Using documentary film in social science research: an exploratory workshop for postgraduate students

Using documentary film in social science research: an exploratory workshop for postgraduate students

16 October 2014

University of Edinburgh

SGSSS, the Health Pathway and the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science welcome you to a day of advanced training on using documentary film in social science research. This will run as an experiential/exploratory workshop to allow participants plenty of opportunity to engage with the film materials being shown and the filmmakers who will be present. There will be screenings of three very different films with a research dimension to them with a Q and A format involving a panel of the filmmakers who created the films. Smaller, more in-depth group work will take place in the afternoon where students will choose an area to focus on with one of the filmmakers. Participants will have the opportunity to question experienced filmmakers about their motivations for using film to explore issues of social justice as part of social science research activity and collaboration with a range of diverse communities. The event also aims to provide a space to explore how film can be used to expand potential audiences for social science as well as to further more genuine engagement for a variety of audiences with research findings. Other topics covered will be: potential funding sources, avenues for dissemination, and the opportunities and challenges faced by academics who create filmed outputs from their research such as having an impact and recognition of such visual work in academic contexts. The intention is that participants leave with a more nuanced understanding of the potential of film in social science/arts and humanities research, and with enhanced confidence in using such methods in their own research. We also hope that students will leave feeling better connected to others who are interested in using film in research with a view to creating a student-led network in this area.

This workshop is designed to be taken either stand-alone for all SGSSS students or as part of the UoE School of Social and Political Science’s Social Films workshop series taking place in September and October aimed at enabling students to communicate their research – and indeed any other ideas they have – in short films.

The films being screened and discussed

The following films will make up the material discussed in the training session.

The Inmates are Running the Asylum

Vancouver’s MPA (Mental Patients Association) was formed in 1970-71 as a grassroots response to deinstitionalization and tragic gaps in community mental health. Inverting traditional mental health hierarchies, the group put former patients and sympathetic lay supporters in charge. MPA provided homes, work and a sense of belonging and self-determination to ex-patients. Working collaboratively with academic scholars and talented young artists and film-makers, a group of early MPA members created this 36-minute documentary. Provocative, passionate and engaging, this film has something important to say about social justice, community-building and mental health today.

The Lived Zaatari Documentary Project

The documentary was filmed as part of a wider project to communicate and improve the lived experience of school-aged refugee children in and around the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. We filmed with a four-person crew (Director, DP, Sound Engineer, Production Assistant), while a research team worked with organizations on the ground to gather data. The purpose of this ‘ethnographic’ documentary is to communicate the day-to-day lives of refugee children. We worked with around 10 families for a period of 18 days, and aim to produce a 15-20 minute documentary about the lived experiences of their children.

A Day in the Life of BCAPOM: Collective Advocacy in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver (no website available yet)

This film was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research as part of a wider knowledge exchange project designed to draw attention to research findings, from Canada and across the globe, on the significant structural and social problems facing people taking methadone for substance use problems. Researchers worked alongside an advocacy group in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver for a number of years to create this intimate portrayal of advocacy in the midst of social and economic disadvantage and struggle for survival

The contributors involved in delivering the training are Dr Tessa Parkes (Health Pathway Representative for Stirling and Deputy Director of SGSSS), Dr Megan Davies, Associate Professor at the University of York in Toronto, Canada and Arek Dakessian, PhD Student, SSPS at University of Edinburgh.

Dr Tessa Parkes was Co-Producer of the film being screened about collective advocacy work in the substance use field in British Columbia, Canada. This is her first experience of using film in her social science research but she has wanted to do so for over 20 years since her own PhD research in the field of mental health and social movements.

Dr Megan Davies is Producer of the film being screened ‘The Inmates are Taking over the Asylum’ and says about this film: “The process of creating the film has taken the same form by which MPA ran. It has been a film where we haven’t had hierarchies. And where we have allowed the people who are featured in the film, who are telling their stories, to also give the film its shape. I think that’s what gives the film its passion and its directness. I’ve been interested in history since I was eleven years old but I’ve never seen the craft of history work like this has. We’ve worked collaboratively with academics and people with life long mental health difficulties. And together we have managed to create a documentary film that is historically valid and is an impassioned statement about mental health and what’s wrong with the way mental health services are delivered. By looking to history, we’ve excavated a model that still has the power to speak to the mental health system today.”

Arek Dakessian is a PhD student in Sociology, looking specifically at filmmaking. Before coming to Edinburgh for his MSc studies in 2012 – 2013, he worked in the film industry in Beirut as a set photographer, camera assistant, and camera operator. Later, he started to make films with his long-time friend who introduced him to film and photography. Beirut-based Farah and Arek collaborated and co-produced the Zaatari Documentary which will be screened at the workshop.

The organiser of this event is Tessa Parkes and further questions can be directed to her at t.s.parkes@stir.ac.uk

For information on the Social Films workshop series for SSPS students please contact Arek Dakessian at adakessi@exseed.ed.ac.uk

Students without pre-existing sources of funding for travel can apply for travel expenses to be reimbursed after the event.

Do you have questions about Using documentary film in social science research: an exploratory workshop for postgraduate students? Contact Scottish Graduate School of Social Science

Register here

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