Autoethnography as documentary in Iranian films and videos

  • Mazyar Lotfalian
Keywords: autoethnography, Post-revolutionary Iran, Iranian visual production


In this essay I explore the place of autoethnography in recent Iranian films and videos. Anthropologists who have in past decades insisted on personal voices as ethnography, have coined the word ‘autoethnography’ as a category that engenders writing on self and society. This genre refers to a range of writing strategies from autobiography to self-reflexive stories. Authors often situate the
self within society through self-narrative in socio-political contexts. Authors of autoethnography often conduct their practice across multiple social and cultural identities, exploring their different identities creatively through experimentation with technology, and through playing with different mediation styles. In what ways do these autoethnographic explorations offer a new opening for selfexpression and cultural critique? To what extent do they act as forms of either mediation or representation and to what extent is it a form of ‘reality’ staging? Extending the notion of autoethnography to films and videos of Iranian artists and cultural producers puts into sharp relief how autoethnography, as a genre of exploring one’s own culture, not only tells a personal story, but explores the ambiguity of story-telling and the difficulty of giving voice to one’s self and others. It frequently involves mixing genres, is often an act of political resistance (as in underground production), and is often about creating distinction in the face of
social and political despair.