Defining ethnographic film

Authored by: P. Kerim Friedman

The Routledge International Handbook of Ethnographic Film and Video

Print publication date:  April  2020
Online publication date:  April  2020

Print ISBN: 9780367185824
eBook ISBN: 9780429196997
Adobe ISBN:


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The first time I needed a working definition of ethnographic film was in high school. As a teenager, with only a limited understanding of anthropology or film, I needed a clear set of principles which I could apply to the films I wanted to write about for my senior project. I found just that in the first edition of Karl Heider’s book Ethnographic Film ( 2006 ), first published in 1976. In this classic text, Heider treats the “ethnographicness” of a film as a series of 16 attributes, each of which contributed to making a film more ethnographic. He even provided a convenient “attribute dimension grid” (2006, p. 109) which I faithfully copied out and used to evaluate and compare each of the films discussed in my paper (see Figure 2.1). Figure 2.1 Karl Heider’s “attribute dimension grid.”

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