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Book: Religion and Sight

Chapter: 4. Sensing Reelism: Portals to Multiple Realities and Relationships in World, Indigenous, and Documentary Cinema

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.35747


Although documentary films seem to transport the viewer directly into social worlds, they are subject to limitations, particularly with regard to the depiction of visionary experiences and dreams. This paper therefore explores ways in which fictional storytelling in world and indigenous cinemas has depicted powerful landscapes inhabited by spirits and ghosts in order to offer portals into different ways of seeing. It suggests that the term portal is useful because it evokes radical transformations and differences in perspective, sensual perception, and personhood, including altered conceptions of place, environment and time.

Scholars such as Carp (2008) have suggested that recent trends in the scholarship of the senses (Classen, 1998 & 1993, Stoller, 1997) are important tools in anthropological film studies because sensuous scholarship challenges the equating of seeing with consciousness and rationality and helps students to understand that perception, the senses, and emotions are not simply expressed or described differently in diverse cultures but are fundamentally shaped by social relationships (Stoller, 1997, Lutz, 1988). Sight remains powerful, however, and this paper explores some of the challenges and creative techniques that film-makers have used to translate into visual media religious activities such as oral storytelling, encouraging an awareness of local environments, and developing social relationships with persons, including animals, spirits and ghosts. Ghosts are often associated with traumatic histories in world and indigenous cinemas, but they are also one of the ways that film-makers can play with conceptions of place and time in order to demonstrate the vitality of living religions in contemporary social and political environments, where indigenous peoples look to the future as well as honouring the past.

Chapter Contributors

  • Louise Child ( - child) 'Cardiff University'