Professor David MacDougall from the Research School of Humanities and the Arts has been awarded the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Special Award for Lifetime Achievement.
MacDougall, a professor at Australian National University, is the brother of Cooperstown village historian Hugh MacDougall. The award is in recognition of his work in ethnographic film, exploring and documenting cultural patterns in societies around the world.
“Written anthropology can give us one type of information, but film allows us to look at people’s emotional lives,” he said in a media release. “It’s about looking at how different groups have solved the universal problems everyone faces — what is different, but also the underlying similarities and themes.”
MacDougall began his career in east Africa, filming cattle, camel and goat herders. In 1997, he began a series of films about the lives of Indian children in different types of schools and homeless shelters. His latest project puts the camera in the hands of the children.
“I told the institute I’d prefer they called it a ‘mid-career’ award rather than a ‘lifetime’ award, because I’ve still got a lot to do. My current Australian Research Council discovery project is conducting video workshops with groups of children around India — middle-class children and poor children, in urban and rural places,” he said in the release.
“The basic concept is they decide on important topics and we teach them to use a video camera as a way of exploring those topics. An 11-year-old boy in a government school in New Delhi wanted to study one of these very small hole-in-the-wall corner stores.
“Then there was an 11-year-old girl who wanted to make a story about how girls are discriminated against – she made quite a powerful short film about how boys get preferential treatment,” he added.
MacDougall, who has been at ANU since 1996, said he feels honored by the award.
“This award is given every couple of years to someone in my discipline and some of the previous recipients have been really important in my own career, including one of my teachers at UCLA film school, Colin Young, who was an important mentor for me. So I was really pleased. It was very nice company to be part of,” he said in the release.