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October 18 - October 19, 2013

The Cambridge Turn – Scott MacDonald and Local Nonfiction Cinema

Over the past half-century, the Boston area has been the fountainhead of American documentary filmmaking. Many of the pioneers of cinema vérité (that is, sync-sound shooting from within evolving events) have had Boston connections – Robert Drew, the Maysles Brothers, Frederick Wiseman, Richard Leacock, Ed Pincus are examples. And WGBH has been a pioneer in television documentary, especially about race. Cambridge in particular has been crucial in nurturing two major genres of nonfiction cinema: ethnographic filmmaking and personal documentary.

Originally understood as filmmaking devoted to the recording of indigenous, pre-industrial cultures on the verge of transformation, ethnographic cinema evolved at Harvard’s Film Study Center in the work of John Marshall and Robert Gardner, and a modern flowering of ethnographic cinema has been the achievement of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab. Personal documentary – the use of cinema-vérité shooting to investigate the filmmakers’ personal lives – was instigated by Ed Pincus at MIT’s Film Section, and in the hands of Pincus’ students, Ross McElwee most famously, has become one of the most popular forms of documentary.

While ethnographic film and personal documentary may seem very different, they are essentially two sides of the same cinematic coin: as filmmakers explore distant cultures, they are learning more about the nature of their own culture and their own personal experiences; and as personal documentarians have turned their cameras onto their families, they’ve produced cultural documents that, as time goes by, come to represent far more than the personal. – Scott MacDonald

Scott MacDonald, author of American Ethnographic Film and Personal Documentary: The Cambridge Turn, an exploration of the Cambridge contribution to documentary history, returns to the Harvard Film Archive to present two programs of remarkable but rarely screened short films from these two rich traditions of non-fiction cinema.

This program is presented with support from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University.

$12 Special Event
Scott MacDonald, Alfred Guzzetti and Miriam Weinstein in person

Friday October 18 at 7pm

Bitter Melons

Directed by John Marshall
US 1971, 16mm, color, 30 min


Living with Peter

Directed by Miriam Weinstein
US 1973, 16mm, color, 21 min



Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 1971, 16mm, color, 18 min


7 Queens

Directed by Véréna Paravel
US 2008, digital video, color, 24 min

Total running time: 93 min


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$12 Special Event
Scott MacDonald, Robb Moss and Stephanie Spray in person

Saturday October 19 at 7pm

The Ax Fight

Directed by Timothy Asch and Napoleon Chagnon
US 1975, 16mm, color, 30 min. English and Yanomamo with English subtitles



Directed by Robb Moss
US 1982, 16mm, color, 31 min



Directed by Stephanie Spray
US 2010, digital video, color, 14 min. Nepali with English subtitles


Time Exposure

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 2012, digital video, b/w, 11 min

Total running time: 86 min


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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700