‘Mirror Mirror’ by Zamirah Moffat (2006)

‘Mirror Mirror is a 58min documentary, based on an audio-visual ethnography of London’s queer Club Wotever. Begun in the autumn of 2003, it promoted itself as a club that welcomed all genders and sexualities – a counterpoise to London’s mainstream segregated scenes. The film is not only queer in content, however, but also queer in form, as it uses dialogue and intersubjectivity as its main stimulus and narrative drive.  It was part of Moffat’s PhD into the relevance of shared-anthropology, where she argued that integrated audio-visual participant feedback is both an effective and affective strategy for representing contemporary queer cultures – indeed any culture who resists identification by exogamous sources’ (source: Birkbeck Institute site [accessed 30 January 2009] – for a screening on March 2009)

Zamirah Moffat works in the field of visual anthropology and is informed by queer theory. She explains that:

‘By visual ethnography I mean an ethnography that incorporates the visual not simply as a way of gathering ethnographic data, but as a device that captures and documents the process of capturing, thereby producing a thoroughly situated knowledge’.

Her Myspace webpage contains four clips of the film at the moment.

Recently, a photo exhibition narrated the story of Wotever World so far. The photos are online here.

There were some very interesting ideas in ‘Mirror Mirror’. Apart from a scene at the start of the film, where Maria Mojo is being filmed while putting on a Monroe wig, the rest of the performers are not filmed in front of  a mirror. People are uneasy with the camera around. Ingo, for example shares her concern about trust and about control of the ‘final product’. The fact that the filmmaker is a friend of hers complicates the procedure. The filmmaker/ reseracher started filming as soon as Wotever came into existence in Autumn 2003. Zamirah reflects on her presence and how the characters she films are part of her desire and part of herself. One idea that comes out of interviews is about performance and gender- as the focus of the filming is performance, it is easier for a transgender person to take part. There are certain steps required for someone who wants to become a performer and wants to go beyond narrating their personal story.

While watching the film in January,  I was completely shocked at the point Zamirah Moffat asks Jozephine ‘do you like your penis?’. I thought that asking questions about tits, penis and other body and identity related questions was incosistent with the promise of absolute control that the reseacher gave. This particular session is quite harsh- she asks the performer questions about family and then asks for a description of themselves. Jozephine refuses to do so because they see this as a categorization process. A bit later on the film, Ingo explains how the Club intends to be a place of acceptance and respect for what people tell you about themselves- ‘if they want to box themselves in, that’s fine’.I kept wondering why the Jozephine scene was not cut on editing until the reflection session showed. This I think as a good example of productive reflection and feedback on a research project. And I think that the film functions as a recording of the research process, including mistakes and developing from them. Surely this is a valuable artefact in historical terms, as visual material of Queer performance, but I think that the way it is finally edited and screened within educational institutions makes it a valuable source of ethnographic practice as well.

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