‘Teach a community to film and they can show the whole world how to fish…’
Every time you tell a story, you manipulate fact and fiction to weave an intriguing narrative, a lure to attract attention, to engage users and those people formerly knows as ‘the audience’…
What do we mean by critical literacy? It is the ability to understand how media art is used to translate issues into stories and engage people emotionally and psychologically.
Storytelling is all about messaging. This sounds ugly as in advertising gurus and spin-doctors, but it is important to understand how media works, especially if you are speaking back to power.
The following questions are essential tips to consider early on in your project’s development:
What is at stake? For you, your community, your characters in the story – the people invested in it – and how can you keep people engaged? How will you convince me that your story is important to me too?
What is the user experience? What is the buy-in? Why do they care? Why do you care? Why will they keep watching? Keep it simple and strong. Show your passion.
What are the factors that will get in the way of you telling the story you want to tell? Consider how you will overcome funding shortfalls, ignorance, apathy?
What are you not seeing, not hearing? Every challenge is an opportunity, but you need to recognise it. Use it, ask uncomfortable questions – the world is already full of fluff and oppressive noise – You are competing with the big players in entertainment, and they have millions to spend. And that is a challenge worth toying with. What have you got to loose?
What are the power relationships within your story-world and outside in the ‘real world’, with your participants, clients, funders, audience / end users? How will these relationships impact on your story?
Will you be able to bite the hand that feeds you? If not, why not?
What is your – the author’s - voice in the work? As mentioned before, you can’t avoid your voice, when you create, it always comes forward, there is no objectivity but there are always different sides to every story. Which side is yours?
Why will you bother?
‘Or not’ sits at the heart of most our Change Media work, just at the edge of our consciousness, as the missing link in our storytelling. What if your community doesn’t want to tell their stories? What if you stopped making sense? What if you turn this idea upside down?
Unknowable things constantly rock our world. The ‘Or Not’ factor is our pressure valve, the delete button, the time for self-reflection without navel gazing. What if we imagine this from a different angle? What if creative communities are at the heart of social well-being? What if we are the gatekeepers, the wardens of possibilities? What if you suddenly had the power to change something? What if suddenly you become obsolete?
Build it into your practice: What have I missed? Am I engaging in critical practice or repeating the same old? Are my failures and successes measurable and how, for whom? What is needed now, what is not there yet? Show me the way to the next paradigm shift.
Applying innovative disruption is meant to be confronting, but the aim to uncover new or hidden ideas and ways of seeing the world, that will benefit us all.
When you create and participate in making art, you change. Making media is a great healing tool: creating art is a celebration of difference and connection; a chance to share stories and interpret the world. Digital video stories can become viral conversations, they literally spread out beyond your reach and can touch many more people than you thought possible.
When we made ‘Nukkan. Kungun. Yunnan – Ngarrindjeri’s being heard’, the participants in the workshop wanted the video to stay within the community, but when they showed the rough cut to the elders and their wider community on the last day of the workshop, the elders immediately recognised the value of the film and wanted it to be shown globally. The documentary, the first film we co-created with the Ngarrindjeri, made it to national broadcast within a year and won several national and international awards.
Link to distribution.
So we are not just talking about making films; we’re talking about communities creating and sharing their own stories that are relevant to them and then experiencing the power of media. Imagine your story connecting others on the web, at a film festival, on TV, via mobile phone or projected on a public space!
When you witness your story making a difference, you see you can change the world.
But at present many ‘marginalized’ communities only experience the power of media when an external, privileged film team parachutes in to document local issues or re-tell their stories, from a Media Expert’s view point. We believe this disparity is a crucial element of the colonial language, which keeps marginalized people illiterate and dis-empowered. As long as these film teams don’t train, share and leave capacities behind, we believe this process prolongs existing dependencies, where marginalized communities have to rely on these teams to be heard within the ‘mainstream’.
This is no longer necessary, provided communities claim full control of their creativity and the related business potential, but first they need to gain access to high quality equipment and appropriate skills / long-term training. We believe that most documentaries and their makers remain part of the problem, when it comes to working with communities, as long as these kind of structures are not challenged and changed as part of each and every cross-cultural community engagement.
Media made by, for and about communities is media for change and will change the media landscape.