Inspiration, Reflections and Visual Anthropology

I started thinking about what kind of documentary I would make during the winter holidays, aided by Directing the Documentary, by Rabiger (2015). In chapter 10 the reader is presented with a ‘self-analysis tool’ which led me to become more aware of my notion and conception of Time. I realised that Time is the fil rouge that connects many of the things I do, how I make decisions and what I’m interested in. My relationship with time started at the 22nd world scout Jamboree in 2011. The summer convention is held every four years in a different country and sees Scouts from all over the globe gather for a 2 weeks camp. I was lucky to be there among other 40’000 participants, however being the youngest and less experienced kid of the group contributed to a growing feeling of unsatisfaction, and the idealised image that I could have lived that incredible event in a more meaningful manner, giving all of myself. This in turn led me to swear that from then on I would try to do everything to the fullest. When I came to University it was the right time to put into practice this mindset; my first year I joined countless societies, volunteered, tried to be as outgoing as possible and give my best in my studies. I was literally spinning from one task to the other, from one group of friends to the next, until I had been left with the feeling that I wasn’t actually living those moments to the fullest, but, almost as a perversion, just dipping my toes for a brief moment, superficially in as much things as possible. Thinking through time did not confine itself to the more mundane aspects of life, but continued also in other moments, I have been haunted by the fear of missing the right time, the Kairos. This then led to questions such as: Am I late in life? Am I doing the right

thing at the right moment? And so on… Nonetheless my reflection did not stop at my personal level, I tried to see the bigger picture, and one can safely state that everything is subject to time. One live in time, one act because he or she knows that time is limited… Time becomes one of the most important resources.

To explore a topic such as time, so imbued with sensations and feelings, it made perfectly sense to turn to Visual Anthropology. At the start of the process I wrote on a word document:  ‘I want to convey this idea (feelings of lateness, of missing out, of wasting time, making the right decision, being accountable, being productive and profitable, wanting to do everything and at the same time nothing etc.) through my short movie, and in order to do so I want to combine an idealised day in my week and fill it up with all the situations in which I think about time and this fear of missing out […] for what concerns the camera and how to film I would like to reflect this idea of trying to do as much as possible by having a wide aperture and having a distant camera mounted on a tripod for when I’m in the scene. To express instead the possibility of choice, the idea of being late and the chaos I want audio tracks either to overlap or be recorded with the omni mic whilst the screen will be divided in 4 or more sections depending on the choices that I encounter.’

However, this soon became impossible due to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, the pandemic and the lockdown gave me the chance to slow down and reflect more on my documentary and my relationship with time. I changed the style to reflect a change in my life at the time of filming, in a way the video becomes more connected to the flow of events, and avoids the ‘ethnographic allochronicity’ (the disconnection between the time in which the anthropologist writes and the time in which he was in the field for example) that Fabian argues to be one of the flaws of anthropology.

I also changed my relationship with broader themes of Visual Anthropology; one of the films I had in mind, especially in the beginning was Leviathan (Taylor and Paravel 2012) from the Sensory Ethnography Lab. For this reason, I was planning to have detached and distant scenes with a prominent focus on the audio and the sensory feelings. So that the viewer could feel on its skin the effect of passing of time, the feeling of uneasiness and of frenzy. However, the pandemic-induced reflexivity called for a more prominent presence of myself in the documentary, therefore I decided to include a voiceover, to share my reflections and become more open.

Nonetheless, I am still torn apart between letting the visuals speak for themselves or have a voiceover. In a sensorial documentary the audience is more prone to feel in its bones, and gain knowledge from such experience. Whilst I feel that a voiceover might rob the visuals of their power and steer the audience to understand the documentary not through their ‘heart’ but through their ‘brain’. In the end I decided to go ahead with the voiceover, because although the focus is on time, the second half of the title is Myself; and I didn’t want to lose my experience. First and foremost is a documentary for myself, a memento.  Although I decided to add a voiceover to guide my audience, I still tried to retain unusually long and uncomfortable sequence to convey the sensuous feelings of time. Moreover, in the film I’m always distant, first because so I can convey a feeling of alienation, second because the viewer can still take my place. If he or she is able to feel the slow pace of time, the nausea arising from the alienation of work, then he or she can become almost embodied and thus experience what I am experiencing.


Taylor, L. and Paravel, V. (2012). Leviathan. [DVD] US: The Cinema Guild.

Rabiger, M. (2015). Directing the documentary. Burlington: Focal Press.

Fabian, J. (1983). Time and the other: how anthropology makes its object. New York: Columbia U.P.