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Online-Workshop: Re-activating old film reels – Debating methodologies of collaborative restitution of archival films

01 Wertv Mist

28 May 2021   

Frobenius Institute, Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany   

Sophia Thubauville, Frobenius Institute for Research in Cultural Anthropology
Igor Karim, Institute for Theater, Film and Media Studies





Many archives and museums host archival film collections of anthropological research expeditions from the early twentieth century. Since anthropologists at the turn of the century usually conducted long periods of fieldwork in regions with scarce film documentation, their film footage often provides valuable historical and biographical material for the regions of origin that is of high ethnological interest. Amid current calls and efforts for restitution, however, such collections are often neglected, or restitution is limited to granting public access to the digitalized material (Macdonald and Basu 2008; Cohen 2015; Brehm 2016; Knopf, Lembcke and Recklies 2018; Odumosu 2020).

Despite the historical value of such footage, research and scientific film production within anthropological research mostly followed the rationale and epistemic values of their time and a similar narrative pattern: the filmed events are ahistorical, the filmed subjects do not have a name or personal biography, they do not address the camera but merely perform work techniques, rituals or dances. The formal and technical elements of these films and the ways in which their subjects are objectified as sources of data suggest that the films sought to fulfil their researchers' goals, taking on the appearance of an epistemological tool informed by scientific rationality, rather than reflect the artists' or the source communities’ needs. Thus they may share similarities with other non-fiction film categories, such as the scientific films promoted by the Institute for Scientific Film (IWF) and industrial or commissioned films (Wolf 1967; Taureg 1983; Husmann 1978; Vonderau and Hediger, 2009; Näser 2014; Curtis 2015).

Some difficult issues arise when considering the possibilities for repatriating these films to the source communities. Uppermost among considerations around repatriation should be the promotion of ways for the source communities to re-engage with this material with a rationale that fits their current interest and needs. Audiovisual material not merely be restituted, but stimulate new forms of representation by re-configuring the film production mechanisms, which are intertwined with the mechanisms reproducing epistemic and non-epistemic values.

The aim of our workshop is to address new and collaborative restitution methods, in which artists and filmmakers from source communities could critically engage with this specific film archive and produce new forms of representation and discourse that rejoin current artistic practices in the original communities.


The workshop will take place online via Zoom

For participation please contact Sophia Thubauville: Diese E-Mail-Adresse ist vor Spambots geschützt! Zur Anzeige muss JavaScript eingeschaltet sein.


9.30 am: Welcome
Prof. Roland Hardenberg, director, Frobenius Institute, Frankfurt am Main

9.40 am: Returning Old Ethnographic Films to Thailand and Kiribati
Rolf Husmann, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Göttingen

10.20 am: Visual Repatriation of the Masakin
Isao Murahashi, African Studies Center, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

11.00 am: Reassembling Image and Sound: On the Post-Synchronization of Film Documents from Kiribati
Wolfgang Kempf, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Göttingen

11.40 am: The Lau of Malaita: A Sequel?
Stephanie Hobbis, Wageningen University; Geoffrey Hobbis, University of Groningen

12.20 am – 1.30 pm BREAK

1.30 pm: ANGLES. Engaging Multiple Perspectives for Reapproaching and Reappropriating Colonial Audiovisual Archives
Jonas Van Mulder, KU Leuven

2.10 pm: Moving Images, controversial memories
Monica Heintz, Université Paris Nanterre

2.50 pm: Film restitution and production studies: the epic of Jolokpitpë
Igor Karim, Institute for Theater, Film and Media Studies, Goethe University, Frankfurt

3.30 pm: Revisiting Nigeria: Taiwo Shango’s Return
Christine Matzke, University of Bayreuth; Lekan Balogun, University of Lagos; James Gibbs, Bristol; Bode Omojola, Mount Holyoke College

4.10 – 5.00 pm: BREAK

5.00 pm: What Can Film Restitute? A discussion of recent examples
Arnd Schneider, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo

5.40 pm: Comments and ideas for a collaborative repatriation of Frobenius films to Ethiopia
Eyob Defersha, Arba Minch University, Tesfahun Hailu, Mekelle University, Solomon Mekonen, Berlin


Poster with program

Photo by Bärbel Högner