Thursday, November 11, 2010

The 10th Annual Day Labor Cup: An Ethnography


Day Laborers & Futbol, an ethnography

Our assignment was to make an ethnographic film. We employ long takes and traditional observational methods such as using diagetic sound, not using voiceover or dubbing for the translation, and not using music in order to allow the viewer to make their own assumptions about the event. We are also of the school however which does not believe that observational footage can ever be 100% objective and are aware that the choices we made in the filming and editing processes were loaded. We discuss our assumptions and ideas of what the film means within the film in order to show that we were both just observing "to see what would happen" and editing based on what we took away from the experience.

Filming posed to be a huge challenge. I remember last Spring semester the documentarian who made "The Garden" about South Central Farm gave a documentary workshop at Pitzer College. This is before I ever picked up a video camera and was looking for some sage advice.  What I found instead was perplexing.  The filmmaker said that it is imperative that you not be involved in the community/activism that you are filming basically so that you can more shamelessly film what was really going on without feeling responsible for portraying the community/movement in a negative light.  He advocated catching them when they don't want you to, this being something you would not do if you were from within.  I remember feeling uncomfortable with this idea, as the only reason I wanted to film was to document what awesome actions are always taking place, many of which I am involved with.  The reason I am telling this long story is because I found it difficult to film something that I am involved with not because I wanted to be shameless, but because I literally wanted to be involved and not glued to my camera, viewing the event with the kino-eye when I preferred to use my actual eyes.  

Another challenge, which I discuss in the film was the fact that we were unsure while we were there of how we would be framing the film and whether we would use interview or not, so we attempted to interview some players.  However, most of the players I only knew superficially or not at all.  Luckily my friend that teaches ESL with me and worked the last 2 tournaments was there and was very helpful in acting as the anthropologist who had a pre-existing rapport with the men.  Even still, the camera in all of its daunting power, or maybe it was just me in all my whiteness, or I suppose it could be the two of us together, turned many of the guys off from speaking with us about the tournament.  When Sam would say for example, "hey, let's interview that guy," I grew sheepish.  This brings me back to the filmmaker for "The Garden" who told me to be shameless.  I just couldn't do it.  However, by the end of the long day, we actually did have a good amount of footage of the games, the ceremony and a lot of interviews, including of ourselves.  

The experience of being at a Day Labor Tournament was loaded down with camera equipment (however light in physicality) and I was torn between my activist self who just wanted to talk without the invasiveness of the camera, and my graduate school ethnography self who wanted to document the event and share it with my classmates.  I am finishing up a promotional film for the corner I work at which includes much of the footage we didn't use here and it makes me feel good to do that.  It is also great practice in thinking about audience.  For example, this film has English subtitles and the film I am making for the corner has Spanish ones and this film has long takes and no music and the other film has short clips and music overlaid.  As much as our group went back and forth about what our thesis was and how the film should be framed, once Sam and I did the final edits the first thing I said was "high five!"  I think in a typical ethnography there would not be a discussion afterward, but we felt that discussing our experience of the event would help to illustrate the "encounter/clash" between us the filmmakers/graduate students and them the participants/day laborers much like an accompanying article would.  

I have to say, and I am completely biased, that the scene where they are swearing in, is my favorite scene in the film.  However, though I am not sure it quite translated onto film, one of my favorite moments in person was the moment of silence.  I both felt the pain of the group and parts of the crowd as well as their discomfort of being quiet so long.  i think the discomfort of the long take of silence translates but I don't think the pain does.  

Being at the tournament and witnessing the ceremony provided a view of how community is promoted by the organizers by creating a space for critical thinking, education, communication, camaraderie, and affinity amongst the familiar backdrop of soccer.  Throughout the discussions within the group of what the film is about, we always centered around community: soccer and community, politics and community, the day laborers as a community, and the event as a unifier.  Though the ideas are for the audience to interpret, I think through our editing and discussion that at the very least we were attempting to show that the soccer tournament was establishing and maintaining community and unifying people with affinities.  

I really enjoyed working with more people, it took off a lot of the pressure of doing all the filming, translating, brainstorming, and editing by myself but it was also difficult with such a large group to manage time.  I think that if I were to make another film with a group it would optimally be with one other person.  This was an excellent exercise in recognizing all the various elements in filmmaking such as sound (which admittedly, we could have used some help with) and light (what to do on a gloomy, rainy day? I have no idea, but now I know to find out).

The experience of the event and the filmmaking was positive overall as I came away with a lot of new thoughts in my head.  I also came away having learned a lot from the players, my colleagues, the readings on ethnography, and from the practice of being there and experiencing the event and the people.  I think in this particular video, since it is completely in English (though I am prepared to do it again with Spanish subtitles - when I have time!) the film was made for the benefit of ourselves the filmmakers and for our self-education and for the education of our peers.  What they learn however, is up to them.


  1. Marina: Two of your comments seem really important to me. The first, about the difference between sheepish and shameless, is to me, about patriarchy and maleness versus other ethical modes. I have never wanted to be shameless in videomaking, it seems shameful to me, that is always why i want to work in communities of which I am a member. Your observation about what being there felt like, and what it ends up looking like (in the video), is something that only makes sense to peope who make video: that there is a huge gap between them, as if they are completely distinct (and hardly related) things: the being there and the representing. That gap is the place of our best work.

  2. I went to the Torneo last year and, as it was for you, the most moving moment was the oath the jornaleros took. Brought me to tears!