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Relevance to Visual Anthropology
Go Kambak follows Michael Jackson's approach (Minima Ethnographica 1998):
"Can we reveal meaning without making the mistake of defining it?"
Only very briefly, the most relevant context is given through text, and the film abstains from voice-over narration. Instead, Donnalyn and the children are invited to express themselves spontaneously, without the behavioural implications which formally led interviews evoke. It became apparent to me that it is not necessarily the camera itself which is responsible for an increased self-consciousness in whoever is filmed, but the relationship between filmer and filmed, as implicated by how the camera is used between them. In other words, instructive attitudes render the filmed person as a passive object, whereas participatory and seemingly aimless filming equalises the participants and invites them to be active subjects. Therefore, the film does not need to thoroughly fabricate meaning: It is revealed through Donnalyn's emotions, her memories which are sometimes clear, sometimes hazy, sometimes humble, sometimes conflicted. It is revealed through how she behaves with her children, how they discover the world around them and relate to their birthplace.
Nonetheless, the conversation is directed by the photographs. Their transportive attributes become apparent through Donnalyn's constant state of surprise about her detailed memories. As she revisits the people and places depicted, she retrieves past experiences and links them to parts of her identity formed and discontinued years ago, as well as how she understands herself today - a gap that she is seemingly grateful to bridge with narratives about home.
Although the film does not explain how I got to know the Ishmaels, it reveals my involvement in her storytelling. By showing myself as a participant of the filmed conversations, my film implies my role as a guest and friend, and eventually as photographer, which Donnalyn appreciates at multiple points, as she is moved and baffled by what the photographs bring back to her. Blending shots from Vanuatu in accordance to her stories, I reveal my own associations to the place, as captured on film. The scenes therefore simultaneously reveal both of our memories.
In broader anthropological relevance, the film touches on the themes of place and identity, the ecology of language (note how Donnalyn starts speaking langwis (local language) when talking about food or plants) and the struggle between local, national and global political forces in Ni-Van land conflict.
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