything natural or produce an idea I had not yet thought of. In hindsight, more structured leading questions would have been better suited to Thomas and maybe if I had done this, I would not have needed to make a voice-over.

The final result that I hope the video portrays to all audiences is a story about passion, community and competitiveness. Even though the video’s narrative focuses on Thomas’ sailing background, I wanted the images to capture the spirit of the team. I feel like this is most evident through the fun and silly moments that make me smile (or any scene that features Rob); and the fact that constant jokes, laughing and sarcastic comments can be heard both on and off the water. The theme of competitiveness is not only shown through the more explicit narrative of winning and racing, but also through the sibling-esque rivalries that I tried (but on reflection probably neglected a little too much during the production process) to showcase. The theme of passion does not manifest itself so much in the classic “I love sailing” narrative but is evident at numerous points in the video. For example, Thomas telling us he has been sailing since he was five and how it has engulfed his life since then. Furthermore, Thomas has been sailing for so long now that even though it is clearly a passion of his, it is not always enjoyable every time he does it. I feel as though this resonates with many of us as it represents the dedication and self-motivation we have for things we ultimately love no matter what.

Isobel Howard 29/04/20.



Brettell, C.B. 1993. When They Read What We Write: The Politics of Ethnography. Bergin & Garvey.  

Rouch, J. 1973. Camera and Man. pp.1–pp.13.

Turton, D. 1992. Anthropology on television: what next?. In: D. Turton and P. Crawford, ed., Film as Ethnography. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp.283-299.

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