Before Creature Comforts became an entertainment franchise, it was a five minute animated short:
The film’s dialogue was excerpted from interviews with nursing home residents, housing development residents, and a shopkeeper’s family, and then attributed to claymation critters talking about their lives in a zoo.
I wonder what Creature Comforts is, exactly. Is it art, ethnography, both, neither? Maybe it’s an ethnographic film like Nanook of the North, an example of sensory ethnography like some of the work ongoing at Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, and/or an artwork informed by qualitative methods, like Laurel Richardson’s interview transcripts made into poems.
Ethnography, or writing about culture, necessarily involves transformation and interpretation. Even the interview with a hackathon participant presented here, which may look like a pretty straightforward report, involved some transformation. Some pieces of the interview are omitted; some quotes are selected and arranged in a particular order. A paper or presentation that used participants’ words to develop a theory or make recommendations might require more transformation.
Ethnographic documentaries are clearly a product of their makers’ interpretation and manipulation. Is Creature Comforts a kind of ethnographic documentary? Is it more transformative than a documentary, and if it is, does that matter?
Knowing the source of the dialogue adds meaning to the film. The people who were interviewed and the contexts in which they were interviewed have a relationship to the film’s zoo setting. The meaning in that relationship may be thought of as a kind of cultural commentary, but perhaps not all cultural commentary is ethnography.
What do you think?