This post responds to several questions we sent filmmaker and psychologist Jan Haaken about her work. Professor Haaken will deliver BCRW’s Silver Fellowship Lecture on October 23rd, 2012, and will have a private educational screening of Mind Zone on October 24th, 2012, at Barnard – email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
On the Margins
My clinical experience has been important in accessing and interviewing people in closed or restricted settings. From refugee camps, war zones, jails and psychiatric asylums to drag bars and hip-hop clubs, my aim is to draw out the complex humanity of the subjects who are of interest to me because they carry a heavy social symbolic load through the work they do. In other words, their place on the social margins evokes fantasies and defenses that reveal something important about the broader social order.
I initially thought of the camera as merely a research tool. My primary concern was to equip myself with gear suitable for the terrain and the data sought. Videotaping captured non-verbal communication in ways that other technologies would not permit, and it allowed for a wider range of options in the analysis and interpretation of field data. As the use of the camera extended beyond the aim of identifying themes, however, it became apparent that working with visual images required specific methodological and theoretical attentiveness, including attentiveness to the projective aspects of field data. Documentary film and video production—with their reliance on visual images—bring into bold relief many of the ethical quandaries of field research more generally. The politics of representation—often concealed in the abstract language of academic writing—are exposed in the documentary. The accessibility and evocative power of visual media invite broader critical engagement in what is shown and what is omitted and demands on the filmmaker to justify such choices. Yet to the extent that a picture “tells a thousand words” it operates as a seductive screen in seeming to obviate the necessity of interpretive concepts.
Trailer for Haaken’s Queens of Heart: Community Therapists in Drag
Beyond Domesticated Speech
My first documentary video project, Diamonds, Guns and Rice, focused on women’s perspectives on the Sierra Leonean civil war. I wanted to go beyond portraying women as passive victims of warfare and to position them as active protagonists—as having something to say about causes of armed conflict and the terms of the peace process. Whether domestic violence or sexual abuse survivors or victims or war, the price for visibility for female subjects often seems to involve adherence to a kind of moral virginity. My interest throughout my career has centered on assessing the costs of feminist strategies of storytelling, and expanding the scope of what women can say about their own lives and the worlds around them—to go beyond domesticated speech.