Aparna Sharma

Aparna Sharma



I am a documentary filmmaker and film scholar. My filmmaking is principally sited in north-eastern India where I have worked for over a decade documenting material culture practices of the region’s communities. In the state of Assam, I have developed two films: Kamakha: Through Prayerful Eyes (2012, Berkeley Media LLC) and Mihin Sutta, Mihin Jibon (The Women Weavers of Assam, 2019, Royal Anthropological Institute). Key to my work as a critical practitioner is the examination of representational discourses — colonial and national — surrounding the cultural practices on which my films focus. I hold such analysis as key to intervening in the broader history of representation and knowledge-production through visual media. In my filmmaking I combine ethnographic methods, principally derived from observational cinema with experimental techniques including haptics and montage editing. My process for documentary-making is based on collaborative techniques including dialogue and exchange of audio-visual media with interlocutors and participants and, situated modes of film dissemination that contribute towards reciprocal forms of knowledge exchange. I am presently undertaking research into the practice of folk toy-making in the riverine communities of Assam for my next feature-length documentary.

As a practitioner working within the higher education research context, I am interested in interdisciplinary dialogue and collaborations. I have undertaken collaborative projects with ethnomusicologists, visual media, dance and theatre artists. Most recently I collaborated with UCLA ethnomusicologist, Prof Helen Rees and we co-directed the feature-length documentary, Playing the Flute in Shanghai (2018, Pan Records). Presently I am working with visual media researchers associated with the Gauhati University (Assam) to develop open access archives of 20th century historical and anthropological photographs of northeast India.

As a film scholar my research focuses on the documentary media of South Asia. My analyses are informed by my understandings as a film practitioner of the aesthetics of cinema and the meanings they uphold. My first book Documentary Films in India: Critical Aesthetics at Work examined three non-canonical documentary practices from India (2015, Palgrave Macmillan). In this book I combined close text analysis of films with readings of the processes through which they were made to situate their aesthetics in relation to the broader historical and cultural contexts in which they circulate. In my other writings I have examined the history and politico-ontological implications of using photographs and still images in moving image media — both celluloid and digital film. In addressing these areas I have become interested in examining the history of photography and film including the early uses to which these media were put by colonial establishments in the Indian subcontinent. A related area of research pertains to the representations of gender in cinema and I have previously published on the genre of courtesan films in Indian cinema. My new book project is based on oral histories with a cross-section of women leaders, activists and artists from northeast India. This book examines the structural challenges women face while working in very specific politico-cultural landscapes.

I serve as Associate Professor at the Dept. of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, UCLA where I teach courses on documentary studies, documentary media-making, theories of culture and feminist film theories. I serve on the editorial boards of journals including Media Practice and Education, MAI: Feminism and Visual Culture and Lensopticon.

Research Areas

Ethnographic Film

Observational Cinema

Colonial Photography and film in the Indian subcontinent

Digital Media Archives

Cinemas of Northeast India

Feminist Film Theory