Documentary filmmaking as feminist transnational active witnessing: a consideration of the work of Kim Longinotto

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Longinotto’s observational style of documentary filmmaking where there is little or no voice-of-god narration and the camera seemingly follows a series of tableaus, can tend to position the camera, and the documentary filmmaker, as a passive observer. This paper argues that although Longinotto’s style echoes vérité aesthetics (which erroneously suggest impartiality) her approach is necessarily partial. Longinotto’s collaboration with a key figure in the place where she is filming and her entwined connection with her subjects and their shared goals, means that the camera, and Longinotto, function as active participants as opposed to passive observers. The term active witness is therefore a more apt way of describing her observational style.
Her films contrast with other, often male, documentary filmmakers who make their authorial presence and performative engagement in the film apparent. Instead, Longinotto privileges the aims and objectives of her subjects. By doing so, this becomes her authorial style. With examples from several of her films, this paper argues that the camera in Longinotto’s films, with its distinct female gaze emanating from Longinotto and her female collaborators, becomes an additional tool for the film’s participants in achieving their goals as they actively challenge oppressive patriarchal systems and practices. Longinotto’s approach to documentary practice therefore utilises a collaborative, compassionate approach (Smaill, 2009, Larke-Walsh, 2019) that is essential to the themes and subjects of her films. This, combined with Longinotto’s rejection of the position of the camera as impartial witness or impartial observer, becomes a form of transnational feminist active witnessing.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 10 Jul 2021
EventDoing Women's Film and Television History V: Histories of Women in Film and Television: Then and Now - Maynooth University, Ireland
Duration: 10 Jul 202111 Jul 2021


ConferenceDoing Women's Film and Television History V
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