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Inshore Fishing in Lau: the role of the narrator in ethnographic film

I began watching this film because I was interested in what one of Fiji’s main industries might be and how an underdeveloped nation produces sustenance. However, once I began watching, what surprised me was the narrator. Here the narrator is American, and although I have not been able to find out any information about the producers of the film, it is likely that he is simply being used as a voiceover rather than someone directly involved in the production of the film.

His voice is deadpan and somewhat soothing. I have maintained throughout my posts that impartiality is a necessity for me when watching a documentary film, and there is something about the soporific quality of the narrator’s voice that makes this documentary so. To simply inform, rather than pass comment, is what he succeeds in doing. It made me wonder whether the Fijians would be able to maintain the same distance were they to make a documentary about the USA.

Some of my favourite documentary films have been without a narrator, notably One Day in the Life of a Rice Farmer, whose action needs no narration simply because the subjects’ actions and the natural soundtrack speak so much. However, the need for a narrator varies from film to film, and this film arguably needs one in order to explain the deep cultural heritage of Vono fishing. Were I to make a film requiring narration, I would probably not narrate myself; rather, choose a narrator distanced from the action of my film, who could provide detached narration yet still convey understanding to my audience.

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