Cinepedia Ethnographica

DER presents Cinepedia Ethnographica

In 2017, DER was awarded a Foundations grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for preliminary planning work to create Cinepedia Ethnographica (CE), a worldwide, open access, union catalog of ethnographic and folklore films. The vision for CE is to create an extensive catalogue of films,  held by national archives, university departments, historical societies, educational distributors, and individual filmmakers. CE will contain metadata – information about the content, context, and structure of films – specifically designed to reflect the status of ethnographic films as cultural artifacts of encounters between filmmakers, subjects, and audiences.


  • Increase discoverability of a broad universe of ethnographic and folklore films, including those currently lacking formal distribution or cataloging.
  • Implement and promote best practices for cataloging these works with appropriate metadata, contextualizing them as cultural products and serving to decolonize these works.
  • Create new opportunities for research and teaching through more powerful and fine-grained search capabilities than currently exist.
  • Engage diverse communities—researchers, educators, students, and groups that have been the subjects of ethnographic films—in creating, enhancing and annotating film entries with information absent from the scholarly record.
  • Create a resource accessible by anyone on the web without fee (open access).


  • Support ingestion of catalog records from existing collections.
  • Afford record creation and enhancement by non-expert catalogers via a collection portal with an intuitive interface and accessible labels and instructions.
  • Support searches designed for educators, researchers, exhibitors, and communities represented in the films (or their descendants), such as the ability to search by film length, festival screenings, geographic region, cultural group, production/shooting date, release date, acquisition format (camera and recording media), and film style.
  • Support links to online resources on other websites (e.g.,, The National Anthropological Archives, Harvard Peabody Museum) and link checking for broken links
  • Be extensible to allow future addition of multiple language support, including Indigenous languages, and the inclusion of traditional knowledge (TK) labels.


The NEH grant provides funding for an 18-month planning period which began in June 2017. The main goals of the grant are to develop a metadata schema that has been tested with diverse collections, develop partnerships and research issues related to governance, editorial policies, and sustainability for the completed working catalogue. The project co-directors are Alice Apley and Jennifer Cool.

Participating Collections / Institutions

  • The Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Film Archive, formerly the Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA), collects and preserves a diverse range of ethnographic films and videos that dates from 1908 to the present and represents varied formats and production technologies. Collections include films made by or in collaboration with anthropologists as well as films of anthropological interest made by travelers, missionaries, and other amateur or professional cinematographers.
  • Documentary Educational Resources has a catalog of nearly 900 ethnographic and anthropological films, including titles that have been inducted into UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register and the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. The catalog includes essential teaching and research films that were instrumental in establishing ethnographic film as a genre.
  • Competence Centre for Non-Textual Material at the University of Hanover is part of the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB). The Centre took over the IWF (Institute for Scientific Film) collection and database in 2012, receiving the world’s largest collection of over 2000 ethnographic films produced by or in collaboration with social and cultural anthropologists or other scientists.
  • The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has an audiovisual collection of archaeology fieldwork films, expeditionary films, amateur travelogue films of cultural interest, and films produced by or about the Museum, dating from 1913–2010. The majority of these films can be viewed online at the Internet Archive (
  • National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) produced and hosted an internationally recognized Native American Film and Video Festival from 1979 to 2013. The NMAI, Smithsonian Institution, and NYU signed a Quit Claim Transfer Agreement in May 2015 transferring the collection to NYU, which is committed to an appropriate and sustained effort to provide responsible stewardship for the collection’s preservation and access.


At the heart of the Foundations grant, has been the development of a metadata schema for Cinepedia.  Our goal, in creating the metadata schema, has been to develop a robust template that would enable sophisticated search by researchers and general audience members, and would provide essential contextual information to understand the films as artifacts produced through the encounter between filmmaker and subjects at a particular moment of time.  As such, the metadata schema is designed to include information about the content, context, and structure of films entered, including where to find them (distributors, online access links), as well as records of festival screenings, broadcasts, and associated scholarly work, transcripts, repositories of research footage, interviews, teaching guides, and reviews. The following is a sampling of the types of data included in the schema.

Title (s) – Release title, working titles, etc
Dates (s) –broadcast, copyrighted, created, edited, published
Running Time
Main Subject and Keyword
Ethnic Group
Language(s): Presentation Language, Original Language, Subtitle Languages




Creator Name and Role (e.g. Producer; Director, Cinematographer, Editor, Anthropologist, researcher)
Filmmaker/Webpage link
Links to Related Resources (photograph collections, field notes and papers, archival holdings, distributors, reviews)
Film Festivals, Screenings and Awards

Contributor Name and Role (e.g. Subject; Still Photographer; Researcher; Anthropologist; Translator; Interviewer; Sponsor; Narrator; Voice-over Artist; Cinematographer; Editor; Sound Recordist)
Rights Holder


Alice Apley, Executive Director, DER
Jennifer Cool, Department of Anthropology, University of Southern California

Project Advisors

Beate Engelbrecht, Chair, Visual Anthropology Network of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (VANEASA)
Karma Foley, Director of Library and Archives, Smithsonian Channel
Faye Ginsburg, David B. Kriser Professor of Anthropology, New York University; Director, Center for Media, Culture and History; Co-Director, Center for Religion and Media; Co-Director, Council for the Study of Disability
Kate Hennessy, Assistant Professor, School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada
Jake Homiak, Director, National Anthropological Archives/HSFA, Smithsonian Institution
Maggie Kruesi, Folklorist, Librarian (Cataloger), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
Nancy Lutkehaus, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Southern California, Co-Director, Center for Visual Anthropology
Kate Pourshariati, Archivist/Cataloger, UPenn Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology
Metje Postma, Chair, Commission on Visual Anthropology: International Union for Anthropological and Ethnological Science, and University of Leiden, Netherlands
Rossella Ragazzi, Associate Professor, Tromsø University Museum. Department of Cultural Sciences, The Arctic University of Norway
Steven Rousso-Schindler, Associate Professor, Anthropology, California State University, Long Beach
Gary Seaman, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Southern California, Co-Director, Center for Visual Anthropology
Guha Shankar, Folklife Specialist, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
Nora Wildenauer, Alumna, MA Visual Anthropology, University of Leiden, Netherlands
Pam Wintle, Senior Film Archivist, Human Studies Film Archives, Smithsonian Institution