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HOW LITTLE WE KNOW OF OUR NEIGHBOURS (269)

11:30, Wednesday 27th June, Stephen Joseph

Director: Rebecca Baron (USA)

Year: 2005

Run time: 50'

Location/Ethnic group: Bolton, England

Language: English narration

Production/Distribution: Video Data Bank

How little we know our neighbours

This is an experimental documentary about Britain's Mass Observation Movement and its relationship to contemporary issues regarding surveillance, public self-disclosure and privacy. At its center is a look at the multiiple roles cameras have played in public space, starting in the 1880's, when the introduction of the hand-held brought photography out of the studio and into the street. For the first time one could be photographed casually in public without knowledge or consent. Mass Observation used surreptitious photography to record and scrutinize people's behaviour in public places. Mass Observation was an eccentric social science enterprise founded in the late 1930's in England that combined surrealism with anthropology. The film traces the history of the movement from its inception as a progressive if naive "anthropology of ourselves" in the 1930's through its reincarnation as a civil spy unit during World War II and its eventual emergence as a market research firm in the 1950's. Mass Observation's history is echoed in a range of present-day phenomena from police surveillance to web cams to reality television that points to ways in which our notions of privacy and self-definition have changed.