Open Conversation in Closed Communities: Subjectivity, Power Dynamics and Self in First Person Documentary Practice about Closed Communities

Iris Zaki

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This practice-based research was born out of the short documentary, My Kosher Shifts, which was made for a Master’s in Documentary Practice at Brunel University, London. The film was shot in an ultraorthodox Jewish hotel in London, in which the filmmaker worked as a receptionist and used an experimental documentary method to capture her interactions with random guests. The success of this documentary method, which was reflected in the ease with which subjects opened-up to the filmmaker and to the camera, encouraged this practice-based research and the further exploration of the method via the production of two more films, in two different communities. For this purpose, a number of key elements were identified in the filmmaking method of My Kosher Shifts, including: the filmmaker’s occupation of a customer service position; the abandoned camera technique (the use of fixed unmanned recording devices); the interaction with subjects through conversation rather than interview. Two films were produced for the following research, which aims to apply the method with these key elements: Women in Sink, was shot in a Christian-Arab hair salon in Israel, where the filmmaker took the position of hair washer for the purpose of making the film; Café Tekoa was shot in a West-Bank Jewish settlement in which the filmmaker was unable to gain a position in a local business and instead conversed with subjects in a pop-up café/studio in the commercial centre of the settlement.

The research demonstrates that where there is a harmony between the filmmaker and the community, the method outlined above works to effectively create immediate and intimate interaction with subjects, as shown in Women in Sink and My Kosher Shifts. However, when there is a conflict or dissonance between the community and the filmmaker – as occurred during the production of Café Tekoa – the immersion of the filmmaker into the community and her immediate interaction with random subjects may become difficult to establish or sustain. The following research suggests additional adjustments that could be made by the filmmaker in order to address and overcome these issues. Moreover, the research sheds light on artistic and ethical processes within the documentary practice, from the perspective of the filmmaker.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Ellis, John, Supervisor
  • Isaacs, Marc, Supervisor
Award date1 Jun 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • Iris Zaki
  • Women in Sink
  • Royal Holloway
  • Documentary
  • Practice-based Research
  • Israel
  • Jewish
  • settlement
  • ethnography

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