Observational narratives and feminist practice : an analysis of Kim Longinotto's documentary filmmaking using Rough Aunties (2008) as a case study.
This research is primarily focused on the feminist filmmaker Kim Longinotto’s South African-based documentary Rough Aunties (2008). Through a process of close analysis it aims to describe how Longinotto structures the observational material that she gathered for this film; to place this analysis in the context of her other films that share thematic and stylistic similarities; and to explore the link between these filmmaking techniques and Longinotto’s feminist agenda. Despite her films falling into what Nichols (2001) describes as the observational mode, this research argues that Bruzzi’s (2000, 2006) concept of the mixed-mode documentary provides a more appropriate framework for understanding Longinotto’s films. In order to substantiate this view, this research draws on and adapts the analytical framework that Bordwell and Thompson (2001, 2008) use for the analysis of feature films and shows how Longinotto’s film narrative is built out of a series of loosely interconnected petits récits (Lyotard, 1984, 1992), a technique which allows her to respect the unpredictable voices of her subjects and also to acknowledge the presence and significance of the camera. Examination of both these elements of Longinotto’s film-making practice leads to the conclusion that Smaill (2009) is correct when she argues that Longinotto is an underrated feminist filmmaker whose work provides an opportunity for the voices of women on the margins to be heard. The text-based analysis is supported by material drawn from two extended interviews: one with the filmmaker herself, the other with Mildred Ngcobo, one of the leading characters in Rough Aunties. Keywords: Kim Longinotto, observational documentary, mixed-mode documentary, petits récits, narrative structure, third wave feminism, feminist filmmaking.