The Morality of Making a Film about South African Vineyards
Ceridwen Dovey is a South African born novelist who now lives in New York. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Harvard in 2003, Dovey returned to South Africa to write a novel. Blood Kin, the result of that work, was published in 2007 to critical acclaim: the novel was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Informed by Dovey's South African roots, the novel tells the story of a fictional military coup from the perspective of the overthrown leader's portraitist, chef, and barber. Dovey is currently completing a PhD in Anthropology at New York University. Dovey doesn't see a conflict between her two passions. "Both anthropology and good fiction are full of thick description and a layering of detail," she says.
Question: What did you learn from the experience of making the film?
Dovey: Yeah that was my honors thesis film, and I think . . . It was this incredible experience. I lived on a wine farm in the western cape of South Africa, and sort of lived with the wine farm workers who are ethnically colored, which is a separate ethnic color in South Africa – not Black or White, but historically the descendents of the Malay slaves who were bought over by the Dutch and the local ___________. And traditionally they’ve always worked on the wine farms and have had a kind of paternalistic relationship with the wine farm owners where they were sort of, you know . . . They didn’t own their own houses or land, and were often paid in wine. And so there were huge problems of alcoholism. And so for me going in there, it was the beginning, I think, of my disillusion actually with the process of using film as a research tool. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it again, but I would be very wary of going into a community as a White South African with a video camera and clearly from a different class. And I sort of turned up on these wine farms initially, and the farmer hadn’t told the workers that I would be filming. I had assumed he’d asked their permission, and he sort of said, “Well oh, she’s gonna be filming you for the next three months of your . . . of your lives.” So you know over time you build a relationship with these people. And so it’s this, you know . . . It does become an incredibly important experience in your life, but I think it was also quite disturbing. Because no matter how good your intentions are, that power imbalance never goes away. And if you’re not very careful, I think it’s . . . it’s very damaging.
Question: What is it about that power imbalance that troubles you?
Dovey: I think it’s the sense that I wouldn’t want to ever film in a community again that I felt couldn’t say “no” to me. And just the, you know . . . the history of South Africa it was . . . You know it’s still too recent since the sort of paternalistic labor relations system ended for me to really feel like these workers in the community had enough sense of agency to feel that they, you know, could tell me “no” at certain moments. So it was a constant sort of . . . I was trying to read it, but often I felt that I was actually overstepping boundaries because they, you know, didn’t feel like they had a right to maintain those boundaries. So I think if I . . . If I did work on a film project again, I would pick a community that was of a more similar, I would say, class; particularly class background so that you felt that they were always co-participants in the project.
Question: Would it be as interesting
Dovey: Maybe not. Yeah, maybe it wouldn’t. And there’s always the argument that, you know, disenfranchised people need a voice; and their voices are silenced as it is; and they need anything that can give them a voice. But again, the ethics of doing that, I’m not sure how it works. And I actually think it’s a new generation in South Africa of a Black middle class that is emerging at the moment. And I think that’s gonna be a very interesting generation to watch just artistically. I think they will be able to create art that is indigenous in a way that perhaps can sidestep some of those ethical issues.
After spending three months with impoverished vineyard workers, Dovey dropped film, finding the power imbalance too troubling.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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