Ritual Reconstructed (RR) is a Jewish LGBTQI community/ academic creative project. It involves factual filming, focus groups, bricolage workshops, exhibits and community screenings.

My role on the project is that of filmmaker, and my background is largely factual filmmaking– poetic documentary to be exact. In recent years, my research has turned to the juncture of ethnographic film and poetic documentary, all of which has led me to the RR project. The last community project I worked on was alongside the RR Community Coordinator, Surat Shaan Knan, whose oral history Rainbow Jews project I filmed. But unlike that project, the filming component of RR has required not only talking head interviews, but also a cine-anthropological approach. Logistical planning for the RR filming really began in October 2014. At that point the films to be made were agreed upon by the RR team headed by Prof Margaret Greenfields of Bucks New University, and preproduction began in earnest. From the beginning, the productions were complex endeavours to organise, involving coordinating with community participants (thanks Surat Shaan!!), reviewing ethical guarantees with participants, organising actual events to film, venue approvals, crew, kit, transportation… Anyone who has made factual location films before will know the hoops one has to jump through, and when you are combining a factual talking head “magazine” approach with a more cinematic approach for recording religious ritual – well it’s a lot to think about.

So how does one go about filming anthropological ritual? In his polemical films and writings on cine-ethnography the celebrated visual anthropologist, Jean Rouch, was clear that film makers must throw themselves into the ritual they are experiencing and recording.

They must participate, “ethno-look” and “ethno-think.” In turn, communities – who tend to modify their behaviour on camera anyway – should use the opportunity to “ethno-show and ethno-think.” Ideally, in a democratic exchange of experiences, an “ethno-dialogue” is established between maker and subject, and knowledge is “the result of an endless quest where ethnographers and those whom they study meet” (see “On the Vicissitudes of the Self…” (1973) reprinted in Jean Rouch’s Cine-Ethnography, University of Minnesota Press, 2003).

Again and again Rouch’s ethnographic films foreground creative partnerships – that of the creative, filmmaking “participant observer” and that of the community participants – which can combine to produce important results. In the case of RR we are ALL attempting just such a creative interaction and synthesis. Filmed events are organised from within the LGBTQI Jewish Liberal Community. I in turn organise camera and editing with my crew at the University of Portsmouth (see below). Both sides of the creative equation are then talked through by all the stakeholders and agreed. Participants are encouraged to explore and perform on camera ritual which is either evident ALREADY in LGBTQI Jewish Liberal practice, or is created SPONTANEOUSLY there and then by tinkering with everyday objects and incorporating them into religious ritual, transforming them perhaps beyond their original function and meaning, what Levi Strauss has called bricolage. Once the creative approach has been talked through and agreed between filmmaker and participant, and the scene blocked (almost like a filmed dance would be), the filming is ready to commence. For filming the ritual, I use two light weight cameras, one for close hand held shots, another for wider master shots. Mikes are on booms for maximum flexibility, especially if the ritual involves movement. All these filming techniques avoid any unnecessary disruption of the ritual. Before or after the filming of the ritual, talking head interviews are filmed with the principal participants, the questions having been drafted beforehand by the Head of the RR project, Prof Margaret Greenfields. These interviews are then intercut with the filmed ritual at the editing stage, to bring out salient points of the participants and to emphasise a point the filmmaker is trying to make.

In due course, the films are put up on the www.ritualreconstructed.com website, and a cinema screening arranged, all to invite an on-going, meaningful, creative “ethno-dialogue” between filmmaker and participants.


By Searle Kochberg (filmmaker, writer and lecturer)
Posted May 2015

Produced and directed by Searle Kochberg, University of Portsmouth
Edited by Luke Robertson, University of Portsmouth
Principal Camera Shawn Briggs, University of Portsmouth
Crew CCi students, University of Portsmouth
Community Coordination by Surat Shaan Knan, Liberal Judaism