Reflexive Introduction to 24 Hour Loan

24 Hour Loan is a visual ethnographic film that looks into the lived experience of two students, Willow and James. The film takes a documentary style approach into looking at the ways in which these two students approach their workload at university, examining the ways in which these behaviours shape their daily lives over a 24 hour period. The film is a checking out of their lives, loaned to us for the purpose of understanding. A day of their lives was filmed and then edited together with interview footage and audio in the hopes that the audience might develop a resonance with the subject matter, to foster ‘empathy or compassion’ for the individual experiences shown (Wikan, 1992: 463).

Ton Otto, in considering the purposes for creating ethnographic films, discusses the aspect of the ‘film as a gift’ (2013: 196-8). He notes that it is certainly beneficial to create films that have value for outside audiences to watch, to create an understanding and appreciation of a culture other than their own. This is something that I wished to achieve with 24 Hour Loan, to have a film that would show to non-students what it is like to deal with day-to-to life as a student. Situating two different approaches and experiences within university in particular reference to their work load and how it may affect them. However, what I mostly focused on while creating my film was making something that both my participants would enjoy taking part in and watching, and that they would hopefully gain something from. As Otto discusses to have a ‘film as a gift’ is to create something that the participants and collaborators of a film will find beneficial in some way, whether that be emotional, political, or otherwise. I particularly hope the film will be something both participants can look back fondly on as a snapshot into this time of their lives.

Otto also discusses the ability of an ethnographic film to create ‘a reflexive space for the filmmakers and for the people involved’ (ibid: 201), which was definitely the case for my own project. Both while filming, and in showing my participants the final edit of the film, they both have discussed the ways in which being part of the film has led them to reflect on their own approach to their life at university. Thus the film, more than just creating a space upon to reflect upon their lives in the future, also led to them reflecting in the current moment. The presence of a lens observing their daily lives led them to consider their actions more, and the subsequent interview developed those thoughts in their discussing how and why they approach work in the ways that they do.

Otto further develops the idea of film creating a space for reflexivity in discussing how they create the opportunity to see ‘how people reflexively deal with and adopt their traditions to the particular situation they are in.’ (ibid) Although Otto was discussing this in relation to a more traditional ethnographic subject, that of the transformations tourism can have on a community, I still hope that similar thoughts can be applied to that of 24 Hour Loan. The film offers the participant and the viewer the chance to look at the ways in which a community, in this case students, adapt and adopt new ways of approaching their lives and work while at university.

When thinking about the ways in which I was going to approach filming the subject of my film I decided I wished to use both direct cinema and interview styles. The film has a more organic and natural side in the clips that show Willow and James going about their day. These segments were all filmed organically with no intervention from myself to affect their behaviour or tasks they would normally complete. Although it must be noted, as already briefly touched upon, that the very presence of the camera itself creates a dynamic that is different from the norm. Furthermore, regardless of the behaviour of film participants, as Mike Wayne discusses; ‘The space you select, what you include and exclude from the frame is a basic choice the photographer, the filmmaker and the videomaker alike, must make (1997: 79). My own filming was always going to shape the film and so I made the choice to focus on both full shots of their person as they went about their day, with more intimate close up shots using pull focus to transition shots.  I then had sit down interviews with them both to discuss further discuss their approach to life as a student. Upon editing; the film was first structured by the direct cinema footage of their days as I wanted the flow of this dimension to stay more true to the original content. I then overlaid the interview footage over and between to shape the meaning of the film a little more.

When discussing the process of developing a film David MacDougall states that films are usually ‘shot long and cut short’ (1998: 210). He believes that due to this still photographs can offer ‘the viewer more because they dictate meanings less’ then you get with cinematography (ibid). Which, linking to the previous discussion, is sometimes what I felt with 24 Hour Loan. Although all that I filmed and subsequently edited was true to each participants individual circumstances, I still questioned whether or not I could end up shaping the meaning myself too much in the editing process.  However the unedited form of the film would not provide a structure or narrative with which an audience would be able to engage with. I had to imagine an audience with no prior knowledge to the projects form and create a narrative with which they would be able to understand in order to make the film accessible, and thus useful, for an outside audience. Which is definitely something I wished to achieve alongside having the film be enjoyable for the participants.

The final film, 24 Hour Loan, is an intimate exploration of a day in the life of Willow and James.



Wayne, M., 1997. Theorising video practice.

Otto, T. 2013.  Ethnographic Film as Exchange. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 14:2, 195-205.

Wikan, U., 1992. Beyond the Words: The Power of Resonance. American-Anthropologist 19, 460- 482.

MacDougall, D., 1998. Transcultural cinema. Princeton University Press.

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