Work, everyday life, and the dynamics between genders acquire different meanings in different sociocultural settings. Often they are an integrated part of one’s life, providing structure for everyday practices and social relations. Eza Doortmont, an aspiring filmmaker from Netherlands, inspects work as sociocultural practice in her modestly beautiful and down-to-earth visual ethnography “Women’s Gold”, which is part of her master’s thesis.
By doing her fieldwork in a little Tampe-Kukuo community on the outskirts of Tamale, Ghana, she depicts the life around the process of producing shea butter. The work practices and the social life around the manual production of a commodity, which has gained significant popularity in the “western countries”, provides her a window to the changing structures of the relations and conditions of the women employed in the production process.
Eza Doortmont, who is the full production house of the film by doing every part of filming process from pre-production to editing, employs her background in anthropology to approach her subject matter. So, the visual approach is observational, while the intimate and vivid cinematography tries not to interrupt the social life it observes. This is of course rather impossible, but Doortmont, who has a humane and understanding gaze, seems to achieve the feeling of being there and really seeing how the work life of shea butter makers might look like in Ghana. Doortmont utilizes the tools that the tradition of visual anthropology offers and creates a sincere, honest, and naturalistic representation of her informants. From down-to-earth sound design to intimate editing that establishes a logical continuity, which follows the production process, work together to bring make the close to life representation lively and real. The storytelling is, thus, well-structured and meets the authors intentions.
If something is to be criticized is the narrow scope of the film, which is not quite able to capture the complex set of anthropological topics around which the short film constructs (and which are also reflected on the author’s materials attached to the film). However, although this aspect needs some work, the film in its current form and as a observational piece, achieves its goals beautifully, while touching the wider topics naturally along the way. Hence, the film has a great (everyday life imitating) flow, which might have been interrupted by bringing deeper topics into the mix. The outlines of such topics as kinship, labor, agency, personhood, gender, hierarchies, power relations, and anthropology of work are drawn clearly.
By taking a female focused and informant-centered approach, Doortmont lets the realities (from practices, conditions to social relations) of the people displayed speak for themselves. The social, cultural, and economic meaning of work for these women is nicely explored in “Women’s Gold”. We can see how work has given economic independence and agency for the women in Ghana. Further, the work life has given a new space for supporting relations to emerge between the women, who value and support their workmates, who together form a community with their own sociocultural peculiarities. And Doortmont’s attentive and sensitive anthropological approach that she takes in “Women’s Gold” is very welcomed to bring more respect and mutual understanding to our world.