What’s Up Doc? Pitt Rivers Museum Documentary

Personal experience of the Museum: Aware of Britain’s inglorious history of imperial plundering, I arrived at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, expecting to hear little of the collection’s colonial back story. However, such issues seemed to be the primary concern of the educational officer, Katherine Rose. She described a number of case studies which demonstrated the cultural and historical sensitivity of the recent museum administration. I became fascinated with how compelled the staff were to highlight the good in the collection. Speaking to them I could sense an affinity towards the spirit of adventure which helped cultivate such a collection. However, this enthusiasm seemed to be fettered by their keenness to emphasize moments in the museum’s history where ethical considerations were implemented or updated. Post-colonial guilt hangs heavy in the climate controlled air, but it’s clear the Pitt Rivers team feel compelled to address the collection’s difficult past, even if it can only happen one case-study at a time.

2 Minute Documentary: Our primary objective on the day was to gather footage for a short film. I was struck by how reflective the space was, quite literally, each exhibit was placed behind protective glass. I captured layered imagery, in-camera, using the reflections of direct light sources and adjacent displays. While interviewing two staff members I could feel my fascination pick up each time Maori artifacts were mentioned. My mother grew up in New Zealand and for some reason I associate the native culture with my childhood.

(If I gain clearance for this film and the support of Pitt Rivers museum it will be made available online)

Manifesto: We were tasked with writing 5 rules one could follow while making a documentary:

  • What does your subject care about? What excites you? Stride towards the centre of that Venn-diagram.
  • Imperfection is interesting. Don’t rehearse, re-shoot, prompt or repeat. Work with what you have.
  • Finnish the film and make another. Perfectionism is a disorder. Do more and get better each time.
  • If it’s being said, don’t show it. If it’s being shown don’t let it be said.
  • There is only so much space on the surface of the film. Place you key messages and images here, but leave gaps for the audience to see below into the subtext. Down there you can build a cavern and fill it with nuance.

Feedback and notes from group crit:

  • Add breathing space in the story.
  • Think about what you want the audience to fee at each moment in the film.
  • Why am I, the film maker, so hidden from the final film? Is there room to show my subjectivity and personal interest in Maori culture.
  • Explore motion stabilization on After Effects to see if it has a positive effect on the footage.
  • Refine the film and present it to Pitt Rivers for clearance.

Author: Alex Widdowson

Animated Documentary Director and Researcher

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