Sightlines Journal, Issue 1, 2015
Author: Holly Giesman
Eating Cultures is a documentary journey through three foreign national restaurants in London (Eritrean, Pakistani and Argentinian). Restaurant staff and customers share their experiences of working and eating in the restaurants as the filmmaker examines how “authentic” is understood and how culinary worlds are reconstructed and adapted for a multicultural London audience. Both the restaurant staff and the filmmaker engage in storytelling across cultural boundaries, yet they are charged with the accurate representation of an aspect of real life and bound by claims and expectations of authenticity. The film explores the intricacies of “mediating worlds” alongside the sensoryrich, somewhat touristic experience of “Eating Cultures”.
I produced the film Eating Cultures as part of a practice-based PhD thesis for the University of Roehampton in London. The broader research project—entitled Encounters in authenticity: documentary film and the “authentic” national restaurant—consists of the film (the practice component) and a written component, which was about half the length of a standard written doctoral thesis. The film provides a more experiential engagement with the research while the written work provides context, further theorizes and expands on the themes presented in the film. The film was produced in such a way that it might also stand on its own, but I will summarize some of the material from the written work here, as it should allow for a richer engagement with the film. The full written thesis is available from the University of Roehampton library, the British Library and at eatingcultures.org.
Revisiting the documentary dilemma
One of my aims with this research was to confront a fundamental dilemma for documentary filmmakers and scholars: How do we deal with claims and expectations of authenticity—the assumption that documentary corresponds to the “real” world in a way that fiction does not— despite the fact that documentary can only ever mediate reality? As documentary editor and scholar Dai Vaughan wrote, “film is about something, whereas reality is not” (Vaughan, 1999: 21). Yet, the fact of mediation is more problematic for documentary than for fiction, and the degree of skepticism about documentary representation is often much higher. As documentary scholar Bill Nichols cautions, “We believe what we see and what is represented about what we see at our own risk” (Nichols, 2001: xii). The unique challenge for documentary is that it relies on “a disposition to believe”—as documentary scholar and practitioner Michael Chanan puts it— whereas “fiction evokes what is traditionally spoken of as ‘the suspension of disbelief’” (Chanan, 2000: 58). I wanted to put this enduring documentary dilemma into a new context and offer a different way of engaging with it—experientially and from a unique perspective. That perspective would come from people working and eating in foreign national restaurants in London and through the process of making a documentary film about and with them. I would seek insight from them by focusing on the ways in which they also deal with issues of authenticity and mediation. I wanted to experience and record how the meal in the restaurant is constructed and how the work of constructing the meal in the restaurant might be related to the work of making a documentary film. What kinds of dilemmas are there in the restaurants? What could we discover by working alongside one another and in the process of making a documentary film together?
Crossing disciplinary boundaries: documentary and tourism
In bringing the documentary dilemma into different territory and taking a fluid approach to thinking on authenticity, I encountered crossdisciplinary connections—in particular with tourism scholarship—that shaped my approach to filmmaking. Restaurants are often theorized as touristic spaces where diners are equated with tourists—especially within the subdiscipline dealing with culinary tourism (KirshenblattGimblett, 2004). In my work, I considered that documentary encounters also share some of the characteristics of tourist encounters. Both the meal in the restaurant and the crosscultural documentary film provide spaces for sensoryrich exploration of difference and otherness. I also saw an interesting connection, for example, between “the sin of Heisenberg” in documentary—wherein filmmakers are seen to be “forever interfering with what it is they seek”, as ethnographic filmmaker David MacDougall describes it (MacDougall, 1998: 48)—and the similar notion regarding the tourist’s interference in the toured environment. Lisa Heldke addresses this in her writing on culinary tourism:The culinary traveler’s own presence (in a restaurant for example) always counts as evidence of the inauthenticity of the place; paradoxically, one’s discovery of a “truly authentic” restaurant contains the very seed of the destruction of its authenticity. (Heldke, 2005: 390)
Influence of visual anthropology on the research
Although this research was conducted within an arts and humanities context, the filmmaking practice was heavily influenced by visual anthropology. I am interested—as filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Rouch was—in the relationship and commonalities between cinema and ethnography. I was particularly influenced by his film Chronique d’un Ete (Chronicle of a Summer) (Rouch and Morin, 1961), and I wanted to use film in a similar way within a research context as a tool of inquiry into lived experience of film subjects as well as into documentary filmmaking itself.Another key influence for me was David MacDougall’s filmmaking and writing. Specifically, I was very interested in what he calls “deep reflexivity”, where:The author is no longer to be sought outside the work, for the work must be understood as including the author. Subject and object define one another through the work, and the ‘author’ is in fact in many ways an artifact of the work. (MacDougall, 1998: 8889)I took a similar approach to reflexivity for Eating Cultures integrating the filmmaking with the film subject in such a way as to acknowledge their interdependence and inseparability. The relationship between filmmaking and film subject is one of the main focuses of the film. Operating in this “deep” reflexive mode, I began to employ metaphor in my filmmaking practice and to formulate connections between the meal in the restaurant and the documentary film. The notions of “Eating Cultures” and “mediating worlds” arose during this formulation.
“Eating Cultures” and “mediating worlds”
Restaurant customers are literal “eaters”, but the filmmaker and film viewers are “eaters” as well—in a metaphorical sense. “Eaters” are guests in a guest/host relationship that is often crosscultural; they are invited to relate to some part of their host’s lived experience through a structured sensoryrich encounter. Eating Cultures is consumption—literal ingestion and figurative ingestion. Ingestion normally leads to digestion as the “eater” engages in the work of interpreting his or her encounter and, by extension, making sense of the host’s lived experience. In many respects, the “eater’s” experience shares some of the hallmarks of tourist experience and may, therefore, also be subjected to harsh criticism. For example, “Eating Cultures”, for some, may embody what academic David Bell condemns as “cultural omnivorousness”—a kind of neocolonial “cultural mastery through incorporation” (Bell, 2002: 15).The film also invites viewers to experience the perspective of the “cook”. The meal in the restaurant involves literal cooking, but filmmaking is also seen as a kind of “cooking” and the film as a kind of “meal”. Viewers are invited on a journey with me as I “cook” the film, so to speak. The work of “mediating worlds” is what connects the restaurant staff and the filmmaker. Restaurant staff members are mediating the culinary worlds of Eritrea, Pakistan and Argentina. The filmmaker, in turn, is mediating the worlds of each of the three London restaurants. In both cases, mediators are trying to communicate their experiences of being there in these particular “worlds”. The process involves selection, translation, adaptation and transformation.
Working within and against dominant narratives
I was interested—from an ethnographic perspective—in the perceptions of people working and eating in restaurants. How is national identity linked to food? What meaning or value does the meal in the restaurant have for those that prepare it and those that eat it? How do the people working and eating in the restaurants actually understand and engage with authenticity? The challenge, however, was to avoid simply reinforcing categories, labels and essentialist discourse. Careful and sensitive probing—on my part—was necessary in order to try and present film subject perceptions in a “non-totalizing” way that would “suspend meaning and resist closure” (Trinh, 1991: 74)—as theorist and filmmaker Trinh T. Minhha advocates. Toward this aim, I worked to explore and highlight differing perspectives and pursue contradiction and complexity wherever possible but to do so without alienating film subjects and collaborators or discrediting their contributions. Further, though I encountered many touristic qualities in the documentary filmmaking process, I felt a responsibility not to merely engage in Bell’s “cultural omnivorousness” but to be a different kind of “eater”. The tourist’s gaze—as tourism scholars John Urry and Jonas Larsen explain—often operates like that of a semiotician, “reading the landscape for signifiers of certain pre-established notions of signs derived from discourses of travel and tourism” (Urry and Larsen, 2011: 16). In my work, I would engage with preconceived notions but also try to complicate them. The way the filmmaker “looks”—as MacDougall describes it—is much different than the way Urry and Larsen’s semioticiantype tourist does. The filmmaker’s “looking” is difficult; it requires practice, training and “freeing one’s consciousness to perceive” (MacDougall, 2006: 7). The filmmaker, and later the film viewer, should experience and perceive without reducing what they encounter “to signs, symbols, and other domesticated meanings” (MacDougall, 2006: 14). I was not, however, the only “cook” in the filmmaking process. I considered the people I worked and filmed with to be collaborators in the filmmaking process. In fact, in many cases, they helped me to avoid my own tendency to look for simple answers and definitions. Therefore, including parts of my journey as the filmmaker and my efforts to make sense of my experience, I hoped, would add another layer of complexity to the film.
Conclusion and contribution
In engaging a metaphorical kind of thinking, the film encourages the transformative potential of seeing one thing as something else. Seeing documentary filmmaking and viewing as “Eating Cultures” draws attention to the desire to experience and thereby understand—in the digestion—something more about the lived experience of others. Yet, the film suggests that the documentary filmmaker as “eater”—and by extension the viewer “eater”—can never fully grasp other cultures because they are not, in the first place, static or completely coherent. They are irreducible, not fully translatable; therefore, what I discovered in the filming, and what is presented to the viewer, is also irreducible in a sense. Seeing documentary filmmaking as “cooking” draws attention to the creative aspect of filmmaking and to the transformation that necessarily occurs. Ultimately, mediating worlds involves working with fragments—transforming raw ingredients into a cooked meal. Traces of actual worlds and lived experience are incorporated and recombined into new wholes. Yet, where the fusion restaurant or the fiction film allow for free mixing of ingredients and exploration of creative possibilities, the national restaurant and the documentary seem to be inevitably bound by claims and expectations of authenticity. In these cases, it is more difficult to acknowledge the inherently hybrid and constructed nature of cultures and cuisines or of filmmaking. Staff members in each of the three restaurants are shown to be facing various obstacles. Sometimes substitutions must be found for ingredients that are not available in London. Other times meals are adapted to accommodate the London customer base. The filmmaker is also shown facing obstacles in her work of mediating worlds. Filming in busy, working restaurants is not easy. The filmmaking apparatus is an unnatural element in the kitchen or the dining room and can be distracting for people working and eating there. Certain adaptations are made. Questions arise about the effects of the filmmaking process. Finally, Eating Cultures and mediating worlds can only ever be aspirational endeavors. The aim of the mediator (or “cook”) is no more fully realizable than that of the “eater”. Practitionerscholar Dai Vaughan has articulated the aspirational and paradoxical aspects of documentary filmmaking in his writing. The sentiment expressed is a kind of resigned persistence. He refers to documentary as “an ideal, attainable or otherwise, perhaps even self contradictory, to whose fulfillment we aspire in our specific uses of it” (Vaughan, 1976: 1). My film expresses a sentiment similar to Vaughan’s but in a different way. Through reflexively experiencing and critically engaging with the process of mediating worlds as I have in Eating Cultures, we see the mediator’s dilemma from a unique perspective and consider how the mediator may respond to particular problems and persist in spite of them. My sense is that tension between fidelity to actuality and the fact of mediation in documentary film will never be resolved and that it need not ever be; it is, perhaps, the defining characteristic of the documentary filmmaking endeavor. Nevertheless, it is a tension that must be acknowledged and addressed, and herein lies the enduring challenge for the filmmaker. In facing this challenge we may, as this research has done, look to other kinds of mediators for insight—expanding our horizons to engage in ever more innovative ways of articulating the documentary dilemma.
Bell, D. 2002. “Fragments for a New Urban Culinary Geography”, Journal for the Study of Food and Society, 6(1), 1021.
Chanan, M. 2000. “The Documentary Chronotope”, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, July 2000(43), 5661.
Heldke, L. 2005. “But is it Authentic? Culinary Travel and the Search for the ‘Genuine Article'”, In: Korsmeyer, C. (ed.) The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink. Oxford and New York: Berg, 385394.
KirshenblattGimblett, B. 2004. “Foreword”, In: Long, L.M. (ed.) Culinary Tourism. Lexington: The University of Kentucky, xixiv.
MacDougall, D. 1998. Transcultural Cinema. Princeton: Princeton University Press. MacDougall, D. 2006. The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography, and the Senses. Princeton:Princeton University Press.
Nichols, B. 2001. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Chronique D’un Été (Chronicle of a Summer), 1961. Directed by Rouch, J. and Morin, E. France.
Trinh, T. M.h. 1991.”Outside In Inside Out”, When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation,Gender and Cultural Politics. New York: Routledge, pp. 6578. 8 of 9
Research Statement for Eating Cultures Holly Giesman April 2015
Urry, J. and Larsen, J. 2011. The Tourist Gaze 3.0, London: Sage. Vaughan, D. 1976. Television Documentary Usage. London: British Film Institute. Vaughan, D. 1999. For Documentary: Twelve Essays. Berkeley and London: University ofCalifornia Press.
Eating Cultures is part of a practice-based PhD research project by Holly Giesman for the Department of Media, Culture and Language at the University of Roehampton in London.
Holly’s Giesman’s synopsis of the film follows:
Eating Cultures is a documentary journey through three foreign national restaurants in London (Eritrean, Pakistani and Argentinian). Restaurant staff and customers share their experiences of working and eating in the restaurants as the filmmaker examines how “authentic” is understood and how culinary worlds are reconstructed and adapted for a multicultural London audience. Both the restaurant staff and the filmmaker engage in storytelling across cultural boundaries, yet they are charged with the accurate representation of an aspect of real life and bound by claims and expectations of authenticity. The film explores the intricacies of “mediating worlds” alongside the sensoryrich, somewhat touristic experience of “eating cultures”.
The film is successful on its own terms and also as a piece of filmmaking-research into areas dealing with restaurants, multiculturalism, tourism and food. It offers a new way of thinking about documentary ‘authenticity’ and the mediation of actuality by looking at the mediations of restaurant ‘worlds’, in parallel with the processes of constructing a documentary.
As stated in the synopsis, the film is structured around three London restaurants. On one level the film is a portraitimpression of these three foreign national London restaurants. The film works well on this level. Each of the three portraits offers an engaging and insightful look at the staff, food and customer-base of each restaurant.
The central characters in each of the restaurants are well chosen and engaging (the Eritrean brothers from Mosob, the heavy-eyed Pakistani manager from Mirch Masala, the Irish –Argentinian chef from Beunos Ayre) . In each of the restaurants there is also a good selection of interviews from chefs, waiting staff and diners. And there are detailed shots of the decor of the restaurants giving a further sense of the restaurants and their claim to ‘authenticity’ – for example, ‘ethnic’ pots and woven mats in the case of the Eritrean restaurant ; or pictures of Che Guevara and Diego Maradonna in the Argentinian restaurant.
Filming in noisy cramped restaurants is notoriously difficult and from the evidence on screen, the filmmaker has overcome this obstacle very skilfully. The film is technically accomplished in terms of its cinematography, sound recording and editing. The filmmaker researcher has structured the film to flow in a coherent and fluent manner.
But the film goes beyond the postcard observational portrait. In each of the three restaurants, the filmmaker-researcher interrogates the idea of ‘authenticity’ and highlights some of the contradictions and compromises – some would say ‘innovations’– that are made in the name of finding a balance between authenticity and running a restaurant in contemporary London ( for example, ‘starters’ are introduced into Eritrean cuisine; the heat of spices are modified in Mirch Masala; and in Buenos Ayre cuts of beefs are adjusted due to EU import regulations).
As the film progresses, the viewer is offered more nuanced and complicated ideas of ‘authenticity’ and how the restaurants construct this idea. Just as ideas of ‘authenticity’ are raised and made complicated in each of the three segments, so too is the filmmaker’s presence and role in the construction of each story. Early in the film, we hear the filmmaker negotiating a ‘natural’ performance with subjects. Later on, we see and hear the sound-recordist interacting with restaurant staff or negotiating whether to speak on camera in Punjabi or Urdu.
In these reflective moments, the filmmaker-researcher has found a good measure and balance between reflexivity and allowing for the flow of the overall film. And the filmmaking has avoided the dull and annoying trap of too much reflexivity. The viewer knows it is a construction (and we have been reminded of this by Brecht, Godard and a 1001 self-reflective moments in documentary that have followed in their wake).
Although the filmmaker has shown skill and restraint in her use of reflexive moments, I do feel that this is an aspect of the film that is less successful than others. In the Research Statement the filmmaker claims she wanted to “use the film… as tool of enquiry into lived experience of film subjects as well as into documentary filmmaking itself”. Without a doubt, the viewer was made aware of the filmmaking process and it being “interdependent and inseparable from the main subjects of the film”. However, as a tool of enquiry into documentary filmmaking itself, I don’t think the viewer was offered any particular insight or depth.
Similarly, I am not sure if the film managed to reveal much beyond the surface of the “lived experience of the film subjects”. Was the tired weary appearance of the Pakistani manager of Mirch Masala due to the long hours of work and pressures of running a restaurant, or issues to do with his life and family outside of the restaurant? In Australia approximately 70% of restaurants go broke within the first year of their operation. In other words, it is an extremely difficult and fiercely competitive business. I imagine London is just as competitive, if not more.
I understand that the central enquiry of the project wasn’t one looking at the nature of the drama and intensity of the restaurant world. Nevertheless, the “enquiry into lived experience of film subjects” was relatively cool and detached. It didn’t capture the heat of the kitchen the difficulties, drama and passion that is such a large part of the restaurant business. Arguably, the coverage of the three restaurants also lacked close observational detail. This tight coverage could have offered a more lyrical dimension to the ‘worlds’ depicted as well a greater sense of the textures and sensory dimension of these ‘worlds’ (perhaps not one of smell and taste but an aural and visual sense, at least). I offer the above comments not so much as a criticism of the research project per se but as some thoughts and a possible contribution in case the filmmaker does further research in the areas of documentary/ethnography/restaurants /culinary tourism.
Congratulations on the considerable achievements in making the film and on a thoughtful, well realised practice-led research project.
Holly Geisman’s PhD film ‘Eating Cultures’ explores the ingredients of authenticity every documentary filmmaker and critic needs to be aware of. How filmmakers interpret claims and expectations of ‘authenticity’ is critical to the conceptual and creative development of all documentary storytelling. ‘Eating Cultures’ brings an innovative approach to the documentary paradigm by way of attempting a reflexive engagement with restaurant cuisine. The film undertakes parallel investigations into the challenges facing three London restaurants to create authentic dining experiences alongside an analogous challenge facing the filmmaker to mediate an accurate account of the participating subjects. The staff and patrons of three foreign national restaurants in London (Eritrean, Pakistani and Argentinian) openly share their opinions and experiences of how the notion of authenticity relates to their cuisine.
‘Eating Cultures’ predominately adopts an ‘interactive/participatory mode’ outlined by Bill Nichols (1991), with the filmmaker visibly engaging with participants. Reflexive tropes such as ‘outtakes’ and glimpses behindthe-scenes encourage the viewer to consider the authenticity of the documentary itself. Professional video and sound recording equipment occasionally enters the frame and oncamera ringlighting produces an unflattering nightly news appearance, in addition to rendering the food rather unappetizing. Introducing additional lights or utilising a camera suitable to low light conditions may have produced a more appealing aesthetic. The filmmaker ought to be aware that including multiple ‘mistakes’ rapidly becomes detrimental to the overall production and it is possible to evidence production methods artfully.
The preparation of a documentary film being analogous to an authentic plate of food offers a great deal of conceptual and creative potential, however Geisman holds back on the metaphoric significance and instead maintains a cautious but inquisitive distance throughout her journey. Research notes provided alongside the film claim an interdisciplinary engagement with tourism scholarship, and while this may have contributed significantly to the conceptualisation of the project, it is not pronounced in the film itself. Apart from the narrator’s cursory mention of tourism, “armed with my camera like so many tourists”, the aesthetics of the production is more aligned with low budget independent documentary.
Food tourism is one of a number of compelling themes ‘Eating Cultures’ encounters but hesitates to interrogate. A couple of particularly revealing sequences intercut food preparation in the featured restaurants with ‘found’ video material that demonstrate how dishes are prepared in their country of origin. The first of these sequences is provided by an Eritrian restaurant patron (who I feel ought to have been named in the film) who offers Geisman footage in order to demonstrate how the dish is prepared (more) authentically. The second of these sequences features the production of a kind of Pakistani bread and presents a similarly revealing comparison between the restaurant preparation and how it is made in Pakistan, however the unknown provenance of the foreign footage is problematic and undermines the ambitions of the filmmaker. The theme of food tourism might more effectively be explored by the filmmaker leading her own culinary journey to Eritria, Pakistan, and Argentina to produce a comparison on how dishes are prepared there. Alternatively a greater emphasis on ‘found’ material through participant collaboration through phone snapshots or a variety of other media might add depth the investigation. The filmmaking might also consider the visual conventions of food tourism and reflexively explore issues of authenticity through stylistic treatment.
Like many great observational documentaries ‘Eating Cultures’ offers the viewer space to consider the presentation without being overly instructed by the filmmaker. However, I feel a more coherent structure or systematic methodology is needed to achieve scholarly depth. It may simply be a matter of narrowing in on one of the many fascinating themes arising out of encounters with participants, such as; the significance of these restaurants to postcolonial diasporas, the role of memory in what we eat, the difference between commercial and home cooking, visual conventions of food, and a theme I found particularly pertinent to Geisman’s thesis is the significance of the mother figure to authentic cuisine. From basing restaurant menus to their mothers’ recipes, provoking nostalgic memories of dishes eaten as a child, to being the ultimate authority on authenticity, the mother figure appears to be a crucial theme, not to mention potential analogies to the act of filmmaking, but remains a passing discussion point of ‘Eating Cultures’.
‘Eating Cultures’ concludes as an open ended exploration of authenticity in food and filmmaking. Geisman remarks that the tension between fidelity to actuality and the fact of mediation in documentary film will never be resolved. However, I think as a filmmaker or as a critic, the authenticity of a documentary film needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis, perhaps with the nature of the subject matter as a starting point, or perhaps the intentions of the author, but fidelity and mediation need not be irresolvable. For example a film like ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ (2011), which similarly explores a kind of ‘authenticity’ in cuisine, achieves these ends without dwelling on questions of documentary veracity. Geisman refers to Jean Rouch as an inspiration for ‘Eating Cultures’ however I would argue Rouch’s most lasting influence on documentary form is that stories can be entirely ‘madeup’ or performed yet still be authentic. Rouch achieves authenticity through ethnographic rigour, depth of experience, and informed collaborators. Perhaps a greater measure of authenticity in documentary is established ulterior to the film itself, in other words, just like great works of art, provenance provides authenticity.
Author response to reviews
I found these peer reviews to be very useful and wish to thank the reviewers for their feedback. The reviews are particularly informative for me to the extent that they (1) highlight areas of the project that may be of most interest to fellow researcherpractitioners and (2) provide perspectives on how the film works on its own—paired with a relatively brief research statement—in the absence of the full written component of my PhD thesis. I would like to respond to a few of the reviewers’ comments—focusing on two topics that were mentioned by both reviewers. First, the film structure was of interest to both reviewers. Secondly, both reviewers raised questions related to my mention of Jean Rouch’s work and how it informed my research.
There was some disagreement between the two reviews regarding the structure of the film. The first reviewer felt that the film was structured in such a way that it flows in a “coherent and fluent manner”; however, the second reviewer felt that “a more coherent structure or systematic methodology is needed”. In light of these differing perspectives, I thought it might be useful to provide some explanation or rationale for the film structure. Eating Cultures takes the form of a journey with three main stops allowing the viewer to metaphorically travel to three different “worlds” (the three London restaurants) and to spend a little time in each place before moving on to the next—similar to the structure of a tour. This film structure works in harmony with one of my aims—mentioned in the research statement—of exploring the touristic aspects of “eating cultures”. The structure serves to put the film viewer in the position of a figurative traveler—similar to that of the London restaurant customer. In the prologue, London is presented as “the world in a city” where “you can take a kind of culinary world tour without ever leaving London”. Film viewers may take their journey without leaving the comfort of home, office or screening room. The film viewer is also invited to follow the filmmaker’s journey so that the progression through time in Eating Cultures is organized around the making of the film itself. This begins in the prologue and the linking sequence between the Eritrean and Pakistani restaurant episodes—which deal with the recipe for a film, so to speak, and the process of gathering the metaphorical “ingredients” for the film—and concludes with Argentinian restaurant staff watching an early edit.
Another area of interest for both peer reviewers was my mention of Jean Rouch’s work as influential. I consider the ways in which his work informed mine in more detail in my written PhD thesis, but the reviewers have called my attention to the fact that my reference to Rouch in the research statement here is lacking sufficient explanation and requires clarification. My underlying motivations and philosophy are very similar to Rouch’s to the extent that, as Brian Winston see it, Rouch did not approach filmmaking as a means of creating art works and thought less about exhibition possibilities or commercial success than about his primary driving goal of developing “a research agenda into the issues of authenticity and the validity of the documentary idea” (Winston, 2008: 182). Rouch’s way of working toward this aim, however, differed significantly from mine in that the exploration of dramatic techniques was central to his filmmaking—as the second peer reviewer noted. Nevertheless, Rouch and Morin’s film Chronique d’un Été (Chronicle of a Summer) (Rouch and Morin, 1961), in particular, informed my work. Chronique is especially relevant for anyone concerned with authenticity in documentary; it is presented as cinéma vérité—“an experiment in filming the truth” (as subtitled into English from French). This experiment in documentary frames the subject matter of the film—the lives of people in Paris in the summer of 1960. Chronique engages film subjects, filmmakers, and by extension viewers in the task of testing how well the medium of documentary could express or represent life in Paris in 1960. My film frames its subject matter in a similar way as a kind of experiment in documentary filmmaking, and I hoped for a similar type of engagement of film subjects, filmmaker and viewers. What might a documentary filmmaker have in common with people eating and working in the restaurants; what could we discover by working alongside one another sharing both the experience of how the meal in the restaurant is constructed and how “authentic” is understood as well as the experience of making a documentary film together? Like Chronique, my film ultimately presents the medium of documentary film and its relation to truth and actuality as problematic and suggests some of documentary’s specific limitations. My approach to filmmaking, however, diverges from Rouch and Morin’s in terms of the nature and degree of my intervention. Unlike Rouch and Morin, inquiry into the personal lives of film subjects was not my aim. My inquiry was into a different aspect of the lived experience of film subjects; it centered on what occurred in the space of the restaurant during our encounters and in the process of making the film. I focused on observing and interacting with film subjects in their work environments with the central theme of authenticity always in mind.
Chronique D’un Été (Chronicle of a Summer), 1961. Directed by Rouch, J. and Morin, E. France.
Winston, B. (2008) Claiming the Real II: Documentary: Grierson and Beyond.London: BFIPalgrave Macmillon.
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