Visual Ethnographic Marginalia – Challenging the Dark Side: Udan Agung

We are announcing the first piece in a new series that we will be promoting on the Psycho Cultural Cinema blog on “Visual Ethnographic Marginalia” which are multimedia works that don’t necessarily rise to the level necessary to submit to a film festival, yet retain intrinsic ethnographic interest.

Anyone working for more than a little while in visual anthropology or ethnographic film has this sort of material. It could either be work that one began and never completed or a work in progress that one may or may not return to. Or it could be fragmentary material, such as the many short pieces that great ethnographic filmmakers like John Marshall and Timothy Asch included in their collections of their oeuvre.

Indeed, this idea occurred to me while reading Paul Henley’s “The Adventure of the Real: John Rouch and the Craft of Ethnographic Cinema.” Henley mentions that Rouch himself had over 100 completed films, most of which are hard to find even today. Many of Rouch’s films were experimental films, “cinematic poems,” unfinished works and even projects such as commercials for car dealers in West Africa. Works like these could potentially find a home on Visual Ethnographic Marginalia.

With the proliferation of digital technology, where over two billion people on the planet have the equivalent of what would have been a $100,000 camera in 1990 on their smart phones, there is obviously a huge amount of similar material gathered by budding or intrepid visual anthropologists waiting to be released.

What I’m presenting today is the first of three case studies on traditional healers in Java and Bali, for an as yet unreleased film entitled “Challenging the Dark Side.” This short case study film focuses on Udan Agung, a trance-channeler healer residing in Gunung Kidul, Wonosari, Central Java.

I have filmed this rather remarkable healer at least a half a dozen times over the last 15 years, and have gathered extensive ethnographic material in addition to the filming itself which remains to be published. What is presented here is an edited and condensed snapshot of several of these healing episodes, and commentary therein.

The footage was shot by a number of different cinematographers, including Wing Ko, Dag Yngvesson, Darwin Nugraha, and others. This film was edited by Chisako Yokoyama. My local friends and long-term collaborators collaborators, Dr. Mahar Agusno and Ibu Ninik Supartini, who are from this area in central Java, greatly facilitated both the introduction and the ongoing research.

Robert Lemelson

Robert Lemelson is an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on the relationship of culture, psychology and personal experience in Indonesia. He received his M.A. from the University of Chicago and Ph.D. from the department of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was a Fulbright scholar in Indonesia, exploring the relation of culture to mental illness and has worked for the World Health Organization. Lemelson's area of specialty is Southeast-Asian studies, psychological anthropology and transcultural psychiatry. He is currently an adjunct professor of anthropology at UCLA and a research anthropologist in the Semel Institute of Neuroscience at UCLA. He is also the president of the Foundation for Psychocultural Research, who funds programs and initiatives at the intersection of social and neuroscience.

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