Professor David MacDougall from the Research School of Humanities & the Arts has been awarded the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Special Award for Lifetime Achievement.
The award is in recognition of his work in ethnographic film, exploring and documenting cultural patterns in societies around the world.
“Written anthropology can give us one type of information, but film allows us to look at people’s emotional lives,” he said. “It’s about looking at how different groups have solved the universal problems everyone faces – what is different, but also the underlying similarities and themes.”
Professor MacDougall began his career in east Africa, filming cattle, camel and goat herders. In 1997 he began a series of films about the lives of Indian children in different types of schools and homeless shelters. His latest project puts the camera in the hands of the children.
“I told the Institute I’d prefer they called it a ‘mid-career’ award rather than a ‘lifetime’ award, because I’ve still got a lot to do! My current Australian Research Council discovery project is conducting video workshops with groups of children around India – middle-class children and poor children, in urban and rural places.
“The basic concept is they decide on important topics and we teach them to use a video camera as a way of exploring those topics. An 11-year-old boy in a government school in New Delhi wanted to study one of these very small hole-in-the-wall corner stores.
“Then there was an 11-year-old girl who wanted to make a story about how girls are discriminated against – she made quite a powerful short film about how boys get preferential treatment.”
Professor MacDougall, who has been at ANU since 1996, says he feels honoured by the award.
“This award is given every couple of years to someone in my discipline and some of the previous recipients have been really important in my own career, including one of my teachers at UCLA film school, Colin Young, who was an important mentor for me. So I was I really pleased. It was very nice company to be part of.”
Three films taken by participants in Professor MacDougall’s Delhi children’s video workshop were screened today at 1.30pm in Hedley Bull Theatre 1. One of Professor MacDougall’s films, which he describes as “a portrait of a very intelligent and articulate 6-year-old”, will screen in the same theatre at 6pm tonight.