Brief reflexive analysis of the film

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The documentary «The Cheesemaker» is about a cheese dairy in the rural area of Canterbury, the process of making cheese and the way of life of a young cheesemaker, George.

The structure used is not chronologically processual. This means that there is no intention to follow the chronological steps of making cheese. My intention was, from the beginning, stay away from an ethnographic and educational documentary that simply shows the various steps by which the milk becomes cheese. My purpose was to give a broader view of the life and work of cheesemakers and their motivations. Therefore, although there is some time coherence (for example, one of the first scene shown is the first task in the morning: to get the milk), the images are not strictly arranged in a chronological process.

The documentary begins with abstract scenes of rough textures of the cheese. The reason for not including the title at first has to do with keeping the intrigue about what the documentary is going to be about, and what are those rough textures out of context at first.

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Using the change of music there is also a change to scenes on arrival at the site. The intention of these scenes is to start contextualize the cheese factory in the rural environment in which it is located, as well as to show the outside of the dairy.

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In the central and main part of the documentary two spaces are shown: the dairy itself and the room of cheese ripening. I was afraid about the recording space, because it was very limited (a few square meters), but this allows me to show the viewer the small place where George spends his life. “Each culture and each situation has its definite established modes for handling space and other aspects of behaviour and interaction” (Collier and Collier, 1980, p.64). Cheesemakers move freely in their environment. I have tried to show the little things that form this characteristic space through short shots, following the quote of Rizzo: “The fragments invite us to pay attention less to the exceptional and more to the ordinary, less to the singular event and more to the repetitive and the everyday.» (Rizzo, 2013, p. 336).

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At the end, the same music is used to give a sense of continuity and coherence. Playing with the hole through which the tube enters the milk to the cheese factory, the documentary is finished.

Concrete parts of the interviews have been chosen among many others that could not include in a ten minutes short film. As McDougall noted, the whole reality is unteachable in any documentary: “Films prove to be poor encyclopaedias because of their emphasis upon specific and delimited events viewed from finite perspectives […] The magical fallacy of the camera parallels the fallacy of omniscient observation.” (MacDougall, 1984, p. 123). Some of the not included themes spoken by Gorge are: the importance of cleanliness, the rise of artisans and vegetarian products, the success of their dairy, the origins and the name of the business, sales and events organized by them, contact with other cheesemakers… However, an issue that I did not want to ignore are the paradoxes of legislation in the field of cheese production, about what he speaks on three different occasions. The most absurd situation, explained by himself, is the requirement by law to label the mature cheese with an expiration date, while actually, the older it is, the better will taste. In general, during the editing, my choice has been to use short explanations of the processes and to focus more on the figure of the cheesemaker and their lifes in relation to the profession. The main character is George, which guides the viewer through the different areas and processes. It is a person who reflects the joy and passion with which he works. Through the film the spectator can guess how happy and proud of his cheese dairy and his way of life he is. Naturalness, spontaneity and closeness with him were all a personal achievement as an anthropologist, as I think that the very close ethnographic approach was achieved. I also find very significant the intervention of the older man about his previous work and the difference from his former life and this trade, in which he makes «real work» generating a «real product» at the end of the day.

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On the other hand, McDougall argues inability to record only the Other and pretend that the filmmaker does not exist. «No ethnographic film is merely a record of another society: it is always a record of the meeting between a filmmaker and that society» (MacDougall, in Chiozzi, 1984, p.9). In this documentary I have tried to not avoid that the protagonist is talking to me. For this purpose, an image of myself reflected in a mirror is included with the double function to illustrate the high temperature of the room and to include reflexivity.

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In order to escape from what Henley has called the «despotism of the eye» (2007) and from the criticism by Sarah Pink: «the senses are interconnected and can not be disconnected, but vision has dominated anthropology and ethnography», I have tried to reflect, somehow, the other senses. For example, referring to the touch, several scenes show the different textures of cheese and the importance of tactility in a artisan craft like this. As for the taste, the protagonist himself tries the cheese and there is also reference to other senses like the perception of temperature. This is visually illustrated with scenes like the fogged mirror and window. In short, a broader sense representation is sought, because «as place is sensed, senses are placed; as places make sense, senses make place» (Feld, 1996, p. 91).

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On the other hand, one of the practices pioneered by Jean Rouch was to show the actors the film where they themselves appeared, to be criticized or to receive opinions. In “Jaguar”, the voices of young Songhai immigrants were recorded while watching the documentary, to be included as voiceover. Although I have not reached the level of Rouch, I think essential that the anthropologist perform this ethical practice of showing to the individuals the documentary about themselves. It could happen that they find any error or incongruity, or they could disagree with certain decisions of the filmmaker. The anthropologist should hear these criticisms. In this sense, I asked George his email in order to send him the documentary when it was finished. I think he will be excited to have it and, in a sense, it is an exchange for the time he spent. It is a kind of reciprocity, of «giving» and «receiving», in terms of Mauss. If he could get profitability or use it to broadcast commercial purposes, it would be great, as I would be contributing something useful to the protagonist.

Finally, as to the technical part, the tools used in the process are: a DSLR Canon and a Pentax camera, a unidirectional external microphone and an editing program, Adobe Premiere Pro CS6. I have tried to achieve a creative use of these tools. For example, with regard to the framing of the camera, there is a conscious attempt to move away from the typical frames (for instance, the buts in interviewees). Instead, other frames are used from below, some very sharply, from other perspectives, combining zoom with wider angles.

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Also, in the editing I have looking for dynamism in the structure, cutting the main parts of interviews with other everyday scenes in order to avoid a lengthy uncut monologue. One of the biggest technical problems has been the white balance, which was not properly adjusted so many scenes are more yellow than normal. However, since the yellow colour is associated to cheese, I could use this mistake in my favour to give an overwhelming feeling of warmth and cheese everywhere, which is the actual environment of cheesemakers.

In conclusion, the development and process of making this documentary has allowed me to apply the theoretical and technical knowledge acquired in the two modules of Visual Anthropology Theory and Practice in order to create my first documentary. The film presented is merely the product of a long process of learning during a year, in which the motivation and atmosphere of enthusiasm conveyed in the classes have been as important as the approach to the chosen topic: the artisanal cheesemakers of Canterbury rural area.

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  • Chiozzi, P. (1984)Visual Anthropology, Florence: Usher.
  • Feld, S. and Basso, K. (1996). Senses of place. Santa Fe, N.M.: School of American Research Press.
  • Henley (2007) Seeing, Hearing, Feeling: Sound and the Despotism of the Eye in “Visual” Anthropology. Visual Anthropology Review. Volume 23, Issue 1. March 2007. Pages 54–63
  • MacDougall, D. (1998) Beyond Observacional Cinema. Chapter four.
  • Mauss, M., Cunnison, I. and Evans-Pritchard, E. (1970). The Gift. London: Routledge & K. Paul.
  • Pink, S. (2007). Doing visual ethnography. London: Sage Publications.
  • Rizzo, L. (2013) Shades of Empire: Police Photography in German South-West Africa. Visual Anthropology. Volume 26, Issue 4, 2013 Special Issue: Records of the Subaltern in Colonial and Imperial Societies. Pp. 328-354




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The most recent way of doing Visual Anthropology

Exploring some new forms of how to make Anthropology more approachable and interesting to a wider public I have discovered this amazing website about Delhi and Katmandu (La India). It is an interactive web where you can explore by yourself, choosing among different topics and narratives. There are videos, maps, photos, texts, graphics… I think it is a super interesting way of doing Visual Anthropology and making it public and accesible to everywhere in a really easy way.

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Field diary: a summary of the whole process


So far I have been explaining in other small posts the everyday process of creating my documentary, in a kind of virtual field diary. Now I feel that I need to summarize all these post and provide an overview of all the processes: the choice of the subject, the first approaches to the cheese makers, the filming and the editing. This narration will be accompanied by some personal appreciations, as joys, fears, disappointments or surprises I have been finding though this adventure and from which I have learned a lot.

Reviewing all posts, I can divide the process of making the documentary in four parts: choice of topic, approach to subjects, shooting and editing. As I reflected on the first posts, one of the most difficult tasks was the choice of subject. I could think of many interesting topics that have always wanted to research, but my problem was the limitations of the location, as it would have been very difficult to choose a topic outside Canterbury. At first I thought that Canterbury had few interesting topics to make a documentary. Then I realized that it was not like that at all. I saw all the documentaries on the blog UK Visual Anthropology, made by old students and almost all were conducted in Canterbury or the surrounding area. This was a huge source of inspiration. I started thinking about doing something about student life on campus, the mix of international students or the variety of religions. At the same time I moved from Eliot College to a house in Parkwood with a kitchen, so I started going to town to buy food. So I discovered The Good Shed, the incredible local market in Canterbury that I had not seen so far. As a lover of cheese, I bought one in the cheesemakers section and I started to talk to the man who sold them. I remembered that last year I recorded some footage in southern Spain about a goatherd and cheesemaker. Suddenly, I thought I could make a comparison with those recordings and the British cheesemakers. From there I began to approach the cheesemakers of The Good Shed and to tell the idea to my colleagues and friends, who supported me. Professor Mike sent me links of other documentaries on the subject to think which aspects I would like to include and which not, both technical and content. My fear was making a boring documentary about the process of making an artisan product, since I have seen several documentaries of this style. I returned to the market and explained to the seller, this time a woman who did not want to be filmed, my project. She handed me the email of George, a maker of mature cheese that seems to be very happy and lively with filming. The woman told me that with no doubt he was the person to record. Since the dairy is in the middle of the countryside and can not be reached by public transport, I had the problem of how to get there. Fortunately, a friend who knows how to drive, also an anthropologist, was very interested in living the experience of knowing the cheese factory and the documentary recording. Meanwhile, during lessons with Mike I had learned to use DSLR camera and sound recorders and the creative aspects of the filmmaking process. On the day of filming we went to the address they had indicated to us, getting lost several times by the muddy roads. I was pretty nervous because I did not really know what I would find neither I knew the cheesemaker personally, although we had been sending each other some emails. Since I have seen quite a lot documentaries, I am well aware of the importance of the protagonists: if they are sociable and talkative or shy and reserved, and the willingness and desire they have to be filmed and talk about themselves. In this sense, I could not be luckier. George, a young man of 22 years, turned out to be a very talkative and passionate about his work, so I got long shots in which he speaks without being interrupted by my questions. Another fear was not understand each other properly, as I was expecting a very strong accent, and he could not understand me because I am not a native speaker. Neither was a problem. The things I did not understand at that time I could return them to hear many times as I wanted later, in the editing process. We were there the whole day, following him by the three main rooms: the dairy, where almost all processes are performed, the room where the cheeses are stored to mature and refrigerators where the already packaged cheeses and labeled, ready to sell. One of the best things is that we get a hight level of confidence and close approach, prompting a relaxed atmosphere, which provided the context of making jokes and laughing a lot. This also allowed me to ask him certain things, like to make an introduction of himself at the front of the cheese factory, summarizing everything he had told me, and to record a scene of his face, saying nothing, something that may seem uncomfortable to others. We were so many hours there that the two batteries of the camera, entirely charged at first, went off and I had to use my own camera that I also had taken with me. It is a good camera, but I was afraid about having problems with the different formats. I hadn’t, thank goodness. One of the best things was realizing how useful it was to go with my friend Cecilia. Usually, I tend to think that one works better by itself, because you can decide when and how to do things without having to consider anyone else. However, since my friend is also an anthropologist, it was a great help to come with me because she told me some aspects of which I had not noticed. For example, I was focused on record George all the time, so I did not realize other things that were happening around me. My friend was the one who told me that it would be interesting to record the window of the cheese factory, because of the condensation formed by the temperature difference between inside and outside. This scene was perfect for editing on George’s voice talking about it. In short, another great discovery has been working in team on the field, accompanied by another person who is interested in the subject and has good anthropological and visual criteria.

As I reflected on the posts, the editing was another great learning in order to not trust computers and programs. During the course of Visual Anthropology, Mike had taught us how to use the editing program Adobe Premiere Elements, a relatively easy version, which differs from other programs in not to store videos inside, but on an external hard drive. This provides a faster procedure while editing videos. Throughout the course, I’ve been posting on some technical issues in the section «Learning», both video and sound recording as editing. When I had all the material, I felt quite confident in using the program, as we had done several practices and I had been working on my own. Because I wanted to return to my city, Madrid, when the course finished, I thought I could use the trial version of the program on my computer to edit the film. I started editing in Canterbury on my own computer. Fortunately, in Spain, it occurred to me to export a test video before proceeding with the whole editing. I found that the trial generated a band along the video that blocked the view of the screen. I had to resign and look for another option. The program I got was Adobe Premiere Pro, which is the advanced version of which was used. I’ve always wanted to use this program, but it scared me so much that I never dared even to open it. This setback meant both an opportunity to face a big challenge, so I decided to take it on the positive side and try to use the program as an opportunity. Although the first few days were really hard, in the end I am proud to have done my documentary with this program, that I will definitely use from now on.

In conclusion, different processes, from the choice of subject, the approach to the cheesemakers, the shooting and finally the editing are part of one in which all are essential and interdependent of each other. My virtual field diary has helped me throughout the process to remember the previous steps and to reflect on the development of the learning process, something essential to develop the reflexivity for any anthropologist.

«The moon inside you»

This documentary, made by a former student of Visual Anthropology in University of Kent, is about the taboo of menstruation. I have discovered it in my class because our teacher Mike has shown us the trailer, and I found it so interesting that I have watched the entire documentary. I really recommend it!

Synopsis: Like many other women, Diana has been suffering from problematic periods for years. With every new cycle, the same question arises: “Why the pain and annoyance if I am healthy?” Her initial innocent curiosity sparks off an emotional voyage to the very roots of femininity and life. The Moon Inside You is a fresh look at a taboo that defines the political and social reality of both women and men in a more profound way than society might be willing to admit. Facing the menstrual etiquette with doses of humour and self­irony, the documentary approaches the subject through both personal and collective references, thus challenging our preconceived idea of womanhood.


Solving editing issues

What a relief…I found another editing program that I had long time ago and never dared to use: Adobe Premiere Pro. Actually, it is similar to Elements version, but the professional one. It is the opportunity to face the challenge now!


I have to say that the first day I was a bit lost, because there are too many options everywhere. But in its basis it is similar to Elements. For example, the way it is structured and the locations of the buttons are quite intuitive. My biggest fear is related to the exportation moment but let’s think that… :   🙂


ESPIELLO: International Festival of Ethnographic Film

Time passing. Blue hourglass.

From the 8th to 10th of April, I have travel to the small village of Boltaña, in Huesca (North Spain), to attend to the XIV International Festival of Ethnographic Film. I went two years ago and I loved it. It was the time when I realised that I love Visual Anthropology and that I wanted to do ethnographic films. Now that I am in the process of making the first one, going back to the Festival has been incredibly inspiring. Interestingly, the main focus of the weekend has been the rural live and some new tendencies such as the «neo-rural movement», but also traditional and field professions. This has provided me a lot of ideas of how to approach this professions, communities and rural contexts, as well as different ways of using the technical aspects. Although I cannot add this new learnings to my documentary now (perhaps only in the editing) I have a lot of new ideas to put in practice in further documentaries I’m planning to do. By the moment I have two new topics: one is the perception of smells in the countryside and the lose of them in contemporary city life (I have also started to read about Anthropology of the Senses) and the other one will focus on a person I know: an illegal immigrant in Madrid who has become one of the more successful young artists in the city, and the paradoxes he faces. I only want to finish the course and the exam term to start!!!

…with no doubt, being surrounded by this landscape has activate my mind again:


The village of Boltaña


The River Ara going through the village

 The films I have seen in the Festival are: 

-Since the world was world / Desde que el mundo es mundo – Günter Schwaiger – España / Austria, 2015, 103’

-El viaje inverso – Lorenzo Soler – España, 2006, 82’

-Amama – Asier Altuna – España, 2015, 103’, VOSE

-Un giorno a Wamba / Un día en Wamba – Francesco Mansutti / Vinicio Stefanello – Rep. Dem. del Congo, 2014, 70’, VOSE

-Aprikosenbäume / Albaricoqueros – Irfan Akcadag – Alemania, 2015, 26’20’’, VOSE

-District Zero – Pablo Iraburu / Jorge Fdez. Mayoral / Pablo Tosco – España, 2015, 67’, VOSE

Among them, my two favorites have been «Since the world was world», about the live in a  village in Burgos and «District Zero»about a camp of refugees in Jordania. Here the trailers:


Festival website:

2016 program:

Editing issues

OK. I’m freaking out with the editing program. Stress1

It has turned out that the Trial Version of Adobe Premiere Elements I downloaded creates a horrible band in the middle of the video when it is exported. And I am in Madrid right now!!! That means that I have no way to access to the computer room of Marlow Building. I have to solve this quickly in order to start editing, because the edited footage I had is completely useless.

¿Why we say «cheese» when being photographed?


Today I was having dinner with my house mates and friends Daniella and Sara, talking about the documentary. Daniella is photographer and she has suddenly asked me if I knew why people say «CHEESE» when being photographed. I didn’t have a clue, so I have look for it as I want to know everything related to cheese now, even this little things. I have found interesting discoveries. The phrase appears to have been first used around the 1940s, with one of the earliest references appearing in The Big Spring Herald in 1943: «Now here’s something worth knowing. It’s a formula for smiling when you have your picture taken. It comes from former Ambassador Joseph E. Davies and is guaranteed to make you look pleasant no matter what you’re thinking. Mr. Davies disclosed the formula while having his own picture taken on the set of his ‘Mission to Moscow.’ It’s simple. Just say ‘Cheese’. It’s an automatic smile. ‘I learned that from a politician’, Mr. Davies chuckled. ‘An astute politician, a very great politician. But, of course, I cannot tell you who he was…'». It is though that he was referring to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who Ambassador Davies served under. In conclusion, the in force tradition of saying «cheese» when being photographed seems to not have any relation with the concept itself, but with the sound of the word. However, I have always though that saying «cheese» when being photographed can usually have the opposite effect…in fact, I usually look like the girl above when I say it!!



Mates’ feedback :)

Today I have shown to my classmates some of the footage. I haven’t started to edit it, but I have been able to show some clips. I was thinking on changing the structure of the film, but after watching the footage, they have convinced me to keep going with the original idea. Because of my fear of making a boring documentary, I wanted to change the focus to an specific topic: the cheese makers’ perception of time, using some new footage and an «academic voice» explaining the concept from the anthropological theory. However, both Mike and my class mates have told me that the footage seems really interesting itself and they were curious about the process of making the cheese.

Maybe, I was making everything more complicated…let’s follow my own original idea!!!

REMINDER: I cannot forget to express my gratitude to Mike and my classmates at the end of the film. Their feedback and good vibes in the class are being essential to develop my project, share it with other people, ask for other opinions, and have incredible fun in every single class.