Interview with Birgit Meyer on her book “Sensational Movies: Video, Vision, and Christianity”
Yeon-Jue Bae interviewed Birgit Meyer on her latest book “Sensational Movies. Video, Vision, and Christianity in Ghana” (2015) for the CaMP Anthropology Blog. Based on two decades of fieldwork, the book explores the intersection of film and Christianity in Ghana, asking “how movies feed into and are fed by what people imagine, how their imagination is synchronized and how this yields shared sensations and common sense.”
Please find the interview here. It was published on April 17, 2017.
Starting with theoretical considerations, Meyer discusses the relation of sound and image arguing for a multi-sensorial approach to cinema. Going to the movies in Ghana, where the poor sound often facilitates high level interaction of audiences with the moving image, is an example of how imagination is embedded into a broader frame of sensation. Putting in the context of democratization and deregulation of mass media (radio, television and film) around 1994, she further explains how popular imaginaries could go public and become visible and audible on screen. Interesting here is that the approaches to movies on the part of the producer and the audience are embedded in everyday or “ordinary ethics” (Michael Lambek), the expectation of the morality of entertainment is widely shared. Another interesting point mentioned in the interview is the rise of the “religious real” in Ghanaian video movies, which is not given but subject to processes of contestation and authorization, especially in attempts to depict the invisible like occult forces. In relation to the question of reactional patterns to the movies, Birgit Meyer observes differences that depend on the interests and dispositions of the audience. In her fieldwork, she mainly focused on multi-ethnic settings in Ghana’s capital Accra. To some extent, she also conducted research among Ghanaians in the Netherlands. Concerning a transregional approach it would be interesting, she argues, to follow the circulation and screening of Accra- and Kumasi-made films in villages and across the borders of neighboring countries, especially with regard to the spread of television and mobile phones. Future research might also ask how technological resources like the internet influence the work of filmmakers in Ghana and Africa or contribute to the emergence of new themes and values.
Birgit Meyer is a cultural anthropologist and Professor of Religious Studies at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. She is member of the Academic Advisory Board of the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin.