Ethnografilm poster programme

The second edition of the Ethnografilm festival, held from the 8th to 12th April in Paris, is fast approaching. The ISSC sat down with the Festival director, Wesley Shrum, a Professor of Sociology at Louisiana State University, for a quick run down on everything you need to know about this year’s festival.

The Ethnografilm Festival will be held at the historic Ciné 13 Théâtre, in Montmartre, and will preview about 100 films with over 80 directors present. Films will be shown continuously, in two hour sessions with half hour Q&A breaks, so that festival goers can be introduced to the directors themselves. The festival is free of charge and the public is welcome to come in and out as they please. In addition, films will be available in the reception on demand.

How does it feel to be back with the second edition of the Ethnografilm Festival?

Wesley Shrum: It feels amazing to be back! Entering the festival this year is very different as we know what we are doing to a far greater degree. Last year it was literally and figuratively a miracle that it ran virtually flawlessly as I had never seen a single second of a single film played at the Ciné 13. Leading up [to the festival], I was waking up in the middle of the night and thinking, ‘Oh My God we have brought several dozen people to Paris and we don’t even know if we have a film festival!’ However, last year’s festival ran brilliantly and truly established the identity of the film festival. The biggest concern I would say this year, is will there be enough seats?

What would you say is the identity of the festival?

Wesley Shrum: It’s a director’s festival by and for directors and is unique as it brings together both academic and documentary filmmakers. In this sense the festival acts as somewhat of a video journal for ethnographic work, functioning as any other peer-reviewed text journal in the academic world.

Why is it important that academics use films to convey social realities?

Wesley Shrum: If academics solely present their work through text-based means, such as books and articles, they gain very limited readership. As many subjects are hard to figure out, especially when presented in dense, abstract and difficult text. The importance of making movies of our work is that it allows for a greater degree of public engagement and understanding. One could say the catch phrase of the film festival is, “to celebrate and foster excellence in movies that enhance our understanding of the social world.”

What is the theme of this year’s festival?

Wesley Shrum: The film festival encourages submissions across a wide range of disciplines and perspectives with sessions arranged thematically. This year, the festival is pairing with UNESCO’s International Year of Light and Light Based Technologies. The pairing works well because what film is not about light! I collaborated and helped produce a short film which is staring called, Light Years.

Are there any other exciting projects pairing with the film festival?

Wesley Shrum: Yes, the Art for film programs – Paris Project led by Lee Magnet . The project is based out of urban schools in Baton Rouge Louisiana, where disadvantaged youth take screenshots from the festivals line-up of films and then do an original piece of artwork of the screen shot in varying techniques. The artwork is brought over from Louisiana and we paper the Cine 13 theatre with it. It’s great to see these kids artwork on display and they think it’s beyond cool to have their artwork in a boutique theatre in Paris. We have a special French session this year, organised by Dominique Desjeux of the Sorbonne in Paris. We will be screening movies in French with English subtitles.

Finally, what do you hope people gain from this festival?

Wesley Shrum: The ultimate goal is for people to hook up and extend their network of filmmakers. The joke is that we hope academics make better films and documentary film makers start learning more about their subject! As academics may not be as good in the technical sense but in the same token while documentary film makers can make beautifully crafted films they often lack the full understanding of the subject matter.