Visual Anthropology Society hosts film festival for fourth year in a row

The Visual Anthropology Society will host a two-day film festival conference April 9-10.

For the fourth year in a row, the Visual Anthropology Society at Temple will hold the Futures of Visual Anthropology Conference April 9-10.

The two-day film festival will feature several projects that aim to extend beyond the visual experience. Open submissions allow students, scholars, grad students and community organizers in various fields to share their research with a like-minded community.

“Visual anthropology is the use of visual methods to convey knowledge and understanding of other people and how they live their lives,” said VAST faculty advisor Damien Stankiewicz. “It is the parallel work to written ethnography.”

VAST was established in 2011 by a group of graduate students interested in preserving, celebrating and challenging the legacy of visual anthropology at Temple.

Former VAST president Eva Weiss said Temple’s anthropology of visual communication has continued to develop since the 1960s when Jay Ruby, a retired professor of anthropology, first organized an anthropological film festival at the university.

This year, the theme, “Making Space,” was designed by graduate students that wanted to highlight the access to “spaces” that social organizations occupy.

“The theme comes from our desire to explore the myriad of ways in which ordinary people organize actions that promote their democratic participation in decisions relating to the environment, civil liberties, media, infrastructure and health outcomes,” said Ben Wilson, the current president of VAST and a second year anthropology graduate student.

“In short, we aim to review and analyze the production and experience of such events through innovative approaches to visual ethnography, as well as digital and new media research,” Wilson added.

Researchers submit work at a national and global level, making Temple a hub for the visual anthropology sub-discipline. Last year, American University graduate candidate Siobhán McGuirk won “Best Super Short” for her film “Why Does This Happen?”

McGuirk’s film centered on the militarized masculinity in the United States.

“I was really encouraged by the VAST conference as it’s genuinely encouraging of innovation in visual anthropology – not clinging rigidly onto tradition in the field, but still valuing genuinely anthropological work,” McGuirk said. “So, being rewarded there was an endorsement to keep making these kinds of film.”

Roughly 50 Temple students help to run the free two-day conference.

“VAST Graduate students are great – they really motor the conference, and Temple students are a really big part of the paper panel,” Stankiewicz said. “They are always doing great projects and present amazing papers.”

Last year, the Visual Anthropology Society at Temple won the Program of the Year award from Student Activities and the Office of Leadership Development for the 2013 Futures of Visual Anthropology conference.

“This sort of recognition helps the visual anthropology community spread the word of the growing field,” Stankiewicz said.

 “Temple University is really a center and destination for people that want to study visual anthropology,” Stankiewicz added. “We are leaders in that and we are establishing and cultivating conversation around what visual anthropology means today and how it can make anthropology more accessible to people.”

Nina Depaz can be reached at

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