Ethnographic film & music

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Some famous ethnographic films, truth or fiction, most related to music

In the Land of the Head Hunters [1] (Edward Curtis, 1914)

Nanook of the North[2] (Robert Flaherty, 1921)

Ala-Arriba![3] (José Leitão de Barros, 1942)

Dances of the Kwakiutl[4] (William Heick, 1951)

Les Maîtres Fous (The Mad Masters)[5] (Jean Rouch, 1954)

Come Back Africa[6] (Lionel Rogosin, 1957)

Black Orpheus[7] (Marcel Camus, 1959)

Jaguar (Jean Rouch, 1967)

The Nuer (Robert Gardner, 1970)

Rivers of Sand[8] (Robert Gardner, 1975)

The Land Where Blues Began [9] (John Bishop, 1979)

Spirit of Samba, The - Black Music of Brazil (Jeremy Marre, 1982)

Mountain Music of Peru (John Cohen, 1984)

Powerhouse for God (Jeff Titon, 1986)

Wedding in Galilee (Michel Khleifi, 1987)

The Drums of Winter (Sarah Elder, 1988)

Jumpin' Night in the Garden of Eden (Michal Goldman, 1988)

The New Dawn of Tradition: A Wisconsin Powwow

Releasing the Spirits: A Village Cremation in Bali (Linda Connor, Patsy Asch, and Timothy Asch, 1990)

Horses of Life and Death (Janet Hoskins, 1991)

Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt (Michal Goldman, 1996)

Genghis blues Genghis blues (Roko Belic, 1999)

Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders, 1999)

The Wood and the Calabash (Hugo Zemp, 2002)

Siaka, An African Musician (Hugo Zemp, 2005)

An African Brass Band (Hugo Zemp, 2006)


  • communication in layers (audio or visual layers): use of voiceovers, subtitles, translations
  • how are interpretaions made by the film?
  • how is meaning communicated?
  • how is sound track composed? relation of sound to image?
  • ethnographic sound vs. added sound
  • locking image/sound?
  • diegesis
  • music track (diegetic, non-diegetic music?) (relation of music to simultaneously visual content?)
  • roles of director/editor/others involved in film production
  • technology used
  • fiction vs non-fiction?
  • organization: narrative-centric, person-centric, performance-centric...
  • relation to "fieldwork" (observation, participant-observation, interview, setup, reconstruction...)
  • documentary, cinema verite, recreation, docudrama, feature
  • relation of crew, camera to subjects
  • role of subjects in film production
  • reflexivity
  • cuts, chronologies, editing style, rhythm
  • camera angles, movements
  • ethnographic truth claims? self-critiques? (voiceover authority?)
  • sources: interview, setups, observation, participant-observation
  • political angles? critiques? power? objectification?
  • action research?
  • ethics and politics of representation?
  • Direct cinema

Online sources

online sources of ethnomusicological film (ethnographic or documentary):