Professor and Chair /
Ethnographic Film Director
Department of Sociology
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Wes Shrum's interest in the sociology of science and technology in the developing world has been taking him to Kenya, Ghana, and Kerala in southwestern to do research since the 1990s. His increasing use of video ethnography as a primary research method also extends to his own backyard. He and his students are midway through a ten-year project that uses video-taped interviews and footage of key events in the disaster and recovery to document the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They have collected more than 800 hours of footage, all of which will be deposited as an archive in the Louisiana State Museum.
Documentary Films Directed by Wesley Shrum
"A Kenyan tale of violence and humanity"
Brother Time is a documentary film directed by Wesley Shrum, a sociologist at Louisiana State University. The movie deals with the interpersonal dynamics spawned by tribal politics in Kenya.
by Thom Fredericks
TF: While you were working on "Brother Time" did you look at this first from a sociological aspect or more of a visual documentation aspect?
WS: "Brother Time," as in "all men are brothers", was an off-shoot of the main project which was talking to scientists, educators, and researchers mostly in the field of agriculture in these countries and because it had happened shortly after the violence, almost all of them wanted to talk a little bit about it. The guy who became the leading character was just such an appealing character that I thought of a way I could put him into the story. As we got serious about it we came back the next year to finish it.
I discovered two things, one good and one bad. He had become friends with his neighbor again which is kind of the central human-interest part of the story is his friendship with his neighbor from a different tribe. That is why I say it is a mythic tale. Well, that was the good thing and that became the end of the movie but the bad thing was that he didn't have the spirit, he didn't have the energy, he didn't have the fervor that he had previously and that was because he was friends with his neighbor again. Too much time had elapsed and so the trick was, how do you use the first footage when it was really jumpy from riding in the car, it was really just awful. Even though you could say the same words again you can never reconstruct the beauty of the energy. But still we made it work, I think. We did the best we could on cleaning it up to make it less terrible.
TF: How would you distinguish the difference between general documentary and ethnographic documentary?
WS: That's a really good question and I have no clue at all how to answer it. I am basically just an amateur in terms of documentary. But when I see documentaries, that is, documentaries made by people that call themselves documentary filmmakers, they seem amateur to me. They don't seem like amateur films, they seem like amateur sociology to the extent that they are trying to understand the social world or to say something about it. I would hope that you would forgive me – I don't think that many of them are very good in that respect. But they are good for amateurs.
I think that they are undoubtedly good at what they do. They have their own discipline and they know what they are doing and I am sure they do it very well. But they don't do social science. There is no competition here; it's just different.
Click here to read the full transcript of Wesley Shrum's interview about his movie Brother Time, visual methodology, and the state of video ethnography.
All Featured Directors
Wesley Shrum is a sociologist who is documenting the aftermath in the disaster and recovery in the U.S. and technological change in the developing world.02. Frederick Wiseman
Frederick Wiseman is a renowned American filmmaker, documentarian, and theatrical director.03. Ron Harpelle
Ron Harpelle is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose films focus on history, development issues and human rights.04. Charles "Stretch" Ledford
Charles "Stretch" Ledford has worked in 50 countries on 5 continents. His images have been published by leading corporations and advertising agencies.05. David Redmon
David Redmon's interest is nonfiction documentary storytelling. He has produced, directed, edited, and photographed films.06. Jim Ault
James Ault is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and author.07. Greg Scott
Greg Scott is a sociologist, filmmaker, and public radio journalist specializing in 'marginal' and 'vulnerable' populations.