Intimacy in Ethnographic Film: Listening to How to Improve the World by Nguyễn Trinh Thi

Norton, Barley. 2024. Intimacy in Ethnographic Film: Listening to How to Improve the World by Nguyễn Trinh Thi. In: Stephen Cottrell; Dafni Tragaki and Stephen Wilford, eds. Ethnomusicology and its Intimacies. New York: Routledge, pp. 148-162. ISBN 9781032431314 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

This chapter explores how intimacies are mediated through ethnographic films that pay particular attention to music and sound. Numerous audiovisual strategies have been employed by filmmakers to convey a sense of intimacy across a broad spectrum of approaches, including the observational, essayistic, artistic, sensory, collaborative, experimental and multimodal. In order to reflect on different strategies across this spectrum, the chapter first discusses some intimate moments in John Baily's Amir (1985), which are achieved through an observational approach, before moving on to the experimental evocation of intimacy in How to Improve the World (2021) by Nguyễn Trinh Thi. How to Improve the World is attentive to the indigenous aural culture of the Jarai in the Vietnamese Central Highlands and addresses ethical issues in the context of stark power asymmetries between majority and minority cultures. Inspired by a collaborative ethos, the film's audiovisual experimentation challenges conventional sound-image hierarchies and rigid distinctions between human and more-than-human sounds. The analysis of How to Improve the World reveals how the film employs different types of audiovisual intimacy, aesthetic collaboration and formal experimentation as a way of engaging with the ethics of listening and ecologically oriented ways of knowing and remembering through music and sound.

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"This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in Ethnomusicology and its Intimacies on 12 December 2023, available online: . It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.”


Ethnomusicology, Intimacy, Film

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23 February 2023Accepted
12 December 2023Published Online

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02 Oct 2023 08:35

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03 May 2024 12:33


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