Taking the Long Route: Ethnographic Metacommentary as Method in the Anthropological Film Practice

Abstract of article forthcoming in Current Anthropology, 2019

This article introduces “ethnographic metacommentary,” an experiential, processual, and protracted approach to ethnography. My proposed method goes beyond stating complexity as the defining characteristic of an anthropological project, visual or otherwise. To demonstrate the method, I write an ethnographic metacommentary of my three-minute film “Performing Naturalness” (2008), which is about the surveillance of foreigners in Tokyo. A number of contexts on the film are explored — the political situation from which it arose, the background of the experiment chosen for the project, and genealogies of art practice. The method includes the process of “furtherings” — self-reflexive explorations that unpack aspects of the project that often retreat from anthropological ethnography. Overall, in the process of writing this ethnographic metacommentary, this article explores the nuanced experiences of Filipinos in transnational migration, contributes to the conversation on contemporary Philippine conceptual art and its relationship with anthropology and film/art practice, and fleshes out difficulties of representation in collaborative projects due to differences in intentions and locatedness. I show how ethnographic metacommentary is a productive thought process that fleshes out ruptures in the filmmaking process that are often concealed from the audience, and even from the filmmakers.

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