Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 3, No. 2, 1990
Communication and Tradition: Essays after Eric Michaels
Edited by Tom O'Regan

Video, realism and class struggle: theoretical lacunae and the problem of power

Keyan G. Tomaselli & Jeanne Prinsloo

Media work by video crews and researchers at the University of Natal, South Africa, is concerned with culture as a process: particularly in the way that the 'underclasses' have, since the early 1980s, released a cultural energy in their struggle to organise resistance to apartheid. 1 This approach has parallels in other countries, notably the work of Eric Michaels in Australia. Michaels' early ideas appear to have been partially derived from Sol Worth's anthropological experiments with the Navajo. 2 This anthropological imperative, driven by a desire for praxis, itself became infused with a political objective through Michaels' marriage of anthropology with politics. 3

However, the Australian and South African political trajectories of resistance are different. In South Africa, the objective is to overcome 'group', 'ethnic', 'racial' and 'language' differences in the development of a 'national culture' which transcends class while being sensitive to class issues and the ideal of working class leadership. 4 Ethnic identifications are found mainly amongst the Africanists in the Pan African Congress (PAC) and in the Black Consciousness movement, but are rejected by the majority of those who constitute the non-racial, trans-class Mass Democratic Movement (MDM), of which the twin motors were the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). By the end of 1989, the African National Congress (ANC) had entered the UDF-COSATU alliance, and became the major political player after its unbanning in February 1990 as the National Party government groped towards an internal settlement. Further, the struggle in South Africa is an urban-based one, rather than of a rural nature. 5

Participatory Video

Participatory video is a contentious idea. Conventional production categories and professional common sense ensure that subjects are denied access to production decisions and technical skills. Professional ideology is scornful of narrow gauge film or non-broadcast video formats. Production is technologically complicated and should, according to this logic, be entrusted solely to the trained and experienced. The crew thus vests solely in itself the power to determine the nature of its relationship with subject-communities, which we define as self-constituted groups which have engaged video makers. 6 Video is a class-leveling medium. It puts illiterate viewers and producers on a par with their literate counterparts", 7 hence the professional jealousy.

The roots of participatory film production in the West can be traced to John Grierson's British documentary movement of the '20s and '30s. Grierson positioned middle class film makers between conventional cinema and their working class subjects. This signaled a fundamental shift in attitude between filmmakers and their subject actors. During the mid-'30s, the Bantu Kinema Educational Experiment attempted to "create a cinema produced by and for the peoples of East Africa". 8 Mindful of this early work, 9 we will attempt definitions of 'community' and 'community video' and what is meant by 'participatory video'. We will discuss how and why questions of accountability are fundamental to production practices, whether developed from 'inside', or external to, the subject community. At root, the power relationship that always arises between crew and subjects, no matter what the intentions of the video makers, is addressed. Our discussion, inevitably, raises more questions than it gives answers. But if we recognise that our theoretical tools cannot be applied outside politics and ideology, then we have no choice but to confront difficult questions and issues in relation to real people suffering under oppressive social arrangements.

Who Constitutes a Community?

Too often, the idea of 'community' is fetishised as an 'object'. It is therefore assumed to exist as a reified given. This is a problem which is found in the publications of the World Bank and other development agencies, and articles in some ecumenical journals. 10 The Bank suppresses subaltern class imperatives, moulding them in the interests of capital and the state, while the ecumenical journals, many at the forefront of popular democratic media developments, necessarily underplay class imperatives because of negative attributions to historical materialist analysis by their constituencies. 11 Whether one is talking about 'Christian communities' or class-based communities, the term is politically malleable. An example is contained in South African state discourse which prefigures 'black', 'white', 'coloured' and 'Indian' communities. These have been entrenched by state edict, although they have to some extent now 'taken on a life of their own'. Semantic engineering reinforced by political structures can create new entities.

Within the MDM, a 'community' refers to how groups of people suffering a common oppression organise themselves. But, what exactly is a 'community organisation'? This question is fundamental in South Africa where such organisations have contributed to driving the state into a period of extended crisis. What are the class implications of these categories? And, what is the relationship between "a community of common struggle" 12 and the material processes of 'class struggle'?

Rhetorical use of 'community' disguises class, race and gender relations and disputes, offering an immunity from these potentially disruptive - but vital - sites of domination and resistance. To talk about 'black', or 'white'communities, for example, is to perpetuate apartheid categories, and to suppress from sight social stratification and resultant tensions and conflicts within these groupings. Such a reified use of 'black' is often evident in the discourse of the Africanists and Black Consciousness groupings. 'Black' and 'white' are nothing more than agglomerations of people who actually have very little in common, whoever defines them. Organisations within communities cohere around immediately specific interests, and are thus often manifestations of competing political objectives and class dynamics.

'Progressive community organisations' are self-constituted associations actively opposed to oppression. They eschew coercion as an organising principle, and identify with the aims of democratic social movements. 13 Basic questions which identify the type of democracy within organisations include the following. Who has the authority to make decisions?Who gives the authority to that person or people? Are those people who have authority accountable to the people who gave them authority? 14

Problems arise, however, when organisations are themselves sites of struggle between progressive and conservative factions both within and between organisations. How to work with such groups without splitting them, while simultaneously facilitating democratic alternatives, is as yet an unanswered question. 15

What is 'Community Media'?

Some critics place community video in the realm of awful and boring 'home movies' 16 : "They see community media as a primitive stage, a temporary phase which patiently and longingly anticipates the benefits of dominant media and its associated high technology". 17 Such critics tend to emphasize product - that is, video form. Participation, however, privileges strategy in political organisation. This crucial distinction often disintegrates in the practice however. But if strategy is emphasized, then there is the danger that the product may become irrelevant. The notion of the audience is overlooked. This approach omits the Brechtian aspect of pleasure and popularity for effective political action of this nature. In other words, without active audience engagement, effective mass mobilisation does not occur. Community videos do exhibit traces of what Criticos terms as "messiness" 18 and what Brazilian Glauba Rocha calls "films of discomfort": "The discomfort begins with the basic material: inferior cameras and laboratories, and therefore crude images and muffled dialogue, unwanted noise on the soundtrack, editing accidents, and unclear credits and titles". 19 Little changed with the introduction of VHS or Video-8. Though recent technological advances make anything possible, the possibility of making anything, is not always possible. Form is usually taken for granted, video makers often paradoxically undermining their own premises and political positions by using dominant commercial broadcast codes to construct oppositional messages. The content of an Aboriginal CAAMA television magazine programme screened at the 3rd International Television and Video Festival, Montbeliard, France in 1986, for example, showed a disturbing potential for co-option through the use of dominant television codes and flow in some parts. The symbolism used was a mixture of commercial television, MTV, conventional magazines and amateurism. Only the last exhibited any overt and recognisable anti-imperialist encoding as it broke with the dominant codes. The audience was unable to easily link this conventional coding with the statements made by two Aboriginal delegates that Aboriginals are 'different' and 'should speak for themselves'. 20 In other words, this verbal discourse of 'cultural difference' was not evident in the media discourse.

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Formalistic ideological seduction by the gizmos, the special effects, and automatic self-correcting functions, often displaces video makers from their raw material, from subaltern class experiences, and local histories. Video technology directs producers down ideologically predictable paths, resulting in an insider's private duplication of prevailing world views. Formalism - whether technological and/or aesthetic - privileges technique over exploratory content, dialectical coding and consultative production practices. In other words, a particular social relations of communication accompanies both technology and the conventions and genres which structure content. In the United States, television advertisers have even co-opted the codes of amateur video to make their messages stand out from the gloss now so easily encoded on even the most basic home video cameras. The appearance of technological naivity is intended to look like home- cooked realism, thereby re-establishing an empathy between consumers and products.

Community videos are not like home movies. 'Discomforting form' they may share, but more people watch community videos than 'home movies' - for different reasons. Proletarian audiences have high political expectations of video. Home movie viewers expect very little. Where home movies simply are illustrative and suppress ideological critique, community videos confront the pain of life. They are less concerned with images of happy family occasions, side-splittingly funny events as selected from 1:100 ratios for America's Funniest Home Movies (1990), and rituals than they are with community relationships which contest dominant versions of reality. When such videos are illustrative, they focus on alternative issues and on celebrations of resistance. They are orientated to forging a fundamentally different society to that which currently prevails.

Ideological purity alone does not make for good video. However, even within the "archaic Maoism" of some examples of 'community video', 21 theories of form, production and practice are emerging. Theorist/producers have battled against the stream in that most video makers think of their cameras as windows looking on life as it is. They thus collapse the distinction between two forms of coded reality - that of life and its re-representation on screen. This prejudices dialectical communication in that alternative uses of video or communication are concealed. 22 It entrenches the one-way linear relationship between senders and receivers and prevents "emancipatory media use". 23

The collapsing of codes, the conflation of the signifier into the signified, results in a post-transformation realism being imposed on the antecedent pre-transformation realism. In post-revolutionary societies in Africa, for example, media structures remain uni- accentual, authoritarian, distant and inaccessible to the popular classes. Left-wing rhetoric was substituted for right-wing rhetoric. Structures have not changed; who gets media access (the powerful) has not changed, though who has became powerful, has sometimes changed. The relationship of the state to the people has not therefore shifted fundamentally. These problems tend to replicate themselves at the micro level in community media. Summing up, Criticos argues that community media (CM) are not:

primitive media; low technology; about communities; produced by a community member, nor is it media produced for a community. All or some of these my be present in CM, but their presence does not constitute CM. 24

Criticos's idea of 'community media' is close to the concepts of 'group media' and 'media for group communication'. Group media is "Any medium which can foster the process of group interaction through communication based on the life situation of the group members, and sharing of personal experiences that will lead to common endeavors and actions". 25 A community is drawn together by the media, which is the means for mobilisation. Attempting to theorize 'community' Criticos continues:

CM is COMMUNITY IN MEDIA ... community takes priority over media. Community in media means that the community, i.e. a community of common struggle, has collective and democratic engagement in the contents, production and distribution of CM ... CM explores the development of collective production methods and collective creativity. 26

This problematisation of the idea of 'community' is a significant advance on earlier South African media work. Certainly, in some cases, a mutually enriching interfacing between praxis-oriented academics and subject-communities and progressive organisations is showing some significant theoretical and empirical results. 27

How Participatory is 'Participation'?

While great strides have been made with regard to providing channels for disadvantaged and repressed communities, 28 even transforming the relations of production, 29 some claims for the 'organising power' of community media tend to be self-validations of a 'closed discourse' derived from taken-for-granted assumptions about class. Academics and Church grassroots' communicators' social positions are those of intellectuals 'removed' from 'the community'. While desperately seeking a 'connectedness' (even if mythological), they tend to create a discourse about 'the community' which has more to do with their own positions in society than with actual situations on the ground. Writing about a video on super-exploited black feature film actors in Natal, South Africa, Criticos, for example, observed that the actors:

developed a collective understanding, a collective consciousness of the issues ... they started to look towards ways in which they might organise themselves to address their individual and collective plight. This led the actors to explore the possibility of establishing a Black actors' union. 30

This never happened, despite subsequent attempts by Tomaselli through both the SA Film and Theatre Union (actors) and the SA Film and TV Technicians Association (SAFTTA), and working through the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU - a Black Consciousness federation). A NACTU official tried to persuade the actors to meet with the film unions. The initial request for meetings with these unions did not come from the actors themselves, but from the white video maker. Eventually, only one fearful actor met the SAFTTA representative. These actors preferred to risk their lives and limbs under existing work conditions than jeopardize their jobs for the greater good. They refused to permit the public screening of their interviews. Interviews with the white exploiting technicians and producers showed them to be aware of the effects of their employment practices, but they too proscribed transmission. The potential to force change died.

A fundamental issue raised by participation lies in who initiates videos. If initiation arises as a result of newsworthiness or sensationalism as perceived by the filmmakers, this assumption needs scrutiny. Again, the notion of audience and what the video means to it, needs to be fully theorized. Video makers must be sensitive to the implicit danger in simply sparking a temporary awareness to be replaced by further total acquiescence to the status quo, resulting in a heightened sense of subordination and helplessness. Rarely do we read about failure and learn from it. A premature celebration of the democratic potential of new technologies usually precedes the belated realisation that the potential for social control and more channels simply provide more of the same information, often removing it from the public domain, and commoditising it. Small format video does seem to have broken through this commoditising chain of advanced capitalism and placed a certain media control in the hands of ordinary people. 31

The Lamontville video made with the Contemporary Cultural Studies Unit (CCSU) also opened up new horizons in production practices, but the now technically empowered comrades have yet to mobilize people in the area through systematic distribution and discussion. The follow through of "group interaction" (in Muller's terms) has yet to permeate outwards from the cultural organisation itself. Amongst the black film actors, group interaction ceased and conscientisation died when the video makers moved on to other topics. In Kat River - the End of Hope the 'community is IN the video' and the 'video (was) IN the community' - but this made no difference to their immanent dispossession or ability to organise themselves into a 'community of resistance'. The video now is merely a popular memory for the dispersed community and a text for academic analysis. These examples emphasize problems in relationship with subjects, and conception of audiences in relation to mobilisation and organisation.

Intermeshing Theory and Practice

A structured community participation in production is one way of limiting tensions between form and process, and facilitators (video makers) and disadvantaged and oppressed subject-communities. 32 However, the camera and technical processes remain in the hands of the facilitators. This raises problems concerning the nature of the relationships that develop, crew assumptions about the composition, cohesion and nature of the 'community', issues of form, and questions of power. Of the Bantu Kinema project, Seth Feldman warns that "the best way to screw subjects may be to emphasize their participation in a project to the point where the complex interactions between maker and subject seem obvious or, worse yet, seem to disappear". 33 In other words, if community video makers aim to catalyse constructive processes resulting from their encounter with communities, then they need to theorise the nature of that encounter and to acknowledge the power structures and relationships that develop.

Theory can be put into practice by responding to briefs provided by community organisations, rather than by outsiders imposing topics on their subjects. A dialectical redefinition not only of video/filmic codes, but of participatory production practices and new interactive relationships with audiences, subject-communities and/or clients is emerging across the world. The emphasis is on a continuing process; the product is the vehicle facilitating that process. The video gains its ideological resonance in terms of the web of relationships it documents, in terms of how it came to be produced, and as a command to move towards a democratically structured future.

Video and democracy

Ideally, community video is the community speaking to itself. Success occurs when the crew enters into 'comradeship' with the subject community through empathising with its ideology and struggle for survival. But certain crucial problems remain.

Questions Pertaining to Power Relationships:

* What is the crew's perception of 'the community'? Is the community homogeneous? Is it divided? If so, in what ways? How did this happen? What criteria guide the crew's choice of factions with which to work? In Holland, for example, the Dutch Institute for Community Development (NIMO) has moved beyond the American concept of 'public access' to that of 'affirmative access' which provides a voice to segments of society lacking entry to the media. 34

* How and in what ways does a video intervention change the power relationships and social networks within the subject-community? A fund raising video for Durban's Community Arts Workshop catalysed processes which led to the withdrawal of resources by the Durban City Council, which did not want to be reminded of the gross inequalities which exists between white and blacks in the city. This might be argued to be a negative result, but the effect was to stimulate a self-reflection within the Workshop itself about its lack of consultation with the communities from which its students came, and certain authoritarian tendencies within its management. Though the Workshop no longer exists, moves are being made to re-establish it within the democratic culture that has been forged within the MDM. 35

* Do video makers accidentally empower one faction of the community over other factions? Was this a motivation for requesting a production? How can video be used to transcend factionalism?

* How does this sectional empowerment, often one that is gender specific as well, affect the community as a whole?

* Does this selective empowerment happen because of the crew's naivete and failure to understand dynamics in that social formation? If so, how are film makers/video crews to deal with this?

* How to deal with unrealistic expectations. Uncritical exposure to commercial and state television leads to criticisms like those aimed at Imijondolo: Durban's Shadow Suburbs (1989), on growing and massive squatter settlements: 'why are there no aerial shots?' That the hire of a helicopter for one shot would have cost more than the entire production, was not understood by proletarian audiences.

* CM contests the idea that only VIP's, and these generally males, get onto TV. But too much emphasis on community organisers can elevate them to this status. Such leaders are the most articulate in the community and find themselves speaking for those who are less articulate or don't speak the language of the producers. Of a follow-up participatory video on the history of resistance in Lamontville (1989), the student crew and the Lamontville Unity for Cultural Activities (LAUCA) developed contextualising devices to retain imaged relationships between spokespeople and history:

The primary technique used was the continual overlay of contexts. For example, the history of Lamontville within the context of South Africa since the early 1920s; the history of various individuals within the contest of Lamontville; individuals within their immediate surroundings; ideas and ideologies within the physical world and the context of the production itself. 36

* How to address audiences where emotion is prefigured over analysis?

* How to ensure accountability of crews/facilitators to subject-communities?

* How to prevent the crews/facilitators from becoming their own subjects?


The MDM built an extensive network of accountability criss-crossing cultural, media and political organisations and production programmes, from local grassroots initiatives (like LAUCA) to national structures like the UDF and COSATU cultural desks. Researchers and crews learned how to negotiate within these structures, if they were not already part of them. We do not mean that researchers must subordinate themselves totally to the MDM, but rather that the asymmetrical power relations that often exist under the guise of research be brought into the open and that these be negotiated with communities. For example, while LAUCA's need for a finished product was fairly urgent for its members to facilitate their political and cultural work, for the CCSU it became possible to sublimate this urgency to an analysis of process. 37 But LAUCA would not have been happy with a conventional video production even if it could have afforded one. Conventional top- down production procedures and professional ideology are an anathema to LAUCA's understanding of culture. Participatory production and CM takes a long time to complete and a loss of interest could result from less committed activists or community organisers.

Questions Pertaining to Audience Reception

* What class and gender issues are entailed in "community review" of productions? "Local control" by a relatively isolated Aboriginal group to ensure non-violation of traditional law and sacred material is possible, 38 but in urban industrial situations, under apartheid, issues become much more complex, class-related and contradictory and conflictual. For example, the Lamontville 'community' of 30 000 people is divided between UDF affiliates and its mortal rival, the Zulu Inkatha movement allied to the state, as well as thugs and gangs infiltrated by the Security Police and used to attack LAUCA members and UDF activists, those who don't belong to Inkatha, and the apathetic.

* How to address audiences where emotive responses obstruct analysis.

Black township audiences often erupt in cheering, sloganeering and lengthy toyi-toying (freedom dancing) when they watch action-packed anti-apartheid films. But this kind of response makes it difficult for them to relate to, or understand, films which carry their messages in more abstract ways.

Questions Pertaining to a Technical/ideological Point of View:

* How can the power of determining form be ceded from the video makers to the subject-community? In other words, what happens when video makers work with people who lack experience in video production or analysis? What happens when they get their 'hands on' the equipment? In Holland, NIMO recognizes a trend towards "controlled professionalisation" which will exclude those lacking basic expertize, while Jakubowicz advocates "de-professionalisation". 39 The Maoist option would result, complains Basckin, in "travesties of communication ... they are all of a piece with consigning ballarinas to the paddy fields and swineherds to the stage of the Peking Grand Opera. 40 In Brazil, the Kayapo "are asking questions about the organisation and the (video) format to be used ... Though most ... are illiterate ... they have developed incredible skill with the camcorder". 41

*What are the semantic implications of facilitators ceding access to equipment? These can be significant as discovered in experiments with Navajo Indians in the United States, 42 Inuits in Canada, 43 Australian Aboriginals 44 and the Bantu Kinema project. Editing structures, sequence and rhythms, form and emphases often contradict video conventions, resulting in totally different messages arising where communities or individuals are ceded the power of production.

* What are the ideological implications of withholding access to equipment? Michaels' example of Aboriginals and a national broadcasting service which agreed to a collaborative approach resulted instead in the subject-community being "kept resolutely in front of the camera, ... and never (getting) behind it". They thus "learned very little about the mysteries of commercial production" and lost control over images taken from them. 45

* Conversely, what are the ideological implications of granting access to equipment? Lack of experience in manipulating the equipment can all too easily result in a product which the participants themselves judge as inferior by referring to the only criterion they might know, that of professional broadcast television, thereby proving a further potentially depowering exercise.

* Community media foresees the relationship between facilitators and the community/client organisation as continuing, until the latter is no longer dependent on the former. How is this withdrawal affected if only individuals within factions within communities are trained to use video? How will the newly trained individuals use their new found media power?

* The finished edited product is not always appreciated by popular audiences who get bored with analysis and talking heads (unless they are the owners of the talking heads). How to introduce analysis using the codes of popular culture and everyday experience?

* The 'community In media' approach is not easily replicable on a mass scale. But the introduction of a high technology medium as a method of 'community actualisation' raises the question: are there not less complex technologies and approaches that would work just as well?

*Required is a redrawing of boundaries within which participatory video is used. Video workers need to come to terms with the obvious constraints of limited access to technology and professional skills, and to develop new production practices. A parallel focus should be a movement away from video programmes as educational/political tools within themselves to the development of viewing contexts that use video programmes as catalysts/facilitators, with educational and political processes emerging beyond the programmes themselves. This approximates the idea of 'Third Cinema'.

Problems of Class: Crew-Community Relations

Community facilitators are usually structurally from the dominant classes. But they are alienated from this hegemony. It is therefore necessary for them to analyse their own class interests and agendas. Individual motivations for co-operating with 'a community of common struggle' cannot be taken for granted. Motivations can be altruistic, individualistic, selfish, power related or materialistic, each masked by the process of struggle but perhaps also not always in the interests of collective struggle. The black actors were not, for example, a 'community of common struggle', though this might have occurred had the video process intercepted a basic working class consciousness. When the conventions of documentary with its indexical images and those of realism combine there is a loss of a sense of contradiction and dialectic beneath an apparent unity of collective memory.

Materialist Film: Class Codes

Jean-Paul Fargier uses the term 'materialist' for a class senstitive cinema methodology which engages and contests dominant codes, conventional production practices, and the assumption of passive homogeneous audiences. 46 Fargier's dictum that "In the cinema the communication of knowledge is attendant upon the production of knowledge about the cinema", provides a way of satisfying the antagonistic approaches of Criticos and Jakubowicz (pushing empowerment to its limits, stopping short of Maoism by withholding or supervising access to operating of technology) and complaints about 'discomfort' and amateurish form (coincident with liberalism).

Aesthetic sophistication is not necessarily 'bourgeois', and therefore counter-revolutionary, but imposing conventional television codes on material that demands organic representation of indigenous class and cultural experience is a problem. The differences between the materialist and 'community IN media' approaches occurs mainly in the former's emphasis on how the relations of production of form come about. This method dialectically redefines form through oppositional encoding deriving from the organic situation itself (which can include subject-generated images and codes). It also constantly questions the nature of the encounter and new relations catalysed by the video team.

Reflexivity: Admitting Assumptions

Reflexivity is a way of encoding crew assumptions in a programme to alert both subject-community and audiences as to how meanings have been constructed. It is a form of distanciation that foregrounds the video makers' own voices and ideology. While such videos might be accused of providing exposure for their makers, this identity is always present no matter what the codes used. Reflexivity problematises the crew-content relationship in order to come to terms with it. If the Navajo subject- generated films facilitated by Sol Worth indeed say more about the state of American anthropology at the time than they do about the Navajo, 47 then the crew-content relationship must be critically examined.

Reflexivity also provides an ethical framework. An example is I am Clifford Abrahams, This is Grahamstown (1984) which develops a methodology by the mainly white crew from the privileged middle class making a video about structurally imposed poverty in black townships. Media displacements of class, experience and history are less likely to occur under these production conditions. What ideological displacements do occur are acknowledged where known. An excellent example of reflexive reporting is The World is Watching: Press in Nicaragua (Investigative Productions, Canada). These videos constantly proclaim 'this is a video; this is how we are constructing meaning; this is how meaning has been constructed by our subjects; this is an interpretation'; rather than pretending to be telling 'the truth' which exists independent of encoding, mediation and decoding.

Editing as Imposition

Editing is taken for granted. However, editing is itself code-bound in terms of the technological structure of the medium. Editing brings with it certain ways of seeing and encoding as well as preferred readings of content. By refusing to edit a video it is possible to deny the codes and limitations of syntagmatic form. Interpretation then becomes solely the job of audiences.

Communication will not occur unless the content of the video intercepts community experience. In other words, how do subaltern communities represent themselves on their terms rather than in terms of inherited stereotypes and paternalisms that so often accompany image technologies? This is the question with which this paper started. However this approach does not take into account the issue of authorship and accepts conceptions of the spectator-text relationship that asssume the position of the camera operator and spectator as one. Michaels, for example observes of a tape made of meetings between an Aboriginal community and education authorities: "the tapes were unquestionably authentic because of the images and because it was known that they were taken by Aboriginal camera people". 48 This credibility might well have existed where affected aboriginal viewers were concerned, but Michaels' assertion begs a theoretical explanation.

Editing as a Material Practice

We do not imply that editing is problematic per se. When classical patterns of apparently seamless editing and continuity are employed, the position of the author is effaced. However, in the course of film history, oppositional structures to classical forms have developed a body of practices that derive from the potentials offered by editing. These forms of editing are self-conscious and draw attention to themselves and their material nature. Soviet montage bears testimony to a political and material practice that is totally dependent upon editing as do parallel plot structures that demand cognitive and comparative responses from audiences.

Oppositional practice encourages a multiplicity of viewpoints. It needs to take on board the lessons learnt in the body of film theory which are alert to issues of emotional identificatory processes and the issues of popularity and pleasure that have been obscured often in the midst of earnest academic theorizing. To do all this and to maximize participation is the challenge for this kind of production.

Oppositional Encoding

Oppositional encoding which displaces and inverts dominant codes can be used to empower the disempowered at a textual level if nothing else. In Kat River - the End of Hope, visuals of white cabinet ministers guilty of dispossessing a coloured peasant farming community in the Ciskei bantustan are not shown. Rather, the camera reveals the many letters written by the local school teacher to these ministers. He reads relevant parts from them - and the camera simply watches - the editing between shots of the teacher and close-ups of the letters put the power to define meaning in his court, not that of the ministers.

More Questions than Answers

Participatory video maximizes transfer of skills to the subject-community, ensuring that the relations of dependency that develop between professional crews and their subjects, disempowering the latter, are prevented. That is, the crew must actively disengage themselves from the position of power, created through an asymmetrical knowledge of skills and theory and ownership of video technology.

Reflexivity on the part of the crew and problematising the relationship between the academy and the mainly working class community vis-a-vis democratic national social movements is a necessary element of analysis. Other forms of materialist or oppositional encoding need to secure active rather than passive viewing.

Certain questions remain, however. Michaels' conflation of camera/operator/viewers is one. On the Bantu Kinema Experiment Feldman cautioned on the possibility of authentic subject-generated film: "the members of a community video group tend to spend a good deal of time trying to prove to their neighbours that they are still one with the community despite the fact that they are taking its picture. The neighbours know better". 49 And Cal Pryluck's discussion of the ethics of documentary film making with regard to the adversorial relationship between crew and subjects, a point also made by Feldman, is inconclusive, in that not all subjects, perhaps even crews, are able to perceive ethical violations. 50 Showing films to their subjects as done by anthropologist Jean Rouch and film maker Robert Flaherty is but a first step. They still have no control over how they are imaged. Some, like George Stoney, and Graham Hayman who edited I am Clifford Abrahams, systematically incorporated suggestions by their subjects at various stages of editing. But, if Feldman is correct, then so too is Pryluck, "Ultimately we are all outsiders", whether the video is subject-generated or not. This theoretical impasse has yet to be broken, but Paul Hartley and Criticos have suggested that participatory research (or video) is conducted in alliance with the researched and is a practice which links analysis, action and the development of a collective consciousness. 51

Another issue is the unexplained remark of a "top British film maker who watched a Kayapo cameraman shooting the same scene that he was". He told anthropologist Terence Turner of the "extraordinary ability of the Indian" to select the "identical camera positions to that of a British professional". 52 This statement raises all kinds of epistemological questions, and also assumes that the BBC style is the 'correct' and 'truthful' one - the Kayapo 'do it just like us'.

These kinds of heady statements are too often slipped into articles without elaboration or theorisation. The excitement of 'doing', however, should not blinker media workers as to 'what' is being done. Community struggles and videos are themselves located within regional, national and international processes, and the technology being used is not neutral. These questions should always be born in mind when writing about local experiences, particularly where those experiences are being mediated by forms of expression and technology introduced from outside groups or communities.

Production is not necessarily the prime purpose of community video. It facilitates a process of community organisation, of conscientisation of both the producers (if external to the community) and the participating community itself. This ideal often becomes diluted in the doing because of apprehensions about the safety of equipment in unskilled hands, naive assumptions about the subject-community's internal dynamics and relation to class issues, and uncritical acceptance of form.

Though we have raised more questions than provided answers, these are questions which inform our practice and which are very much part of MDM discourse. Video makers need to be sensitive to these questions ensuring that they don't become part of the problem.


Acknowledgements: We are indebted to P. Eric Louw and Warren Parker for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

1. P. Eric Louw, "The Alternative Media Project". In Blacquiere, A. (ed): Proceedings of a Seminar on Socially Relevant Research at the University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg: Univ. of Natal, 1989), p. 26.

2. Eric Michaels, and F.J. Kelly, "The Social Organisation of an Aboriginal Workplace". In Bongiovanni, M. (ed.): Programme: 3rd International Video and Television Festival (Montbeliard: Centre d'Action Culturelle de Montbeliard, 1986), pp. 89-93.

3. Eric Michaels, For a Cultural Future: Francis Jupurrurla Makes TV at Yuendumu (Sydney: Artspace, Art & Criticism Monograph Series, v.3, 1988).

4. Keyan G. Tomaselli and Mewa Ramgobin, "South Africa and the Freedom Charter: Culture and Violence", Enclitic (Fall 1988), pp. 86-94.

5. This does not deny the need for, and role of, rural mobilisation.

6. This article develops the ideas first published in Keyan G. Tomaselli, "Transferring Video Skills to the Community: The Problem of Power", Media Development 36, (1989), pp. 11-15.

7. Sara Stuart, "Access to Media: Placing Video in the Hands of the People", Media Development 36 (1989), p. 7.

8. Seth Feldman, "Viewer, Viewing, Viewed: A Critique of Subject- Generated Documentary", Journal of the University Film Association, 29 (1977), pp. 23-26, 35-36.

9. See, eg., Media Development, special issues, 'The Video Revolution' 32 (1985), and 'Video for the People' 36, (1989); and Group Media Journal's issue on "Coming to Terms with the Video", 6 (1987).

10. See, eg., Sara Stuart; Christine Ogan, "Video's Great advantage - Decentralised Control of Technology", Media Development, 36, pp. 2- 5; Also see Di Scott and Costas Criticos, "Hanging up the Nets: The Documentation of the Removal of the Durban Bay Fishing Community". In Edgard Sienaert (ed.) Catching Winged Words: Oral Tradition and Education (Durban: Oral Documentation Centre, University of Natal, 1989). Also see, J O'Sullivan-Ryan, "Community Video Fights for Latin American Culture", Media Development, 32 (1985), pp. 24- 26.

11. One notable exception is Robert White, "Networking and Change in Grassroot Communication", Group Media Journal, June (1989), pp. 17-21. This paper focuses on popular communication in South America. This Journal is particularly responsible for fostering both regional and African-wide initiatives and theorisation of grassroot cmmunication in underdeveloped and undemocratic societies in the Third World.

12. Costas Criticos, "Community IN Media", in C. Criticos, (ed.) Experiential Learning: Informal and Non-Formal Education (Durban: Media Resource Centre, University of Natal, 1989a), pp. 35-46

13. Keyan G. Tomaselli, Ruth Tomaselli, P. Eric Louw, and Ansuya Chetty, "Community and Class Struggle: Problems in Methodology", Journal of Communication Inquiry, 12 (1988), pp. 11-25.

14. A. Steyn, and Shirley Walters, The Struggle for Democracy (Bellville: University of Western Cape, 1986), p. 16. 15. See case study by CCSU on a Zulu-language Catholic community newspaper: "Community and the Progressive Press: A Case Study in Finding Our Way", Journal of Communication Inquiry, 12 (1988), pp. 26-44.

16. David Basckin, letter (1.10.1988) sent to Weekly Mail. Published in shortened form on 7-13 October, 1988.

17. Criticos, "Community IN Media".

18. Costas Criticos, "Group Media: a Creative Response to Censorship", Group Media Journal, 8 (1989b), pp. 22-24.

19. Glauba Rocha, "The Tricontinental Filmmaker: That Is Called the Dawn", in Randal Johnson and Robert Stam (eds.), Brazilian Cinema (New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 1982), pp. 76-80.

20. Keyan G. Tomaselli, "From Mao to Video: Which Way Cultural Identity?",IRIS: A Journal of Theory on Image and Sound, 7 (1986), pp. 144- 148.

21. Basckin.

22. Keyan G. Tomaselli, "Documentary and the Struggle for Realisms in South Africa", Media Information Australia, 44 (1987), pp. 20-27.

23. Hans Enzensberger, "Constituents of a Theory of Media", New Left Review, 64 (1970), pp. 13-36. This position underlies the work of Nick Jankowski, Koos Vos and Wim Brouwer, "Training Dutch Citizen Groups in ideo Production Techniques", Media Development, 36 (1989), pp. 22-26; Criticos 1989a; Tomaselli et al 1988.

24. Costas Criticos, 'Community IN Media' (Mimeo 1989c); see also Criticos, "Group Media: a Creative Response to Censorship", p. 41.

25. Klaus Muller, "The Group Media in the Next Five Years", Group Media Journal, 6 (1987), pp. 8-10.

26. Criticos, "Community IN Media", p. 36.

27. See, eg., Lynette Steenveld, VIDEO: WHO SEES? A Way of Seeing "I am Clifford Abrahams and This is Grahamstown" (Grahamstown: Rhodes University, 1986); Costas Criticos, Ansuya Chetty, and Jeanne Prinsloo, "Through the Eye of the Camera: a struggle to define the community video process". Paper presented at the 10th International Festival of Scientific, Technical and Art Films, University of Brussels, February 1988; Keyan G. Tomaselli and Edgard Sienaert, "Ethnographic Film/Video Production and Oral Documentation - the case of Piet Draghoender in Kat River - The End of Hope', Research in African Literatures, 20 (1989), pp. 242-264.

28. See, eg., Scott, and Criticos, "Community IN Media". Also see Stuart; Jankowski, Vos and Brouser; and Eric Michaels, "How Video has Helped a Group of Aboriginals in Australia", Media Development, 32 (1985), pp. 16-18.

29. Alison Lazerus, Keyan G. Tomaselli and Lamontville Unity for Cultural Activities (LAUCA), "Participatory Video: Problems, Prospects and a Case Study", Group Media Journal, 8 (1989), pp. 10-15.

30. See Criticos, "Group Media: a Creative Response to Censorship", p. 23.

31. See, for example, all issues of Media Development and Group Media Journal. The latter has published special issues on, eg., "Communication in Social Change: the Philippine Experience", 4 (1986) and "Training Towards a Vision" 6 (1987). Also see Peter Anderson, "Documentary and the Problem of Method", Critical Arts, 4 (1985), pp. 1-79.

32. Criticos, "Group Media: a Creative Response to Censorship"; Scott and Criticos; Costas Criticos and Paul Hartley, "Integrated Media Education and Training", Media Resource Centre (MRC) Working Papers, 4 (1989); Paul Hartley and Costas Criticos, "Communication Research as a Collective and Accessible Resource - Experiences of a South African Media Centre", MRC Working Papers, 3 (1989); Costas Criticos, "Film and Video as a Catalyst for Change in South Africa", MRC Working Papers, 2 (1989).

33. Feldman, p. 23.

34. Jankowski et al, pp. 22-23.

35. Ansuya Chetty: Community Arts Workshop Video. (1989) Mimeo.

36. Warren Parker, "Alternative Media Research: Accountability and the Community/Academic Relationship", CCSU Resource Document, 2 (1989), p. 3.

37. Warren Parker, Heather de Wet, Andre Haycock, Robyn Nahman, "The History of Resistance in Lamontville - a Theoretical Analysis of the production Process". Mimeo (1989), p. 7.

38. Eric Michaels, "Hundreds Shot at Aboriginal Community: ABC Makes TV Documentary at Yuendumu", Media Information Australia, 45, (1987), pp. 7-17.

39. Jakubowicz quoted in Jankowski et al, p. 26.

40. Basckin.

41. Terence Turner quoted in Christine Ogan, "Video's Great Advantage - Decentralised Control of Technology", Media Development, 36 (1989), p. 3.

42. Sol Worth, and John Adair, Through Navajo Eyes: An Exploration in Film Communication and Anthropology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975).

43. T. Kennedy, "Beyond Advocacy: a Facilitative Approach to Public Participation", Journal of the University Film Association, 34 (1982), pp. 33-46.

44. See Michaels, "How Video has Helped a Group of Aborigines in Australia" and "The Social Organization of an Aboriginal Video Workplace".

45. Michaels, "Hundreds Shot at Aboriginal Community", pp. 7-17.

46. Jean-Paul Fargier, reproduced in Christopher Williams (ed.), Realism and the Cinema (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980), pp. 171-185. For a note on Fargier in 1986, see Tomaselli 1986.

47. Feldman, p. 35.

48. Michaels, "How Video has Helped a Group of Aborigines in Australia", p. 17.

49. Feldman, p. 36.

50. Cal Pryluck, "Ultimately We Are All Outsiders: the Ethics of Documentary Filming", CILECT Review, 2 (1986), pp. 93-104.

51. Hartley and Criticos, p. 3.

52. Terence Turner quoted in Ogan, p. 3.

Additional References

John Grierson, Grierson on Documentary (London: Faber, 1979). Edited by Forsyth Hardy.

Bill Nichols, "Questions of Magnitude" in J Corner (ed): Documentary and the Mass Media (London: Arnold, 1986).

New: 13 November, 1995 | Now: 15 March, 2015