Ethnographic photography and painting precede cinema (Griffith, 2002), but moving images substantially increases the intersection of knowledge regimes and entertainment. The ethnographic film extends the Eurocentric mastery of the gaze and enlarges the colonial enterprise with camera technology. It is not until recently that vision and mastery, with regard to race, representation and visual cultural production, have been analysed within a cross-cultural framework (Pratt, 1992; Stam and Shohat, 1994). This approach has proven successful when dealing with the ethnographic image’s enmeshment of scientific data and popular amusement (Rony, 1996), because it focuses on form and authority, unravelling cinema’s most intricate relationships, namely the interplay between filmmaker, cinematic style and audience. One of the key questions in this research is precisely the issue of authority, as raised in connection with the construction of primitivism, e.g. Robert Flatherty’s Nanook of the North (1922), or questioning power in documentary narratives, e.g. Luis Buñuel's Las Hurdes (1933). To what degree is the ethnographic film of the Baltic region invoking the ‘unequal looking’ regime (Ginsburg, 2002), which has been paradigmatic for filmmakers to follow or break with (as with Las Hurdes)?
The paper will focus on Soviet and Estonian anthropological films. For example, in Journey through Setoland (1913), Estonia’s first filmmaker, Johannes Pääsuke, depicted the cultural peculiarities and traditions of the Setos, a small ethnic group populating the borderlands between Estonia and Russia, or Soviet documentarist Vladimir Erofeyev, who in turn was very much influenced by the pre-revolution ethnographic filmmaker Fyodor Bremer (Izvolov, 1996). Filmmakers, like Konstantin Märska, continued this tradition where cinematography was sensitive to ‘different human types’ (Kärk, 2010). The paper will argue that these early non-fiction filmmakers shaped the future tradition of documentary filmmaking in not only Estonia and Russia but throughout the Baltic region.
Emerging Screen Sites/Sights: Cinema Culture around the Baltic Sea 1895-1920, University of Tallinn/Baltic Film and Media School, 18-19 June, 2014