reflexive essay

Telling Secrets – Reflexive Essay

The film ‘telling secrets’ is about what depression and more specifically my progress in dealing with depression. By using techniques used by visual anthropologists the film hopes to show the stigmas around depression and the importance of them being changed. To make it a film that can be seen as a reliable source of anthropological truths I used reflexive techniques throughout and kept the fair representation as a centrally ideology.

Dealing with an issue that is so sensitive means I have a great responsibility to society in what my film promotes. The film has the aim not to tell others what to do, this may been seen as patronising and offer no knew insight. The aim is to show the truths of being a student and living with depression. A fair representation of one individual’s experience of depression is more culturally valuable. It can inform those who don’t know much about the condition. For those with depression seeing someone ‘come out’ about their condition might inspire them to make steps to deal with their troubles.

The first trouble with this comes from not exploiting vulnerable people. It is wrong to see people with depression a vulnerable in general but in that aspect of their life they are more vulnerable. I would not feel comfortable making people talk about issues that are destructive to their lives. Having people talk about their condition may not even give a great insight into depression as it is extremely difficult to find words that describe it. I can however tell my own story as best I can. In Ngat id dead because the anthropologist is part is involved in the affairs of those he is filming he is a part of the film (Otto, T 2007).                                                                                          

In the interview with me many references are made to the film itself. At the start the interviewer asks why I feel I have the confidence to make a film about depression. Straight away this explains what the film is about but also shows that the film maker if not trying to hide the production of the film at all. Soon after, in the interview with Jill I ask her to say her name and what she does for the camera. This again makes Jill aware of the Jill and those watching aware she is aware of the camera. At the end I am asked why I want to call the film telling secrets. This again is an example of the process of making the film being in the film. This creates a more transparent and reflective piece. In the act of killing the filming and the effect of the film in often mentioned which gives more insight (Oppenheimer, J 2012).

During the filming with Jill the dynamic changes from a more formal interview into a conversation type interview. From this the best footage was got. From working with Jill I realised the a huge part of the value of making documentary films is meeting people like Jill who care so much about other people. This reinforced the belief I have that film has the power to bring people together. This interview also made it very clear the responsibility the film maker has to the person they film to represent them fairly. Jill said more in her interview than was included in the film; much of it was interesting political views. I didn’t feel comfortable putting these comments into the film isolated as it might distort what she said.

For this film, because I was to be on camera for part of it and because I was to be interviewed, I needed assistance. Luckily a friend offered to help. Although I would have liked to do every part of the filming process myself, it just wasn’t possible. In order to make sure the film remained my creation I gave instructions of how I wanted the shots to be. This help was very valuable also because during the filming I was delving into my own issues. This may have provoked depressive symptoms. Having someone there meant I wasn’t at risk of pushing myself too far. Collaboration with others is important in ethnographic film (MacDougall, D 1998).

The use of visual and auditory metaphors was an important part of the film. The isolated individual sitting alone in a hall trying to light candles as a fan periodically blows them out is used to show the relentless nature of depression and how it stunts even the most simply of tasks. The invisible force of wind blowing seemed such a strong metaphor that it is used again, though this time the isolated individual sits in the middle of a field trying to file papers as the wind blows them away as soon as they are put down. This is a way to show the frustration of depression in a way people could understand without emotionally exploiting them.

The sound of instruments being tuned was selected partly because it suited the footage nicely and partly because it was also a metaphor. The beautiful music that can be made by an instrument is how life can be experienced and enjoyed in the mind is working properly. If an instrument is slightly out of tune it sounds off and unsettling, in the same way a slight mistuning in the brain creates that feeling in the mind of someone struggling with depression. Music is often as important as the visuals (ATTALI, J 1999).

This focus on fair representation was perhaps most important during editing. Editing has such a power to change the content of what was actually filmed. Luckily, me being one of the main subjects, I could represent myself fairly. I aimed for Jill to come across as the caring person she is. The cuts to other scenes and editing techniques were designed to improve the flow of piece and present themes of personal transformation and the effect of environment. Finding the themes in the footage and crafting a narrative is shown best in grizzly man (Herzog, W 2005).

Personal transformation came through as a theme of the film largely due to the transformation the filming process caused me to have. The experience of talking openly about depression to experts and friends was liberating. I believe the video being shown to a larger audience will be even more liberating. The film has done its part to help me and I hope that in some way it will help spread awareness of a condition for which raised awareness would help massively.



Attali, J. (1999). Noise. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Banks, M. and Morphy, H. (1997). Rethinking visual anthropology. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Benjamin, W. and Underwood, J. (2008). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. London: Penguin.

Berger, J. (1973). Ways of seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corp.

Crawford, P. and Turton, D. (1992). Film as ethnography. Manchester: Manchester University Press in association with the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology.

Grimshaw, A. (2001). The ethnographer’s eye. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Grizzly Man. (2005). [DVD] Werner Herzog.

Helmreich, S. (n.d.). Underwater music.

MacDougall, D. and Castaing-Taylor, L. (1998). Transcultural cinema. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Ngat is dead. (2007). [DVD] Ton Otto.

The act of killing. (2012). [DVD] Joshua Oppenheimer.

Vertov, D., Michelson, A. and O’Brien, K. (1984). Kino-eye. Berkeley, Ca.: University of California Press.


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