Open City Documentary Festival

Anthropology of Home (Online)

Jun 3 — Jul 22

Aided by ethnographic examples from across the globe, explore the meaning of home and the role of anthropology in understanding identity and belonging.

Due to unforeseen circumstances this course has had to be postponed. New dates will be available shortly. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Anthropology of home is a documentary film course on the notion of home and belonging. A home can be many different things; an apartment block, a tent, a hotel room, or a memory. In this course we will use ethnographic examples from all over the world to discuss issues surrounding space and place. How does anthropology contribute to the understanding of identity and belonging? Ranging from discussing a film on a communist housing block in Romania, pastoral nomads in Niger, mobile homes in the US and non-places such as a hotel room in Ethiopia as a momentary home, the course will pose and encourage questions on home and exile.

Session 1 Non-western houses
Kamakura, Japan, October 11th 1990 between 4pm and 5pm: a filmmaker ‘writes’, in a 55 minutes sequence shot, the love letter that he never received from his father. La lettre jamais écrite (The letter that was never written) is a film by Dominique Dubosc. We will discuss non-western architecture and touch on Pierre Bourdieu’s seminal article on the Berber house.

Session 2 Pastoral nomads
The Woodabe are a pastoral nomadic group in West Africa who follow their herds in the search for fresh pastures. Homes are transient and easy to build. They tend to be beds made from sticks and a few blankets in the shade of a tree with no roof. How do the Woodabe understand home when they have no concept of borders?

Session 3 Communist housing
The Block is a piece of Communist urban planning in Romania and tells the story of the housekeeper and its residents. Designed as a visual ethnography the filmmaker and anthropologist Maria Salaru carefully portrays life under a socialist regime and a forgotten architecture.

Session 4 Mobile homes
The US has a whole community of people who refuse to be settled in ordinary housing and want to enjoy their freedom. Chasing Houses (2007) follows the lives of residents who bought mobile houses and travel across the USA. What makes people want to keep moving and still own a comfortable house?

Session 5 Home and screen memory
Home as a memory. In Behind the Screen (2012) Burmese filmmaker Aung Nwai Htway finds movies in an old film archive that show his parents, famous actors from the 1960s together, happy and in love. Now divorced and irreconcilable the found footage presents an idea of home the filmmaker never experienced. We will discuss the home in regard to cultural memory.

Session 6 Labour camps and home as terror
The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (1975-1979) arrested thousands of citizens for their anti-communist stance and kept them in inhuman labour camps. Cambodian director Rithy Panh made an animation paired with archival footage to find The Missing Picture (2013) of his and his family’s life in the camps. Home is here associated with cruelty and violence. The poetic commentary laments the memory of a terror era.

Session 7 Nostalgia
The German concept of Heimat (home, belonging, nostalgia) has often been associated with reactionary anti-modernism and provincial life. The short film Small Heimat (2007) investigates how the term Heimat has adapted to modern places and spaces. Situated in an open cast brown coal mining area, half of the village was destroyed and rebuilt in a new location in the 1950s. What role does the term Heimat, which traditionally concerned the preservation of local history and natural landscapes, play in such a place?

Session 8 Homelessness
Homelessness can have many faces. The film Room 11, Ethiopia Hotel (2007) recounts the life of children living on the street in Gondar, Ethiopia, by witnessing the interaction between two children and the filmmaker Itsushi Kawase. The entire film was shot in the room of the Ethiopia Hotel. Indeed, this film is more a sensitive testimony than a scientific documentary. This hybrid approach aims to explore new trends in visual anthropology, including the issue of dealing with intimacy and subjectivity. Australian artist Richard Goodwin’s performance in Barangaroo: Doppelgänger (1981-2015) on the other side is a re-enactment of a homeless man’s journey in Sydney.

This course will be delivered via online distance learning. Students will require their own computer or another internet connected device. If you have any questions or concerns about this, please get in contact with Ripley.



Barbara Knorpp


Barbara Knorpp is an anthropologist with a special interest in film history. Her work is situated in the interdisciplinary arena between anthropology, cinema, media studies, and fine art. Before her PhD she worked in an international photo press agency, collaborated with artists, and worked in documentary and fiction film in Germany, Japan, and Australia. In 2018-19 she acted as a film curator for the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Museum in Krefeld, Germany. She was a Teaching Fellow in Museum and Cultural Heritage Studies at University College, London in 2015-16 and was a Visiting Lecturer in Anthropology at Brunel University 2007-2014. Barbara is also a member of the RAI Film Festival film committee. She recently published a book on African Cinema: "African Film Cultures: Context of Creation and Circulation" edited by Winston Mano, Barbara Knorpp and Anuli Agina (2017). She has a background in Anthropology, Theatre, Film, and Television Studies, and Art History.