Originally published on the Infoactivism Micromag.
The rapid rate of development in Southeast Asia in recent years has led to rampant environmental degradation. From the widespread deforestation caused by the palm oil industry, to horrific levels of urban pollution, to the consequences of climate change, the region faces an alarming outlook.
Alongside environmental NGOs and lobby groups, independent journalists, filmmakers and grassroots communities have been increasingly using video and on/offline distribution to highlight these escalating issues.
At EngageMedia, during the past eight years, we’ve supported video production in the region and we’ve built an open source software platform to collate, curate, and distribute these videos. Since early 2012, we’ve also integrated the open source subtitling software widget, Amara, into our platform and we’ve built a team of volunteer subtitlers and translators who help make these videos available to an even wider audience.
Here, we present to you three noteworthy environmental videos from our Indonesian archives. These videos exemplify some of the rich mix of video forms and contexts that we call Video for Change. They include a witnessing and documenting video, a grassroots social documentary made during a workshop, and a video made by a professional production house. We hope that these videos help demonstrate how the moving image is being used to present information and produce evidence, with the goal of supporting positive environmental action.
Ironic Survival (English)
In September 2013, while we were conducting video training sessions with our partners in Merauke, West Papua, we heard that a group of Yale University academics were organising a talk on the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) project in the New Haven Campus. MIFEE covers an area of over 1.2 million hectares, and in the process, planned to clear hectares of traditional sago forests, the main food source for most of the local population.
Since we were in the area and met the academics, we offered to make a video that shows what the local people think about the MIFEE project. We spent an entire day travelling to one of the affected villages, where we met and talked with villagers and shot footage to illustrate their stories and experiences. We spent the following day editing, and almost the whole of the third day uploading the five minute video (Merauke has serious bandwidth issues).
After the video was published, we started to get a lot of online plays. For several weeks in September 2013, engagemedia.org was the third most opened site in Merauke, after Google and Facebook. But because the video was only available in English, one of the workshop participants, Leo, decided to make a longer version in Indonesian. Then, with his beat-up motorcycle and small notebook, he went around and showed it to the villagers. The longer video, a version which won’t make the cut for city folks, urged community leaders to think twice before selling off their lands to companies.
Menambang di Piring Petani (Mining the Farmer’s Plate) (Indonesian)
Menambang di Piring Petani (Mining the Farmer’s Plate), is a film about the struggle of farmers in the village of Topogaro in Indonesia, to oppose a legal mining operation that is set to take over their field.
The video itself was a collaboration that began at Kickstart2010, an annual workshop pioneered by In-Docs, a well-known institution in Jakarta that promotes documentary video. For KickStart2010, a team from In-Docs traveled to Central Sulawesi and conducted a month-long video production training with local video-maker groups.
Menambang di Piring Petani, which runs for 15 minutes, took the young participants almost least three months to complete. In all, they produced four films that related to fundamental problems in Central Sulawesi such as education, poverty in coastal areas, farmers’ rights, and health.
After these short films were launched in Palu, the capital province of Central Sulawesi, they and their directors toured Central Sulawesi to ensure the videos could be seen by non-internet users and discussed in community settings.
Indigenous Peoples: Guardians of Indonesian Forest (English)
This expansive and well-produced documentary, by Gekko Studio features Indigenous peoples from Papua to Sumatra, sharing about the importance of forests to them, and explaining how they have proven themselves to be their faithful guardians.
The problems faced by the various communities are grave and similar, such as large-scale oil palm plantations and mining concessions. The film also relates how they are fighting to save the biodiversity and the lives of the people in the over 15 million hectares of pristine customary forests that currently remain.
Through this production, the filmmakers urge “everyone to think clearly, especially the Indonesian government to place their complete trust in these communities to sustainably manage forests.”
EngageMedia brought this video to screen for the first time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the film was very well-received and spurred active comments from the audience, some of whom had previously never realised the full extent of environmental damage that was happening in their neighbouring country.
By Yerry Niko Borang
Since our recent Video4Change gathering was the first of its kind in Indonesia, we made some observations and received feedback on design of the gathering.
We gathered video makers from different backgrounds with varying level of expertise. This became a plus point for us because there provided diverse perspective to the discussions. But it also posed a challenge, however, as they had different level of understanding and awareness about video its use in advocacy. So, instead of going deep into discussion about impact, we had to start with an open forum to ensure everyone understood basic concepts. Our recommendation for other such gatherings would be to start with basic discussions about video, advocacy and impact at the very beginning so everyone is familiar with the concepts and terminology.
Gathering participants in a single location helped a lot with keeping up with the workshop schedule and the participants' needs. Some participants were also interested in learning some technical skills from each other. Organising pre and post events on skills-share would also prove useful.
Other difficulties we faced included not having well-accepted definitions of terminologies like impact, indicators and evaluation. Providing participants reading materials on such issues before the event could help with this, as well as more materials in local languages.
In early 2013, the Open Documentary Lab and Center for Civic Media began a collaboration with EngageMedia and the video4change network to explore the impact of Video for Change; the innovative use of video towards advocacy aims.
I have been involved in what we now call the Video for Change field since the late nineties. When I was a University student in Australia, UK video activist pioneers, Undercurrents, inspired me with their work covering the swathe of social movements active at the time. I discovered a local equivalent in Access News, a weekly show on community TV in Melbourne. All this back in the days of tape and in some cases non-digital editing systems.
In 2004, I spent 6 months in Rome and got involved in the innovative network of micro TV stations called Telestreet, that was particularly active battling Prime Minister Berlusconi’s media empire. Telestreet combined with an online distribution platform called New Global Vision to share videos across the network of stations. The site looks clunky now, but at the time they were at the edge of what was possible with the technology, all pre-YouTube and operating for the most part on open source software and volunteer labour. I produced a short documentary exploring the Telestreet network that can be seen here.
Upon returning to Australia in 2005, I teamed up with Anna Helme who had previously worked with Undercurrents. We both felt that the Southeast Asia/Pacific region needed a space for sharing social change video materials and so we set out and started EngageMedia, along the way developing an open source video sharing content management system, developing networks of free software technologists and video makers and building a team across Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
Fast forward to June 2012, when EngageMedia, WITNESS and a dozen other organisations gathered to co-found the Video4Change Network. Out of a weeklong retreat, a great many questions arose regarding what impact the work we do really has, and how to go beyond what is often fairly superficial reporting and analysis, mostly due to resource limitations.
Fortunately for the network, Becky Hurwitz of MIT’s Center for Civic Media was present at the event, which lead in turn to a research collaboration with both Civic and the Open Documentary Lab to explore the impact of Video for Change.
OpenDocLab is a great space to be conducting this research due to the Center’s exploration of the intersection of technology innovation and storytelling. The Video for Change research taps a number of interests at the Lab; participatory forms of documentary production, crowd-sourced media distribution and aggregation, multiple authorship, and the melding of video with other web-based content.
To my mind, video activists have often been at the leading edge of documentary forms, leveraging innovation to most effectively reach audiences, engage, and mobilise them. Challenge for Change, a project that worked with disadvantaged communities in Canada’s remote Newfoundland in the 1960s, was part of a vanguard that put video production tools in the hands of everyday people, and pushed the idea of first person story telling.
Along with MIT graduate students Sean Flynn and Julie Fischer, and Dr Tanya Notley of the University of Western Sydney, I have been exploring the impact of video advocacy and these media forms and subsequent shifts in moving image media. Whilst there are a number of projects presently looking at the impact of video – particularly feature documentaries – there has been less focus on participatory and video activist approaches and content from the Global South. Many impact projects tend to emphasise quantitative over qualitative measures, but beyond the hits, clicks, likes and tweets, we are interested in how the process of production and distribution influences participants, how video can move people beyond “clicktivism” and catalyze deeper engagement with a campaign or movement, as well as how ethical considerations are integrated into a video’s creation and dissemination.
The research will produce scholarly work for journals and other publications, but we also seek to bring an open and participatory ethic into the research process itself. As such, we are blogging the research regularly as we go, asking questions, seeking ideas, and building a global community of practice.
Finally, we will produce a toolkit to assist video makers better design for and measure impact.
The first stage of the research produced a scoping report and series of blog posts that included interviews with video4change network members along with specific impact case studies. The scoping report, including recommendations for this coming stage, is available here.
You can read a full introduction to the next stage of the research on the video4change blog.
If you’d like to stay in touch please join our announcement list.
The gathering was designed as a participatory process where the participants discuss and arrive at their own definitions of terms and indicators of impact based on their knowledge, experiences and contexts. While past Video4Change (V4C) materials and research findings were used as guidelines, we found that self-definition was crucial to keeping the process more realistic and reachable.
The first session was a discussion on the social issues that they took up and captured in their videos, whether or not they have specific goals when they make their videos and what impact have their videos made so far.
We found that most of the participants take up a variety of social issues ranging from wider ones such as 1965 massacre and human rights, to more local ones such as waste management, city planning, and economy in small villages. Although the video activists mainly aimed to make impact in specific communities or society-at-large, through the course of production they also experienced impact at a personal level that was sometimes unexpected. Many related that they gained a deeper understanding and connection to the issues and the subjects in their videos.
It was evident that they always had their goals in mind when making videos, but it seemed problematic to measure whether the goals were met after distribution. The lack of success indicators set in planning stages and capacity to track impact contributed to this.
The next session was for participants to discuss in small groups about their specific videos and impact that followed. Each group then shared the mapping of one video in a plenary, which served as a case study to discuss the impact at personal, community, and societal levels. This was followed by a presentation from EngageMedia on V4C's research findings, some sample methodologies to assess impact, and key challenges to allow the participants to learn from video makers from other countries.
The second day, as collectively agreed upon on the first, was used to share skills on video-for-change, safety and security, social media promotion, and online subtitling using Amara, all in order to increase the impacts of their videos. The skills-sharing was done by both the facilitators and the participants themselves.
The final session was looking at methods participants have been already using to measure impact and how to improve. This meant setting a number of realistic indicators and having ways to check whether videos meet their specific goals using those indicators.
The discussion went deeper to how video activists can work together and with other individuals and organizations to make social change as intended.
Bringing together many different experiences and backgrounds (some participants were experts in their fields and some were new to video-for-change) made the gathering a fruitful learning process for everyone.
At the end of the two days, most participants were keen to have more gatherings such as this to discuss evolving strategies for making good advocacy videos to achieve bigger impact and pave the way to the change they want to see.
By Ade Tanesia
"From this film, we recognized our own situation," Muna Rif'Atil, a member of the Qariyah Tayibah community learning center said in comment to the film 'Lost Identity'. The film tells the story of young people in Salatiga, Central Java, who have lost their cultural identity in the face of rapid modernization.
Most of the participants of the Video4Change gathering in Indonesia were not able to clearly define the impact of their video, though they all had an understanding of their goals or the reasons for producing their films.
During the course of production, the creators of videos gained a lot more knowledge and grew the courage to identify sustainable ideas and actions. At the community level, the production process itself has a profound impact. Participants shared examples of how videos have become catalysts for a new sense of awareness for communities, strengthened their identities, encouraged solidarity and social movements, and have even created new communities and networks.
A point of discussion was whether videos have to spur social change. Is raising issues through the films enough or should the video makers continuously follow up actions that can taken to address the issues raised in the film? Someone asked: “Since the primary task of the video maker is to raise the issues using film as a tool, doesn't it make it tougher for them to be responsible for the mass movement as well?”
At this stage, we went on to talk about video distribution strategies, which can open doors for actions to be taken. Social change doesn't happen because a community has watched this or that video. The concluding agreement was that video makers should carefully map all relevant parties to be allies and targets of their film's distribution, so that the video in their hands can become an effective tool for change.
The major focus of the gathering was to discuss the impact of videos made for social change. As such, we looked at impact indicators, assessments, and various new ideas.
When analysing video and social change we need to be very specific and look deep into the relationship between the creator/s and the subject, or, the target audience. That was one of the main lessons that was discussed with participants at the Video4Change gathering in Yogyakarta.
For example the kotakhitam initiative in Yogyakarta targets historians and school teachers to promote videos with counter-narratives on the anti-Communist massacre that happened in Indonesia following a military coup in 1965. They aim to provide materials and information for discussion using video as a tool. One of its co-founders Kartika Pratiwi said: "For us, social change means a change in education and curriculum”.
Similarly, the Sangkanparan youth learning centre has a specific approach to "social change". Targeting young people, high school students in particular, the organisation uses "participatory video" to raise awareness about a particular issue among the participants through the process of their workshops. So, for Sangkanparan, social change means a change in their participants, in the way they see their surrounding environment.
An example of this is a video by Yuni called 'Kampung Tudung', which won an award for Best Film in the student category at Film Festival Dokumenter 2013. Yuni took her village as a material for her film and focused on its famous tradition of bamboo hat production. This affected and changed the way she saw her home and its surroundings.
In summary, what we call "social change" had a very different meaning for the groups and communities involved in the video production process. What we did agree upon, however, is on the characteristics and tools to measure social change. What was the kind of change, and at how many levels did it occur? We'll go deeper into this topic in the next part of this article.