Honest Films » Documentaries about consumers for curious brands and agencies

We make documentaries about people’s lives for marketers and agencies. We work globally.

We are a team of anthropologist filmmakers and strategic planners.

We study life where it happens, as it happens.

That’s why we uncover insights overlooked by traditional research.

And because we use film to record and report our findings
you get a first-hand look at the issues.
It’ll engage and inspire in a way no written report can.

We work on ad hoc commissioned projects and we are available as consultants.

We’ve included a couple samples of our films on this website
but to see more, get in touch.

Sarah @ honestfilms . net

Mobile: +44 (0) 782 871 4160

China turning into a China theme park?

traditional Chinese courtyard doors

China’s tourist industry is booming, giving historic towns a new lease of life and a new revenue stream. But, as developers and entrepreneurs move in to create new tourist destinations out of these forgotten places, authenticity, history and some could argue, taste, suffers. This article and film is the story of one American couple who are trying to set a new example. Are they doing justice to the artistic and historical tradition of China or imposing Western ethnocentric ideas of what is appropriate on a nation who knows what it likes and wants more of the same?
This is also a good analogy for the dilemma brands and advertisers face in China. Should local preferences that run contrary to a perceived Western norm be respected as a valid local cultural preference or seen as a backward inclination that needs to be challenged? Making the wrong call could lose you consumer affinity on one hand or thought (and market) leadership on the other.

Reversing the gaze

a still from our film, a Chinese student’s family photo in Dutch national costume

The West has been fascinated by China but what does China think of the West? Increased affluence and relaxed Chinese and international travel restrictions has opened up the West to millions of Chinese so how does this new exposure to occidental values affect the Chinese who study, holiday and work in the West? What impressions of the West do people return with and how does it reflect on life back at home? Is life that different? And if it is different, is better or worse? We talk to students in Delft about their experiences, watch the film here.

kittens, 6 year old, illustrate issues in interpretation

internet meme du jour

Full disclosure here: we may be called Honest Films but that doesn’t mean we don’t understand how images can be seen as being ‘real’ when they, and the meaning imposed on them, can actually be very much constructed and misconstrued.

As the video illustrates, meaning is not intrinsic to an image but rather constructed through the production and interpretation of an image. The basic material (kittens) remains intact but the meaning “We’re wine bottles!” is clearly one the reader’s unique perspective has constructed – the kittens are not wine bottles nor are they trying to be wine bottles. The idiosyncratic interpretation here provides entertainment but becomes problematic when a film is meant to be representing a culture, a ritual, a person’s life.

This means labelling, context and production are crucial in creating visual documents that not only represent the subject accurately and without prejudice as is possible but also is supported and presented in a way that guides the appropriate interpretation. For us that means that we present the films we make as part of a wider debrief and discussion of our fieldwork, all done by the researchers themselves. We also involve participants in the production of the films and will always take into account, what is happening off camera, on camera and behind the camera in our process.

Exploring Food, Connecting Communities

Those interested in food and anthropology should check out ‘Exploring food, Connecting Communities’, Sunday March 8th 10:30am -4:30 pm at the British Museum, London.
The event will bring together a range of perspectives from local food producers, teachers, students, social scientists and anthropologists, on food, culture and community. The event aims to raise public awareness of food projects that exist within different communities in the UK and abroad, and foster future collaboration between associated groups of individuals. A central theme of the event will be to explore how the International Slow Food Movement has inspired local food projects and the ways in which the movement’s ideas of local, sustainable food production have been adapted to suit different community needs. The event aims to address questions such as: How have food projects and healthy eating/cooking campaigns helped to generate awareness and shift consumer attitudes? What are some of the difficulties faced by farmers and others involved in food production? How can we address concerns regarding accessibility and affordability? What are some of the problems with our current food production system?

The event is free but booking is required.
To reserve your place please email: education@therai.org.uk or phone 020 7387 0455.

East London accidental ethnography

Just before Christmas a local school ran an environmental day for school children in my local park.
traditions As part of the activities children tied wishes onto a ‘wishing tree’, borrowing from Japanese tradition.

Below are some of the wishes and they offer an insight into being a child in the local area. It’s also cute, touching and a little sad.
Ethnographers call this the ‘data in the margins’ – unexpected revelations and emotional nuance that reframes information and offers new avenues. This is just the sort of richness our films offer to clients, helping them get beyond the trite and the obvious.

cool in China

We’ve just finished our latest ready-to-buy film.

This time we ask the Billion Yuan question: what does ‘cool’ mean in China?
To find out we’ve been asking students,

hanging out in dorm rooms

and running through cities.

More details and a clip can be found on our films page.

the Klingon within


The Photographers Gallery’s show Fresh Faced and Wild Eyed 08 features Steve Schofield’s  Land of the Free series.


Yes, the contrast between the homes and the fans’ costumes is comedy gold but it’s the stories implied, the personalities that come through because and in spite of the costumes, the familiar situation simultaneously celebrated and subverted that makes this series so good for me. This is just the sort of thing we look for in our films too, to visit the familiar and average with a fresh perspective that renews the topic.

Do please have a look at the full series, it’s genius.

mum’s kitchen


Above is a still from one of our library films, Mum’s kitchen. Filmed in a Tier 2 city it’s an introduction to attitudes to

  • food
  • cooking
  • traditional Chinese medicine
    (including the best time to sleep if you want good skin)
  • family roles
  • starting a family
  • food brands
  • advertising

This film and more is available for sale, in its original form or edited to focus on your key interests. Have a look here to find out more about our library of films.

Chinese New Year in Rural China



These are some stills from one of our recent films made over Chinese New Year in Lower Teir China. The top tiers of China may be more blasé about the annual festivals but lower teir observances remain a traditional affair. Rituals to bring prosperity and fertility are central, centuries-old core motivators marketeers should take note of.

For those wanting to know more about the different sides of Chinese New Year we have 3 films available: Chinese New Year in Rural China, Train Home – the trials of traveling at New Year and Getting Ready, a look at the Reunion Dinner.