Documentary Project Prep


Family ethnography through food

Specific story – my family food traditions and their significance to different family members

Larger engagement – the assimilation of Italian Americans. How White have we become, how committed are we to preserving our heritage?

Action to film:

  • making Easter pies
  • mom making Sunday sauce
  • me making Sunday sauce
  • interview with mom & dad separately
  • take stills of family photos to show when different people are referenced in interviews
  • if possible, interview Aunt Clair & Aunt Rita by phone

Interview Questions

  1. How long have you been making this dish?
  2. Who taught you to make it?
  3. Who made it when you were little?
  4. Why is this made on this particular holiday/day of the week?
  5. Why do you keep this tradition even though you no longer participate in Christianity?
  6. Is it important to you that I keep making this dish? Why?
  7. What do you know about the history of our family cooking this dish?
  8. Tell me about a memory you have of making or eating this before I was born.
  9. Was Italian spoken at home when you were growing up?
  10. Did any of your living relatives speak Italian?
  11. What was the attitude towards speaking Italian?
  12. What was the attitude towards being “American” vs. “Italian”? How did your family identify? How do you identify now?
  13. What are some non-food-related traditions or values that were observed at home? Which of these did you keep? Why do they matter?
  14. How important is your Italian heritage? How important is it to preserve and pass on that heritage?
  15. Is there anything you wish you had done/could do to preserve that heritage?
  16. Was Italian folk magic practiced in our family?
  17. What are some superstitions your family members held?
  18. Tell me more about the connection between living and dead family members. Share a story that you or someone else experienced feeling connected to a dead family member.
  19. Are there any traditions you chose to discard? Why?
  20. What is unique about Italian Americans? What defines us? Do you see us as a distinct group?

Finish watching Italian Americans series on PBS to get some broader context on the assimilation of Italians. May or may not make it into this project.



Ethnography/Documentary As Method


“And then, in filmmaking as in life, an early and genuine curiosity on both sides of the camera can produce a kind of spontaneity of its own; it sometimes leads to a kind of hearty and direct response to the camera (as when the pub owner drives up to the camera and puts on a performance) which can be extremely revealing”. Mark McCarty

This week’s readings put me in mind of the Anthony Bourdain show Parts Unknown. This show seems like an excellent opportunity to discuss the elements of ethnographic film as a technique and a tool as well as the value of such films.

The fact that this show is produced by and aired on CNN creates a certain assumption or expectation of objective reporting or scientific integrity. Though not a news broadcast, we suppose that there is a certain increased educational over entertainment value compared to Bourdain’s shows that aired on the Travel Channel. In addition to being a food and travel show, Parts Unknown inserts a political element that seems to intend to increase the ethnographic value of it. Now not only is Bourdain introducing us to the food traditions and behaviors of a given location and culture, he is contextualizing them politically, historically, and sometimes even economically. The show makes an effort to “evoke deeply positive feelings about mankind by communicating the essence of of a people” (de Brigard) through their food traditions. Bourdain is often very transparent about his struggles to synthesize his experiences into the kind of concise, neat, and hopeful messaging that his producers expect from him.

Which brings me to the “on the other hand” with regard to this show. Parts Unknown it not filmed according to the ethnographic tradition. It is not being filmed by a team of anthropologists. It is filmed in a matter of days rather than months. It is filmed for a television audience. It is filmed for both education and entertainment but not for research purposes. There are producers and a writing team and local fixers who orchestrate the action of each episode rather than attempting to simply capture behaviors in the most natural state possible. Conversations, meals, experiences, and action are all chosen and prearranged. The camera crew composes the scenes and shoots multiple takes, and before they hit the air the episodes are carefully edited; voice-overs are added.

Finally, although not pure ethnographic film, this show is certainly a cultural document. Not only does it have a certain amount of ethnographic value for the cultures it shows us, there is also great anthropological value for understanding the culture that produces such a show. Parts Unknown can tell us quite as much about Americans and our understanding of and interest in geopolitics as it can about the current climate in Istanbul.

Visual Essay Final

For my visual essay I chose to construct a conversation between what I perceive as quintessential 2nd wave feminists (older, white, middle class/wealthy, and generally privileged) and quintessential millennial feminists (younger, more diverse). I felt that this topic would lend itself well to a visual essay since the activism of millennial feminists so often has strong visual components simply by virtual of high volume use of social media tools. I also chose this topic because in the last year the campaign of Hillary Clinton for the democratic presidential nomination has highlighted some of the generational conflicts within the women’s movement.

For this essay, I chose quotes from 3 2nd wave feminists who express some negative sentiment towards millennial women for their engagement or lack thereof in the women’s movement. The quotes comes from Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz who is the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Gloria Steinem who has been a leader in the feminist activist movement since the 1970s, and Madeleine Albright who was the first woman to become Secretary of State. The Schultz quote accuses young women of being complacent about reproductive rights. The Steinem quote acknowledges the feminist activism of young women but insinuates that their choice of political candidate is based, not on the issues, but on the intention to impress boys. The Albright quote suggests that young women who do not support Clinton’s presidential campaign are somehow betraying their gender.

Through still images of protest events, screen captures of social media posts, clips of educational youtube videos, video of spoken word poetry performances, and music by an all-female punk rock band, I imagine millennial women responding to these criticisms. By alternating between critical comments by 2nd wave feminists and examples of the feminist work of younger women, I construct a dialogue in which young women argue back against the accusations made about them.

This was an interesting and enjoyable process for me. As I have put this essay together I realize that it has better helped me understand Mitchell’s assertion that “there are no visual media”. In this essay, which has been constructed as a conversation between generations, sound is equally if not more important than visual images. We are listening to these different women speak to each other, and their exact language matters. The importance of the words they choose is especially evident in the case of the Steinem quote because she later apologized but said that her words had simply been misinterpreted. However, what matters in this essay are the exact words she chose to use, because even presented in context they are still problematic (which is why I chose to present them within the context of her recognition of the feminist work of young women).

This is not to completely discount the importance of the visual images in this essay. The visual serves two important purposes here. The first is to give evidence of young women’s feminist work in a way which I feel is more impactful than mere statistics. The images of young women protesting, and examples of visual art that they have created better illustrate the passion of their activism than numbers can. Second, the visual component of this essay allows me to contrast the racial and ethnic diversity of the critical 2nd wave feminists and their millennial counterparts. Again, rather than simply stating that young women are more committed to intersectional feminism, I am able to illustrate this by showing a diverse group of young feminists engaging in this constructed conversation.


Marie, Interview Ana. “Debbie Wasserman Schultz Thinks Young Women Are Complacent.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Jan. 2016. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Maher, Bill. “Real Time with Bill Maher: Gloria Steinem February 5, 2016 (HBO).” YouTube. YouTube, 9 Feb. 2016. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Ayla, Em, and Abby. “#BNV15 Finals: Denver “Bras and Binders”” YouTube. YouTube, 10 Sept. 2015. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Escoloedo, Belissa, and Rhiannon McGavin. “#BNV14: Finals, Los Angeles “Rape Joke”” YouTube. YouTube, 25 July 2014. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

McCarthy, Tom. “Albright: ‘special Place in Hell’ for Women Who Don’t Support Clinton.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 06 Feb. 2016. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Ramsey, Franchesca, and Laci Green. “WTF Is Intersectional Feminism???” YouTube. YouTube, 14 Aug. 2015. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Ajani, Ashia, Tolu Obiwole, Abby Friesen-Johnson, and Alexis Rain Vigil. “#BNV14 Finals: Denver “Feminism”” YouTube. YouTube, 24 July 2014. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.


Jett, Joan. By Joey Levine and Bo Gentry. Make Believe. Joan Jett. Kenny Laguna, Ritchie Cordell, Mark Dodson, Steve Jones and Paul Cook, 1980. MP3.

Anderson, Brett, Torry Castellano, Maya Ford, and Allison Robertson. Fall Behind Me. The Donnas. Butch Walker, 2004. MP3.