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Research about heritage
Researching the practice
Learning about

Filming/documenting to conduct research


Intangible heritage research through filming or audiovisual documentation covers a wide range of types of research approaches and methodologies. 

Every research initiative will, therefore, need to be directed by clear research questions.


For example, the research question can:

  • address understanding a specific technique of a craft or its use of materials
  • set out to analyse and interpret different aspects of a specific craft (from historical data, to the way it evolves through time and space)


Or it could focus on dimensions that are of interest to safeguarding ICH in general, such as researching: 

  • social relationships within a group of practitioners
  • modes of transmission
  • ways of drawing up inventories
  • participative methods employed in different safeguarding measures
  • rights of communities


What is of utmost importance in any filming for research or a research documentary is the involvement of communities, groups and individuals in each of these processes, whilst also finding appropriate ways of informing and returning the acquired and newly produced knowledge for the benefit of all stakeholders. 


For the purposes of researching living heritage by means of audiovisual documentation, you can consider applying ‘participant observation as a type of qualitative research method which includes observation, participation, discussions, semi-structured interviews and self-reflections. 

Being a combination of different research methods, addressing both the subject(s) as well as the researcher’s reflections and interpretations, it will make the most of your research project!


TIP! New to filming? Take a look at our ‘step-by-step guide for filming’ to get started!


Over time, various paradigms and approaches in anthropology and heritage studies have developed. Today, both audiovisual anthropology and heritage studies highlight the need to actively include communities in research processes, as well as to unambiguously state the researcher’s position.

Making a giant costume by members of 'Giants in Flanders npo'.
Making a giant costume by members of 'Giants in Flanders npo'. - © Femke den Hollander (2023)


The following recommendations are based on the Focus Craftership experience where a professional videographer closely collaborated with heritage professionals and practitioners.

Such an intensive, collaborative filming process implies many working hours and a solid budget.

But of course, if you are not in such an ideal situation, considering the time and/or budget available, you can adjust the recommendations to your own context and possibilities.


Define the research question and the craftership

  • Use the research question as the starting point for building up the filming trajectory. 
  • If possible, make use of already established networks of practitioners to explore the research question.


Find and map the craftership

  • Contact the heritage community to introduce the research question and the intention of doing the research by audiovisual means.
  • Invite all interested to participate in a production meeting, explore together how the research question could be transformed into interesting filming segments.


Plan the filming

  • Make a production schedule with the filming segments and see if you can combine filming segments in order to save time and budget.
  • Translate the specific actions into shot lists.
  • Use the shot lists to make rough time schedules.
  • Communicate the shot lists and rough time schedules with the practitioners for validation.
  • Contact everyone involved some days before the filming moments to see if everything can proceed as discussed.


Before filming

  • Make a filming schedule and follow it as strictly as possible, but leave a margin for unexpected situations.
  • Discuss how the practitioners will work exactly and if there are repeated actions, in order to set up the filming material adequately.
  • Contact everyone involved some days before the actual shooting to confirm if everything can proceed as discussed.
  • Start early enough and leave a margin in your schedule for unexpected situations.


During filming

  • First, film an introduction to the research question.
  • Use the shot lists and rough time schedules to complete all the planned filming moments.
  • If learning events with the participants are organised as well as the planned filming to stimulate interaction with the research, then film these and invite the participants to short spontaneous interview sessions.
  • Record self-reflection on the research process after each of the learning events and planned filming. Focus more on consistency than on the form of these self-reflection moments.
  • Film a conclusion to the research question based on the input of the passed filming process.



  • Make rough edits of each film segment on a separate timeline, isolate all usable shots. 
  • Combine this with the interviews and self-reflection footage on a ‘master timeline’.
  • Build up the edit by adding, cutting and trimming shots.


Consulting and finalising

  • Export a preview file of the finished edit and consult with all parties involved to collect feedback before finishing the video.
  • Keep notes on the edit in the previously created spreadsheet.
  • Process the comments and finish the video by finalising the sound and images.


01 The making of giants


Frea Vancraeynest, heritage professional at Histories chose to put forward giant culture as an inspiring practical example. The organisation has already worked extensively with the heritage community revolving around giant culture in Flanders in the past.

Together with several giant societies from all over Flanders, it went beyond the national borders to audiovisually document the research on giant building.



Together with various heritage communities, Frea Vancraeynest, the Histories heritage professional, researched how the process of making giants has evolved and what various ways there are to build giants today.

This was done on the basis of 5 main 'making topics':

  1. Head
  2. Framework/undercarriage
  3. Restoration/reuse
  4. Support (community and storytelling)
  5. Character (clothing and accessories)

For each topic, Histories collaborated each time with a different (giant) society that was in the process of making a new giant, in a different province each time. They also went to Spain to learn about building techniques.



In this casestudy, the documentation process and the research were initiated from an already well-established network. The entire research process was documented by an external, professional filmmaker.

Not only did the process involve filming how giants are built, but also letting the builders and experience experts speak for themselves.

At several 'learning network moments', during the production period, the communities involved were invited to share their experiences and learn from each other.

At these, time was taken to interview participants and they were invited to share their thoughts on the film, the process and its development. These were also the moments when Histories' accompanying heritage professionals reflected on the process themselves.

Histories captures this trajectory on film, resulting in the research film. As such, the film also constitutes a new way of sharing knowledge around the question "How are giants made?". The curious viewer, as well as the experienced builder, learns about new perspectives, construction techniques and communities. This open sharing of knowledge is the beginning of a valuable new chapter in the Flemish giants story.

Besides the research film, the results of the research will also provide interesting additions to Histories' giant database and the broader work on giant culture 'Around the skirts of the giant', which is running in cooperation with Giants in Flanders npo.

Histories will also compile the insights gained about the making process in a research report.



"Participants and spectators find each other in the process of making giants. That is important for the sustainable safeguarding of this special tradition, and creates new impulses in the ongoing guidance process with Giants in Flanders npo." (Frea Vancraeynest, Histories vzw)


"During a visit to Spain, the Catalan way of making the substructure of a giant was illustrated to practitioners from Flanders. This meant travelling with a lot of material and working with a translator, which was challenging." (Alexander Kerkhof, filmmaker)


Interview of Anthony Aerssens (Polybull), who provided the 3D print of the giant head, by Histories npo and filmmaker Alexander Kerkhof in Wingene (West Flanders).
Interview of Anthony Aerssens (Polybull), who provided the 3D print of the giant head, by Histories npo and filmmaker Alexander Kerkhof in Wingene (West Flanders). - © Femke den Hollander (2023)
Research film 'The making of Giants' by Alexander Kerkhof (Feathers on Wings)

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