Frode Storaas: Film and fieldwork

Film and fieldwork

As anthropologists we position ourselves in the midst of people, participate and observe. The fieldwork characterizes anthropology as an academic discipline. Getting there, tune in, hang out and hang on, have been the basic activities for data collection. Fieldwork is a process of discovery based on sensibility to explore how people experience their world. The attentiveness and readiness to follow up what happens when it happens, differ anthropology from other academic disciplines that may have more pre-prepared research plans for their fieldwork.

The day we arrived at Rombo, Tanzania, a tragic incident had taken place in our neighbouring house. A young father had hanged himself. I was accompanying the anthropologist Knut Christian Myhre who had been doing research in the area over the last years. This was my second fieldtrip to this place. During the first visit, the year before, we had planned to document a rare and special rainmaking ritual. The ritual was postponed, but other things happened which resulted in the film called Atali’s Gift. On the second trip we had again hope to document the very special rainmaking ritual. We managed (see The Rainmakers:

However, before the rainmaking we attended the funeral and since the neighbours had known the anthropologist Knut Christian for a long time, and also were aware of his interest for ritual practices, we were invited to document a ritual of purification the family of the deceased went through the following days.

‘Purification’ is a film that follows the steps of the ritual. I recognized elements in the ritual from other rituals that the anthropologist Myhre has analysed, and written about. Being an anthropologist myself in the midst of what goes on, physically and emotionally, I also try to keep an analytical distance, combining anthropological theory and theory of practice, to make sense of it all.

Access to the scene, the ritual, is based on the long and sincere relationship the anthropologist has built over the years of research in the area. His insightful anthropological knowledge of the people characterizes the filmmaking process.


Film as an academic text has its advantages and limitations. This film shows the steps of a ritual, the context of it and the actors. An analysis of the ritual bases the framing and the editing of the film. However, for more explicit explanations and interpretations of the ritual, words are needed, either as placards between scenes or as voice over.