M.A. Program - Visual Anthropology Emphasis

Changa Revisited

The discipline of Visual Anthropology was born in the Department of Anthropology at SFSU with the teaching and publications of John Collier, Jr. and John Adair.  Professor Peter Biella – John’s student - now directs the Visual Anthropology emphases at SFSU.  Biella’s concentration is the moving image and video production; Dr. Douglass Bailey, along with Dr. Jeff Schonberg, concentrates on the still image, going back to the prehistoric origins of visual representation and up to the current moment of still photography.

Most Visual MA students produce a video as their Creative Work Project; some create multi-media photographic works (ANTH 894). Others write theses (ANTH 898) on historic and interpretative trends, movements, and creators. The visual emphasis attracts graduate students who plan to work as independent media makers and teachers, or who continue on to the PhD.


Peter Biella, Doug Bailey and Jeff Schonberg are the Department’s core Visual faculty. 

Dr. Biella’s film Changa Revisited (codirected with Leonard Kamerling) recently won first prize at the Astra International Film Festival.  Dr. Biella’s vita contains links to many of his publications and clips from his films.  Click here.

Dr. Bailey has a long record of making provocative work about prehistoric art (see his 2005  Prehistoric Figurines; and his 2010 Unearthed). Current work focuses on the political potential of the visual archive, and the creation of the new subdiscipline, art/archaeology (see his 2018 book Breaking the Surface: an Art/Archaeology of Prehistoric Architecture). A selection of his writings and projects can be found here.

Jeff Schonberg is a full-time lecturer in the Department.  He teaches anthropological film and photography as well as medical anthropology.   

Recent lecturers in Visual Anthropology include Leonard Kamerling and Johnny Symons. Visual Anthropology was begun at SFSU by John Collier, Jr. and John Adair.  Their teaching and books were instrumental in founding the discipline in the United States and the world.


San Francisco State’s Anthropology Department has a dedicated Visual Anthropology Lab with a collection of 600 anthropological films and two hundred film books that can be checked out.  In the lab, Visual students have access to two Macs with several versions of Premier Pro, Photoshop and other useful apps.  The students may also use several of the university’s dedicated Mac labs.  Our video production classes use Sony NXCAM HD camera kits, though students often use their own DSLR cameras.  Each video production kit contains a Sennheiser semi-shotgun mike, boom and reflector.

San Francisco is a wonderful place to watch films and make them. We also have two Zoom digital audio recorders.  Our graduate students have taken advantage of courses in SFSU’s renowned Departments of Cinema and Broadcast and Electric Communication Arts. Both have strong documentary emphases.

Recent MA Film Projects and Work in the Field

2009 Dionne Fonoti, MA film: Young, Gifted and Samoan

Produced through the collaborative efforts of the filmmaking team as well as adult and youth members of the San Francisco Bay Area Samoan community.  My goal was to explore the relationship between hip-hop culture and the cultural identities of young Samoans in the San Francisco Bay Area.  By focusing on how these youth interact with their peers, family members and their communities, the film reveals the ways in which hip-hop, a non-Samoan cultural movement, is employed by Samoan youth raised in the United States.  –  From the filmmaker’s User Guide

Work:  Lecturer in Archaelogy & Cultural Heritage, Centre for Samoan Studies, University of Samoa


2010 Shamia Sandles, MA Film: Subject to Change: A Freirean Case Study in Applied Visual Anthropology 

An East African case study of collaboration between anthropologists and a Tanzanian NGO.  It documents the collaborative process used to create positive change in politically and economically oppressed community of recent Maasai migrants in Dar es Salaam.  It depicts another film, Maasai Migrants, screened to several focus groups, including migrants, who express their frustrations with the political, economic and social inequalities.   From these discussions Maasai who now live in cities are helped to reconceptualize and act upon solutions to their problems, solutions that may never come from the government.  The film is distributed by DER. – From the filmmaker’s User Guide.

Work: Youth Development Specialist, Project EAT: Alameda County Office of Education


2010 Kellen Prandini, MA Film: Ilmurran: Young Warriors and the City.  

The most-frequently screened trigger film in the Maasai Migrants repertoire. Like the others, its goal is to provide critical education to displaced Maasai throughout Tanzania. When the film is screened with a skilled discussion facilitator, it allows an unprecedented opportunity for Maasai audiences to reflect on the realities and dangers of migration. Longido Waterhole and Longido Homestead, both included on the same DVD, record Maasai viewers as they watch and discuss this film. – from the film distributor’s website

Work: Adjunct Professor, Fresno City College


2010 Claudia del Pilar Andrade, MA Film: East San Jose

Erick Hernandez, born in San Jose, is now a fifth-year senior at Foothill High School. He is not associated with any gangs and has nothing to do with the informal narcotics economy. Rather, his goal is to own his own plumbing business and continue his education after high school. Yet Erick was the victim of east side San Jose’s infamous random acts of violence. At the age of 16, he was attacked by a group of young men who struck the back of the head with enough force to break open his skull. The trauma to his brain left him with short-term memory loss and an array of learning disabilities. After recovering from his first attack just one year later in June 2007 Erick was attacked a second time. “They told me they [stabbed] my heart and lung.” As he awoke in the hospital, he recalls “I woke up and everything was tied down. My neck, arms, body, legs were all tied down. There was a police officer at my door, in case they (the perpetrator) tried to come back and get me.” Erick represents many young men on the east side of San Jose and countless other youth growing up in marginalized communities. His story is not uncommon nor is it unusual. Random and intentional acts of violence occur almost everyday. East Side youth not only stand guard against physical violence and everyday teen age related issues, they also bear the weight of what our current economic situation has done to California’s public education. – From the filmmaker’s User Guide.

Work: Faculty Coordinator, Jean Miller Resource Room for Women, Gender and Sexuality, DeAnza College


2014 Vanessa Avery, MA Film: For the Health of Our People

A short documentary that tells the story of the struggles and achievements of an indigenous Garifuna community who brought healthcare to their people through the building of the first free hospital in Honduras. – from the filmmaker’s website

Work: Senior Producer,  Zendesk, Freelance producer, cinematographer, http://averymediaproductions.com/


2014, Aya Okawa, MA Film: Khmerican: Our Journey 

This film tells the story of a Cambodian American mother and daughter, Heang and Maria ‘Yaya’ San. Yaya describes her experiences growing up in East Oakland, California, and how her discovery of her mother’s traumatic past in Cambodia deepened their relationship and changed her life. Heang shares her experiences in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime, and discusses the challenges of parenting in Oakland and her pride in Yaya’s work. – From the filmmaker’s User Guide

Work: Director Multimedia and GAF North America, Global Academy Foundation; Free lance photographer for National Geographic Travel, Smithsonian Magazine, others. Projects and awards: https://www.aya.photo/


2017, Ellie Lobovits, MA film: Birth on the Border

The film concerns cross-border birthing. Despite much negative press coverage, nothing about the process is illegal. Mexican mothers enter the United States legally with Border Crossing Visas.  When they give birth in this country, their children have dual Mexican / US citizenship, the latter guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. Ellie’s MA film, Birth on the Boarder, emphasizes other crucial factors that are not covered in the press, the underlying pushes and pulls that motivate cross-border birthing. Unlike media stereotypes, the mothers in the film are middle class and well educated. They are pulled to the American Maternidad La Luz clinic because they value its adherence to natural birth practices as well as the excellent care it provides.  Cesarean section is the norm in Mexico, and many women seek to avoid it.  Also, the film shows that Mexican mothers are pushed from Juárez because it is an extremely dangerous place to live; in recent years that city had one of the highest murder and femicide rates in the world. The pushes and pulls lead mothers to suffer many harassments and threats which are common from border guards.  They do so because they hope to insure the safety of their own bodies and of their children’s future. – From the filmmaker’s User Guide.

Work: http://ellielobovits.com, Ellie Lobovits is a filmmaker, curator, and cultural observer. Ellie's research, writing, and filmmaking focus on borderlands, the body, and feminist stories.  Her most recent documentary film, Birth on the Border, explores childbirth and legal border-crossing on the US-Mexico border. Ellie is also a photographer, childbirth doula, and lover of flowers.  – From the filmmaker’s website

 Awards: College Hood for the College of Liberal and Creative Arts, 2018.  Chosen on the basis of outstanding graduate work to represent students of the 21 academic departments in the College of Liberal and Creative Arts.


2018, Stella Dugall, MA Film: Naturally Free: Healing and Cultural Consciousness in Black Hair.

Naturally Free is a collaborative ethnographic film that documents the relationship among Black women, their hair and larger society, as expressed by four Black women inhabiting the San Francisco Bay Area. The collaborators of the film include Stella Iman Dugall, Mrs. Martin, Dawn, Robin and Bijou. Through a hybrid style of documentary production, Naturally Free explores the nuances behind recent decreased relaxer sales in the Black consumer market. The term used to describe the inverse of using relaxers is “going natural,” which is a decision that has the propensity to affect a Black woman’s physiological as well as psychological experiences in the world. Naturally Free examines the motivations, benefits and challenges these women face when choosing to wear their hair in its natural state after years of chemical and thermal manipulation. – from the filmmaker’s User Guide

Work: Oakhella Group., Digital Editorial Director, Editorial design and storytelling for website and social networking platforms.


2018 Paula Ochoa, MA film: De Tierra A Tierra

“This film is a portrait of my father.  Its title means from earth to earth, and is inspired in part by the name of my father’s village, Tierra Colorada. In addition, it is symbolic for the role tierra has played throughout my father’s life, from making adobe as a child, crossing the desert, working as an agricultural farm worker, and now through his employment at a soil company. Becoming a permanent resident introduced a serious of challenges and liberties, but also silenced a past. This film explores that past, and how it has shaped his present life. – From the filmmaker’s User Guide


2018 Adreanna Rodriguez, MA film: Document the Impact 

The film shows how Tanzanian female pastoralists see the impacts of climate change through participatory photography. The subjects of the film are six women, belonging to the Maasai, Mang’ati, or Muarusha tribe. They range from 26-55 years of age, and their statuses vary from married, single, to widow. I will use personal interviews and cinéma-vérité footage of the women’s everyday life, as well as the film photographs taken by the women themselves, to explore their personal stories and perspectives on the impacts of climate change. – From the filmmaker’s User Guide

Work: Independent filmmaker for European NGOs. The thesis film was produced for Oikos: East Africa, an NGO whose work focuses on the conservation of natural resources and sustainable development in Northern Tanzania, to determine how climate change impacts the livelihood and well-being of female pastoralist. Adreanna is currently shooting a new photo-voice documentary in Zaire.

Awards: The American Anthropological Association’s 2018 Jean Rouch Award, one of its highest honors in Visual Anthropology.   – From LCA News.


2018 Lucila Carballo, MA film: Idalia and the Nino Santo 

The film follows the life of a 31-year-old Mazatec shaman in rural Oaxaca. Idalia often conducts healing rituals through a hallucinogenic mushroom called the niño santo, which translates to “holy child.” She also works for the Mexican government as a liaison between pregnant Mazatec women and their midwives and doctors. “I think Idalia is a very interesting character because she is navigating these different paradigms: the animist, the scientific, the Catholic,” Carballo says. “What I hope to show, through this intimate portrait, [are] the larger historical and social tensions regarding ethnicity, Westernization and alternative conceptions of the self.” – From an interview on LCA Next Stop

Awards: First place in the Work in Progress/Genderlab category of MIC Género – Mexico City’s International Film Festival of Gender; $26,500 in services from the Churubusco Studios in Mexico City, a week of advanced film training at the studio, and the inclusion of her film in the 2019 MIC Género festival.  – From LCA News.


Current Student, Grant Hayes, MA film [working title]:  Wanpela Taim: There and Back Again.

This film presents the story of an anthropologist’s return to her original field site among the Fungai-Korama Maring of Papua New Guinea.  In 2014 Allison Jablonko returned to the Maring with her granddaughter Shiva, and daughter Alvilda.  Their purpose was to reconnect with the people and repatriate visual materials from Jablonko’s 1963-64 fieldwork.   Despite these good intentions, the group was confronted with the reality that what the Maring needed more than images of their collective past was assistance in creating a path forward to develop their communities.  As the group travels to multiple village sites they are graciously given offerings of food by the village communities and they are also made aware of the many problems the villages face.  From the offerings it is expected that the Jablonkos reciprocate by aiding in the communities’ development goals.  Wanpela Taim represents the Jablonko’s struggle to deal with this complex situation and in the process it evokes reflection on how anthropologists or outsiders should respond in similar contexts where a power imbalance exists. – From the filmmaker’s thesis proposal.

Work: Independent filmmaker, Asst. Editor/Asst. Producer at Open Eye Pictures


Current Student, Jana Asenbrennerova, MA film: Marilyn

A 21-minute video record of the everyday life of a local upper-class elderly couple. Capturing their sense of normalcy through the activities they pursue regularly and—perhaps—consider mundane, the film will portray not just the couple but also the social class to which it belongs and which it represents. The couple have been married for over 30 years. Well known among the local San Francisco society scene, they are frequent attendees to many local social events and fundraisers. They are multimillionaires.  – From the filmmaker’s thesis proposal

Career: Freelance photography. I specialize in social documentary and dedicate most of my time to international reporting, pursuing independent projects primarily in Africa and Asia. In collaboration with nonprofit organizations (NGO), I document humanitarian efforts in different parts of the world. This work often leads me to the discovery of new long-term stories on which I work independently.

 – from the filmmaker’s website


Current Student, Philip Whitfield, MA film:[working title] Socialism and Resistance. 

The film will explore the life histories of two members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) in San Francisco, and detail their stories of radicalization through interviews and cinéma-vérité footage. The film is intended to reveal the hidden truths of voices not often heard and to increase working-class community engagement with the ideas of socialism, and the people who represent them. Polls suggest that millions of Americans have a favorable view of Socialism, yet today there are only a handful of socialist elected as representatives in any capacity.  With the legacy of political repression and the lack of representation of socialists in the United States, an anthropological study is called for which takes a closer look at this growing political community. – from the filmmaker’s thesis proposal


Current Student, Kate Ashton, MA Film [working title]: Scottish at Heart.

The film focuses on the prospective first female president of the St. Andrew’s Society, a Scottish organization in the city of San Francisco. The film will feature her struggle to move the society into the 21st century, as she deals with the impending threat of an aging society and declining membership interest.  It will also contrast the St. Andrew’s Society – most of whose members are over 50 – with an up and coming younger group, Scottify. The film will provide a visual contrast of how Scottish culture continues to evolve. – from the filmmaker’s thesis proposal

Work: Videographer/Editor at Robles Video Productions


Current Student, Robin Rome, MA Film: Suzanna Sings and Swims.

Confronting stereotypes about blindness, gender, and disability, Suzanna Holland negotiates her lifestyle to suit her personal self-expression in her personality, appearance, and public presence. In the sighted world she stands out as a unique being, a performer who uses her talents to shatter stereotypes. Her visibility as she sings in farmers markets defies the gaze that is directed to her as a blind and disabled woman. She invites our gaze and yet reflects it back through her inquisitive conversation with the public who drop by to hear her sing and see her at her Bay Area haunts in between the farm stands. Suzanna is a woman who has chosen to live a seemingly independent lifestyle replete with a non-traditional economic support system, a closetful of eccentric headdresses and gowns, and a penchant for caretaking the men in her life. Her gender, as associated with traditionally feminine characteristics such as helplessness and dependence, is heightened by the theatricality of her garb, yet it may be her blindness and musical talent that have given her social position and agency.   

Work: Art teacher, Hayward Unified Schools, Work with Children’s Art: www.robinrome.com/