This website arises from The Silent Time Machine: recovering early ethnographic film, a research project carried out by Professor Paul Henley, University of Manchester, between January 2014 and February 2018. It was supported by the Leverhulme Trust through a Major Research Fellowship award (MRF-2012-121) and by the University of Manchester.
Please note that it is still a ‘work in progress’ and that a definitive version will not be available until the end of 2021. Until then, all posts should be regarded as provisional and subject to correction and/or development.
Aims of project and website
The general aim of The Silent Time Machine project was to reconsider the history of early ethnographic film as it is generally understood in the English-speaking world, in part by re-evaluating the works that are already part of the established ‘canon’ and in part by identifying little or unknown works, with particular emphasis on films produced outside the English-speaking world.
The principal purpose of this website is to provide details of the 230+ films examined in the course of the project and to analyse the historical, ethnographic and technical contexts of their production. It also offers profiles of 80+ early ethnographic film-makers, technical details of the equipment they used, a listing of archival sources and an extensive bibliography.
A very important feature of this website is that it indicates how films may be viewed. Often, this involves no more than clicking on links provided within the website itself.
Although the website is primarily aimed at academic users, a sustained effort has been made to reduce specialised technical and theoretical language to a minimum in order to make it more accessible to a broader field of readers, including, most importantly, the descendants of the people who appear in the films.
Preliminary results of the project are available in
Beyond observation : a history of authorship in ethnographic film published by Manchester University Press (2020)
The first two chapters deal with films of ethnographic interest made before 1940. A free download is available here.
Other publications associated with the project are listed here
Project range and the Haddon catalogue
The Silent Time Machine project focused on films of ethnographic interest made between the ‘birth of cinema’ in the 1890s, and the 1960s, when a major change in ethnographic film-making came about as a result of the development of portable synchronous sound recording technology.
Since it was clearly impossible to cover all such films within the time limits, the project focused exclusively on films about non-European societies. It was initially confined to archival materials held in France, the US and Brazil. Later, it was expanded to include reference to materials held in archives elsewhere or available on the web and/or as DVDs.
The range of materials presented on this website is greatly supplemented by the additional inclusion of the Haddon catalogue of early ethnographic film prepared by the late Professor Marcus Banks. This offers a detailed descriptive list of 1500+ films of potential ethnographic interest shot all over the world and may be consulted by clicking here.
It is made available here by courtesy of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, and the Royal Anthropological Institute who supported the recuperation of the database after Marcus Banks’ tragic untimely death in October 2020.
Please note that no attempt has been made to update the Haddon catalogue, which was last modified in 1993. So there are bound to be many points of overlap – even possible contradiction – with the material presented in the rest of the website.
How to use this website
The simplest way is via the Search function, located at the top right of the screen on a computer and at the foot of the page on a mobile phone. Just type in the name of a film-maker, film, society/ethnic group, location or topic of interest, and a range of options will be offered.
More systematic access can be achieved via the ‘pages’ listed along the navigation bar across the top of the screen or, on mobile phones, via the ‘Menu’ feature just below the banner image, also at the top .
Readers could begin with the Conceptual page since this outlines the general principles and definitions on which the site is based. But they may prefer to browse through the regionally-based catalogue accessible via the Films page. Or they might prefer to start with the Film-makers page.
Within each region, films are organised alphabetically by title, with an additional categorisation by period in the case of films about Africa. Three regional listings (Africa, South Asia and Amazonia) begin with a ‘Discussion’ offering an overview of early ethnographic film-making in that particular region.
In addition to technical details, most entries offer a discussion of the background and content of the films. They also indicate where films may be sourced. Often this entails no more than clicking on a link within the entry.
Other pages are more informational. The Technical page provides details of the technology available to early film-makers as well as definitions of technical terms used recurrently on the site.
The Archives page lists the leading institutions where early ethnographic films are stored while the Texts page offers a series of regionally organised bibliographies. Many of these texts are available via a link and can be read immediately or downloaded.
Until his retirement in July 2020, the author of The Silent Time Machine project, Paul Henley, was Professor of Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. After training as a social anthropologist at the University of Cambridge and conducting doctoral fieldwork in Venezuelan Amazonia in the 1970s, he later attended the UK’s National Film and Television School, at Beaconsfield, near London, graduating as a documentary director-cameraman in 1987.
He was then the founding director of the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester, 1987-2014, before standing down in order to take up the Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship that enabled him to carry out the Silent Time Machine project. As well as producing numerous academic publications on both Amazonian and visual anthropology topics, he has also made documentary films both for academic and television audiences.
Acknowledgements and thanks
The Project Author would like to acknowledge and thank the many different people who facilitated his use of the archives holding early ethnographic films. They include particularly:
in London – Susanne Hammacher, the Film Officer of the Royal Anthropological Institute for most of the period of The Silent Time Machine project, and Kathleen Dickson of the British Film Institute National Archive
in Paris – Béatrice de Pastre and her colleagues at the Archives françaises du film of the Centre National du Cinéma (CNC), and Valérie Perlès and her colleagues at the Musée Albert-Kahn
in Amsterdam – Rommy Albers of the Eye Film Museum
in Hanover – Paul Feindt of the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB)
in Vienna – Katarina Matiasek of the Department of Anthropology, University of Vienna, Manfred Kaufmann of the Weltmuseum, Christian Liebl of the Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and Susanne Rocca and her colleagues at the Austrian Filmarchiv
in New York – Peter Whiteley and his colleagues at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and Mark Mahoney of the Wenner-Gren Foundation
in Philadelphia – Kate Pourshariati and Alex Pezzati of the University of Philadelphia Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum)
in Washington – Jake Homiak, Mark White and Pam Wintle of the National Anthropological Film Center (NAFC) (until recently the Human Studies Film Archive, HFSA) at the Smithsonian Museum Support Centre in Suitland, Maryland, and Rosemary Hanes of the Moving Image Section of the Library of Congress
in Brazil – Rodrigo Piquet Saboia de Mello and his colleagues at the Museu do Índio in Rio de Janeiro, and at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP), Paula Morgado of the Laboratório de Imagem e Som em Antropologia (LISA), and Sandra de la Torre Larceda Campos of the Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia (MAE)
in Australia – Jason Gibson, then of the Humanities Division, Museum Victoria, Melbourne
Many other colleagues and friends have advised or otherwise helped in the preparation of this website or the project more generally. Among many others, the Project Author would like to thank particularly Eddy Appels, the late Marcus Banks, Margit Berner, Sylvia Caiuby Novaes, Teresa Castro, Catriona Child, Edgar Teodoro da Cunha, Faisal Devji, Michael Eaton, Beate Engelbrecht, Barberine Feinberg, Françoise Foucault, Gyorgy Gereby, Harriet and Peter Getzels, Aaron Glass, Alison Griffiths, Joëlle Hauzeur, Riitta Heino, Eric H. Hobson, Paul Hockings, Stephen Hugh-Jones, Rolf Husmann, Irmelin Joelsson, Éric Jolly, Pierre Jordan, Itsushi Kawase, Edgar Krebs, David MacDougall, Alan MacFarlane, Alan Marcus, Patricia Monte-Mor, José Inácio Parente, Laurent Pellé, the late Marc-Henri Piault, Alex Pravda, Werner Rutz, Oksana Sarkisova, Michaela Schaeuble, Reimar Schefold and James Woodburn.
Regarding the administration of the project, the Project Author is greatly indebted to Nicola Thorp, Cassandra Hughes and Reena Mistry of the Leverhulme Trust, and to Alica Alaksova, Elizabeth Langton, Gillian Whitworth and Val Lenferna at the University of Manchester.
Specifically in relation to the preparation of this website, the Project Author is equally indebted to Rohan Jackson and Eli Bugler of Nomadit.