First introduced in 2007, the international Days of Ethnographic Film (DEF) are organised in a joint venture by the Slovene Ethnological Society and the Scientific Research Centre (ZRC SAZU), Slovene Academy of Science and Arts. The festival aims to bring ethnographic film, with its curious intersection of scientific research and video media, to a wider public of both professionally and casually interested viewers. Up to 2015 the festival ran annualy, now it is a organised as an biennial event. DEF is a member of CAFFE, a network for coordinating anthropological film festivals in Europe.
The event is currently taking place at Slovenian Cinematheque. The event also used to take place on the premises of the Scientific Research Centre (ZRC SAZU), at the Slovene Ethnographic Museum, Kinodvor Cinema and the City Museum of Ljubljana.
Ethnographic film, with a history dating back about a century, is a very specialised subgenre and is as such a rarely seen and hard to find form of video production. To present its uses, horizons and even existence outside the specialised, mostly scientific community (and the sporadic television broadcasts), the first more ambitious public screenings were organised in 2001, when the first “Ethnovideo Marathon” was set up.
It presented current Slovene ethnographic film productions by institutions such as the Audiovisual Laboratory, Institute of Slovene Ethnology, the Goriška Museum, the Celje Museum of Recent History, the Slovene Ethnographic Museum and various amateur associations. A second programme section was also set up which screened only films made by students.
As the marathon evolved and a decent public interest was found, the idea of extending it into an international festival with a much more ambitious scope led to the first edition of the Days of Ethnographic Film in 2007.
For years the festival’s director was Naško Križnar, among other things a professor of visual anthropology and himself an ethnographic film maker for more than four decades.
The festival has a non-competitive programme which tries to present a balanced selection of international and local productions. With a preferred film length of 40 minutes, the organisers strive to give a dynamic and colourful representation of the various technical and strategic methodologies of the ethnographic film genre. The festival divides its screenings into four sections and occasionally also introduces some subsections.
The first section is reserved for student films. Some of them directly originate from the students’ faculty studies, showing their first steps into the medium. Others are already mature works whose focus varies from micro-case studies to the more ambitiously set projects. The Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology from the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana functions as the main nest for students to learn and practise this craft.
The Research Footage section (formerly called Visual Footage with Commentary) used to be focused on authors presenting and explaining their work in progress, but has now been renamed and extended under the more encompassing term of Visual Ethnography.
Next comes the special programme section, where focus is given to either extraordinary authors and researchers (for example, the photographer Stojan Kerbler and the visual anthropologist and festival director Eddy Appels), to particular spatial contexts (Barcelona) or to recent films coming from selected countries (Slovakia, Russia, Netherlands). An additional section dedicated to museums was also featured.
The most wide ranging is the main festival programme where about a hundred films from all over the world have been screened till now, presenting an unbound scope of themes such as intangible heritage, social tensions, particular social groupings, political activism and artistic practices. As each year there are more and more applicants sending their films, the diversity and quality of presented ethnographic films is also rising.
Niko Kuret (1906–1995) was an ethnologist who, back in 1950s, set the foundations for the scientific use of film in Slovenia. During the festival, the Niko Kuret Award is given by the Slovene Ethnological Society to individuals whose contributions have made a mark in the field of ethnographic film and visual anthropology in general.
Till now, the award was given to Herta Maurer-Lausegger, Boris Kuhar, Andrej O. Župančič (posthumously), Allison Peters Jablonko and Asen Balikci. The festival also featured a selection of film works by these prominent and innovative researchers and pedagogues.