Documentary Feature as Cultural Document

Cyborg in the Badlands

John H. Weakland writes in his essay for Principles of Visual Anthropology, “Feature Films as Cultural Documents,” that feature films can be used as cultural documents in anthropological studies if analysis is carried out through “direct, comprehensive, unbiased observation of the raw data, and adherence to a few basic orienting principles in making and reflecting on such observation” (55). While his arguments are particular to feature films, which generally depict fictional stories, I believe that his point can be applied to feature documentaries as well. The documentary form has expanded over the years to include varying forms; it is no longer only a medium for observation or anthropological study of a group of people. Documentaries of that form or documentaries that are framed around a political message continue to be made and thrive, but the genre has evolved to include personal ethnographies/autoethnographies.

I heard about the movie Twinsters (2015) a…

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