University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > Filming Fore, shooting scientists: medical research and documentary film

Filming Fore, shooting scientists: medical research and documentary film

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During the Cold War, the research film became instrumental in medical science and cultural anthropology, especially in the surveillance and analysis of non-recurring events in isolated or primitive communities. Inspired by the informational cinema studies of Mead and Bateson on Bali and Gesell in New Haven, Gajdusek and Sorenson in the 1960s sought to accumulate a global film archive of primitive communities, focusing on clinical disorders, such as kuru among the Fore people of New Guinea, and patterns of child health and development. Ostensibly objective, the camera was for them a desiring machine, thus relating their archival project to the contemporary experimental film of Warhol and others in New York. Research film should be distinguished from formal documentary film, which flourished in this period, with its emphasis on editorial selection, thematic coherence, and narrative closure. Ironically, and somewhat disappointingly, Gajdusek’s and Sorensen’s research film archive is now used mostly to provide ornamentation and verisimilitude to 21st-century documentary films about the supposed heroics or presumed priapism of modern scientists.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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