Viewing the Vernacular: Folklife in the Womb of Power


A Screening and Discussion of Two Student-Made Ethnographic Films

Miss Robabeh Is an Exception (2011)

By Ehsan Estiri
Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology
Western Kentucky University

This ethnographic film concerns the lives of women who work in the world's largest carpet weaving workshop, located in Neyshaboor, Iran. The goal was to holistically represent their lives and art, as interrelated realities, but the folk artists were quite reluctant to take part in the film always maintaining distance from the camera and film crew. While we were nearly disappointed, a disabled but extremely lively woman, Ms. Robabeh, invited us to her house and allowed us to see some other facets of her life. During the two months of research and filming, we witnessed more than a hundred humble women who, although seemingly reserved and impassive, with a great deal of dedication tackled numerous difficulties in order to provide a hand-to-mouth existence for their families. The idea of being considered as a folk artist was a laughable dream for most of these women. The aesthetic of the film is trying to reflect the sub-narrations of their fragmented lives and communicate the emotional atmosphere dominating theses anonymous carpet weavers.

The Skin That Burns(2012)

By Narges Bajoghli
Department of Anthropology
New York University

The Skin That Burns tells the story of Iran's volunteer soldiers who were exposed to chemical bombs during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). The film follows veteran Ahmad Salimi, who is now legally blind and has scars throughout his body from exposure to chemical weapons. From the daily regimen of pills that Ahmad has to take to the inhalers that allow him to breathe, Ahmad's story reveals the deadly effects of chemical bombs, a rarely talked about consequence of modern warfare. Following Ahmad's story as he struggles to stay alive and fights for peace, The Skin That Burns explores issues of chemical warfare, how families struggle with disability and illness, and chronicles one man's determination to live, despite it all.