One Approach to Cross-Cultural Understanding

Participant observation, collaboration, and a culturally relative approach are central to the process of observational filmmaking.

This month we shine a spotlight on The Rescue List, the 2021 Emmy® Award-winning film for Outstanding Social Issue Documentary. Directors Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink, filmmakers with backgrounds in anthropology, bring cross-cultural fieldwork methodology to their filmmaking and reveal how powerful stories and themes are surfaced through participant observation, collaboration, and a culturally relative approach.

In Conversation with the Filmmakers

"We believe in the power of small moments to carry deep meaning."
-Alyssa Fedele, co-director of The Rescue List

We are proud to bring highlights from the conversation hosted by the American Anthropological Association, the world’s largest scholarly and professional organization of anthropologists, and Emmy® Award-winning documentary filmmakers Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink. The conversation is moderated by Dr. Robert Chang.


Alyssa Fedele

is an Emmy® Award-winning documentary film director of The Rescue List. Her work has appeared on National Geographic channel, PBS, and ARTE. Alyssa has a BA in Cultural Anthropology and an MA in Visual Anthropology from the Granada Center for Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester.

​​Zachary Fink

is an Emmy® Award-winning documentary film director and cinematographer. He shot and co-directed The Rescue List. Zachary received his MA in cultural anthropology from the University of Colorado, Boulder with a focus in ethnographic filmmaking. He also holds an MFA in film production from California Institute of the Arts.

Dr. Robert Chang, PhD

is part of the Programming & Production team at American Documentary and curates three independent documentary series broadcast nationally on public television: POV, POV Shorts, and America ReFramed. Dr. Chang received his PhD in Cultural Anthropology at NYU centering on media in order to highlight how cosmopolitan, immigrant, and religious identities are crafted in secular multicultural societies.

Video Highlights from the AAA Live Talk

  • Connecting Anthropology and Filmmaking
    Directors Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink share how their background in anthropology and ethnographic filmmaking informs their methodology as documentary filmmakers.

  • Power of Observation
    Alyssa and Zachary share their perspective that observational filmmaking, and the commitment to filming everyday life, can surface unanticipated poignant themes and story arcs.

  • The Rescue List in the College and High School Classroom
    The filmmakers identify how the intimate nature of this story offers educators myriad opportunities to explore the themes and topics that arise in the film, and how middle and high school students connect deeply with the film’s protagonists.

  • Ongoing Impact of One Story
    Alyssa and Zachary give an update to how the boys in The Rescue List are doing and how participating in the film has made a positive impact in their lives.

End Human Trafficking: Policy and Practices

Relevant articles and research on modern-day slavery, human trafficking, and steps for prevention


(80 minutes | Documentary | POV)
Documentary Films Animating Education Around the World

Human Trafficking: Trauma and Recovery

  • There isn't a country in the world that isn't touched by modern slavery.
  • In Ghana, it is estimated that 103,300 people are currently living in forced labor or modern slavery.
  • The International Labor Organization estimates that 21,000 children are doing hazardous labor on Lake Volta in Ghana, the largest man-made lake in the world.

(Source: From James Kofi Annan, “Ending child trafficking and slavery in Ghana”,
Nature Human Behaviour, March 20, 2017.)

Stay Involved

  • Debunk myths about human trafficking by listening to and believing survivors.

  • Understand the context before making judgements.

  • Support efforts for people to make their own way to freedom. Stop using sensationalist images and language to portray human trafficking.

  • Stay informed and support organizations and legislation working to make local and international changes.

(Source: National Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, The White House, December 2021.
National Human Trafficking Hotline)
“Today, there are more than 45 million people enslaved worldwide, including over 18,000 children enslaved on Lake Volta (Ghana) alone.
Despite its prevalence, human trafficking and modern slavery remain a hidden issue.
Traffickers operate in the shadows of society, preying on economically and socially disadvantaged populations around the world. In part, it is the invisibility of modern slavery that allows it to persist.”

— Director’s statement
“Throughout the entire filmmaking process, the childrens’ recoveries were of primary importance and we approached filming each scene with sensitivity to that. In this scene, we filmed from a distance, on a long lens, to give Edem space for his prayer.”

— Alyssa Fedele, Director, The Rescue List
All video clips, images and articles are copyright to their respective owners and are protected under international copyright laws. For comments, questions or remarks, please contact us.

What is Film Platform Forum?

A blog highlighting the most relevant documentary film content for the academic world and organizations with a mission to educate. Film events, professional training, and academic research are carefully curated to amplify the impact of documentary films included on Film Platform.

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Documentary films tell us stories of social and political import. They reveal hidden truths, are windows into investigative journalism, touch our emotions, and uncover forgotten history. For higher education institutions and workplaces, documentary films are a resource to engage, inspire, and inform like no other form of content.

Such stories are vital to sustain and strengthen media literacy.  As faculty keep pace with the media students consume, they also need to trust the scholarship and content they are recommending. Like a syllabus, the monthly edition of the Forum will be vetted, curated, and aligned to the monthly documentary topic. In any given month the Forum may highlight a new film on Film Platform, share a highly relevant panel event for faculty and students to attend, direct attention towards new research, recommend ‘Calls to Action’, or analyze the merits and veracity of critiques and controversies connected to the documentary. 

Learning is dynamic. Documentary films are, too. Film Platform Forum connects the dots between the two, expanding the use and impact of Film Platform films in coursework, research, and new scholarship…and to change the world.