PROSPECTUS FOR A WRITTEN COMPANION TO A COUNTRY AUCTION AN ETHNOGRAPHIC FILM - Jay Ruby, Bob Aibel, Chris Musello and Ben Levin
1.DESCRIPTION OF FILM COMPANION -- A Film Companion is proposed as an analysis of A COUNTRY AUCTION: The Paul V.Leitzel Estate Sale, an ethnographic documentary film. It will expand upon the film's treatment of the traditional function of estate sales in rural life and document the theoretical, methodological logistical and technical considerations which shaped the film's production. The companion will contain: 1. a cultural description of the community portrayed in A COUNTRY AUCTION; 2. an analysis of the auction as socio cultural process; 3. a description and discussion of theoretical, methodological, and logistical aspects of the film; 4. an annotated film transcript; arid 5. a guide to further readings. The companion will interest a diverse audience including those who wish to learn more about the subject matter and those with a critical interest in the nature of documentary media.
2. AUTHORS The companion will be written by Robert Aibel, Ben Levin, Chris Musello, and Jay Ruby, the producer/directors of the film (Resumes and film credits with distribution information are attached].
3. SYNOPSIS OF THE FILM A COUNTRY AUCTION is a 58 minute sound/color 16mm. ethnographic film about an estate auction in a rural community in Pennsylvania. It examines the personal, social and economic processes involved when a family dissolves their homestead. The estate sold in this film consisted of the last general store in town, the adjoining home, and the contents of both. Everything from real estate to pots and pans was placed on view, auctioned off, and the proceeds were divided among the heirs. The film follows the family of the deceased as they clean, sort and prepare fox' the auction, and as they hold a "preview" the evening before the sale. All of this culminates in the auction itself, where members of the community come to get bargains, buy remembrances, share memories, and take a last look around the home. At the same time, antique dealers move through the event as merchants, transforming household objects into commodities. The aftermath of the auction is depicted by following some objects to their new homes in the local area and others to distant parts of America. The film portrays the auction process as integral to the social life of the community and as a method for a family and community to deal with the death of one of their members.
JUSTIFICATION FOR COMPANION - A COUNTRY AUCTION examines the values of a rural community through an estate auction. The event is documented, described, and analyzed as a social and economic institution integral to the community's life. The film is one of a number of publications which are a consequence of a long term ethnographic study of visual and social communication in a rural Pennsylvania community. Two doctoral dissertations and a number of scholarly and popular articles have already appeared. A photographic exhibition, several books and more articles are planned
The film was designed primarily for public television and the classroom. However, we consider the "publication of the film to be a scholarly activity and therefore seek a critical engagement with other professionals interested in film as an outlet for scholarly communication. Since it is not possible to include a detailed discussion of the film methods or theoretical implications of our analysis of auctions as ritual, we decided to write this companion.
The film was a unique collaboration between social scientists and filmmakers. Three of us have been engaged in an ethnographic study of various aspects of social and visual communication in this region for the past several years. We have taught, written, and made films which preliminarily explored our ideas on how film could be used to communicate social science research. The film was a chance for us to collectively continue our explorations. The companion allows us to explicate our findings.
In screenings where we have circulated some preliminary written materials, the response by both general and scholarly audiences has been favorable to the idea of a companion to the film. General audiences have been struck by the emotional power of the film's perspective ¬especially its suggestion that these events become a medium though which people reconcile their feelings about death. They want to know more about these ideas than the film can reasonably provide.
The response to the film at meetings such as the American Folklore Society and the Mead Film Festival centers around the film's research and theoretical implications. Professionals interested in death and dying, performance, social customs and organization, folk culture, rural Americana, research field methods, as well as film studies have found reasons to want to know more. We feel that the companion will meet a real need for additional information about issues raised in A COUNTRY AUCTION as well as explore questions of a more general nature in several fields.
5. POTENTIAL MARKET AND OTHER BOOKS ON THIS SUBJECT The film companion represents an important contribution to ethnographic and documentary film study and production. It will also be useful in the fields of American Studies, Anthropology, Communication, Folklore, and Sociology. It will benefit anyone teaching about American culture, auctions, social communication, methods of accommodating death, rural culture, and Pennsylvania German customs. It will also provide an unusually close and reflexive look at the process of ethnographic/documentary film production. The companion will explore the nature of the collaboration in a detailed and open way so as to provide a usable example for other social scientists and imagemakers interested in the problems of film as a visualization of abstract thought.
There is a lack of detailed studies of the making of ethnographic and documentary films. As teachers of film, the authors of the film companion are acutely aware of the need for this information and for similar teaching aids. Karl Heider started a series of Film Companion Modules for Addison Weselley in the 1970s. Two were produced, The Path and Dead Birds, before the series was ended. The Dead Birds Module served as a model for our companion. Tim Asch and John Marshall provide study guides which contextualize their ethnographic films with cultural information not included in the film. More recently, two detailed analyses have appeared in the journal, Studies in Visual Communication ¬Jean Rouch's classic film Chronicle of a Summer and Sauzier's frame by frame study of Dziga Vertov's 1928 Man With a Movie Camera.
However, as important as these materials are for the understanding of the films they describe, none represent an attempt by the filmmakers themselves to provide a detailed analysis of the events depicted in the film and a study of the construction of the film. The authors of A COUNTRY AUCTION Film Companion are in the unique position of being able to make an important contribution to the fields of film studies and visual anthropology as well as American Culture studies.
6. OUTLINE FOR A COUNTRY AUCTION FILM COMPANION
SECTION I - INTRODUCTION
C. Background Research The Juniata County Project
SECTION II INTRODUCTION TO JUNIATA COUNTY
A. Settlement History
B. Current Demographics and Physical Description.
C. Cultural Profile Ethnic/Religious/Economic/Social
D. Richfield Site of the Film
SECTION III AUCTIONS AS SOCIO CULTURAL PROCESS
A. Historical Background of Estate Auctions.
B. General Description of the Components of an Auction.
C. Social/Symbolic Analysis of Auctions
D. Economics Analysis of Auctions
E. Description and Analysis of the Leitzel sale
SECTION IV THE MAKING OF THE FILM
1. A Theory of Film as Ethnography
2. Application to this Film
B. Initial Stages of Preparation
a. Politics and Finances of Social Science Documentaries.
b. Proposal and Treatment
3. Criteria for Selecting a Sale
4. The Selection Process Waiting for the "Right One"
5. Preparation Meetings
C. Pre Production
1. Research for Film
2. Preparation of Auction Shooting Script
3. Selecting Crew Members
1. Pre sale shoots Interviews, Meta interviews, Cleanup, Walkthrough, Preview.
2. The Auction Shoot
3. Follow up Shoots
E. Post Production
1. Editing Style and Methods of Working
a. Pressure of Time Film vs. Academia Work Worlds
b. Breaking Away from Chronology and the Formation of Modules
c. Balancing of Dealer/Economics and Family/Symbolic
d. Finding a Ending
2. Narration Writing, Delivery, and Placement
SECTION V. TRANSCRIPT OF FILM SECTION
A. Community Reactions
B. Screenings and Audience Plus General Response.
C. Study Film
SECTION VII. A GUIDE TO FURTHER READING.
Appendix I The Ethics of Ethnographic Film
Appendix II Sample of Editing Logbook