Profoundly entertaining: Ethnografilm festival returns to Paris

The celebration of academic and non-fiction film will take place over four days in April, in the historic Montmartre neighbourhood of Paris.

On the 19th of April, the Ethnografilm Festival returns to Paris, in full and in person, after a two year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ethnografilm is a festival of non-fiction film and video ethnography which aims to promote the examination of cultures and of social issues through films that educate and entertain.

The ISC is a long-standing partner of the Ethnografilm festival, and helps to support local organization. We’re delighted to see the festival return this year and to be able to welcome academic and independent film directors from across the world to Paris.

‘I predict that this is going to be the best Ethnografilm ever,’ said Wes Shrum, festival director and professor of sociology at the Louisiana State University: ‘This year the attendees are going to be a slightly smaller, highly committed group that really misses the festival and wants to go back’.

The 2022 festival will include films that were selected for the festivals planned for 2020 and 2021, which unfortunately had to be cancelled due to pandemic restrictions that saw theatres and cinemas across France closed for long periods of time. Ethnografilm’s return to Paris is part of a re-opening of cultural venues across the city that has been eagerly awaited by Paris inhabitants, visitors to the city and the cultural sector alike.

With around 200 films submitted for the festival, films will show on the main screen and in the gallery room downstairs in the historic Théâtre Lepic, in the heart of Montmartre. With two years’ worth of films to show, preparing the programme for the festival has been ‘a real juggling act,’ says Wes Shrum. And given that sanitary restrictions are in flux in many countries, there is still a degree of uncertainty about how many directors will travel to the festival. But even if there are a relatively small number of people, ‘they will probably just have a fabulous time,’ says Wes.

The festival is unique in giving equal attention to all genres of academic and documentary filmmaking, and many of the films are filmed by active researchers and students.

‘We advertise that we are a documentary and academic festival, because academics make a lot of movies but don’t really have a place to send them. Or sometimes they feel as though their films are competing with people that have big budgets, and that they won’t be able to get into film festivals. What we offer is that commitment to all kinds of filmmaking, including no-budget filmmaking. Many of the great films are done on an iPhone now, and that includes some feature films,’ says Wes.

Ethnografilm is also a space for films about science or with scientific content, and the 2022 festival will feature a special session on the evening of Wednesday 20 April featuring films that have resulted from the ISC-BBC Storyworks Unlocking Science collaboration, and from the Transformations to Sustainability programme.

The Ethnografilm festival sets out to celebrate film as a method of expanding knowledge and understanding of the social world. In 2022 the festival comes to Europe in the midst of much uncertainty and turmoil around the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, as well as challenges related to climate change, the long tail of the COVID-19 pandemic, growing inequality and an increasingly polarised political and media landscape. The festival will take place against the backdrop of the French Presidential election. In a fractious world, what can film as an artform contribute to building understanding and extending knowledge?

‘In talking about the social world and the social problems that we encounter, including both disease and war, filmmakers, can – I think – offer what may be a more nuanced and systematic viewpoint than print journalism or other forms of documentation. We should expect that, as films take longer to accomplish: we can go on Twitter and see what’s happening in people’s houses in Ukraine right now, but we need a little bit of time to consolidate that information. I expect that by next year, we’ll have some submissions on those conflicts.

The reason that we don’t have COVID films this year is because we didn’t open for any new submissions as we had missed two years of the festival. Normally, we would have been accepting new films as of June 2021, and I’m sure we would have had some COVID films. The festival started in 2014, and by 2015 we already had a film on Ebola from West Africa. So it’s likely that the 2023 festival – which will open for submissions in June 2022 – will have some films about COVID’.

Wes Shrum

The films taking part in the festival come from across the world, from extremely diverse settings in countries including Romania, Uganda, Italy, India and the United States. To watch the films and join the discussions with independent and academic film-makers, join us at the Theatre Lepic in Montmartre, Paris, from the 19th to the 23rd of April. The festival is free and open to all.

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Image by Denise Jans on Unsplash.

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