I started curating videos about International Development in 2013. There was no particular criteria, I wanted to showcase a few videos that inspired some emotion within me. Some of the videos were thought provoking, others were inspirational, innovative, educational or brought a tear to me eye. Since then I have been on SAIH’s Rusty and Golden Radiator Panel which aims to critique the use of video in humanitarian communications. Below are a few videos I’ve found interesting this year.
Here are links to videos that caught my eye in 2014 and 2015.
UNICEF – #SyriaCrisis: 5 Years in 60 seconds
Adopt a Dane Foundation – Africa is rescuing old people from Denmark
Project Literacy – The Alphabet of Illiteracy
Charity:Water – Fight Dirty With Us
Plan International UK – What do girls really learn at school? Learn without fear
Islamic Relief – Countries in Conflict
UNICEF – A storybook wedding – except for one thing
Whilst travelling to Madagascar to observe WaterAid’s Voices from the Field (VftF) project, I was reading an excellent book about photojournalism.
One of the chapters focuses on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and how many organisations have commissioned photojournalists in recent years, with reference to well-known campaigns.
The chapter critiques issues such as informed consent, representation, branding guidelines, negative vs positive imagery, authenticity, compassion fatigue and editing. It was ideal fodder for thinking about the week ahead.
Why do I feel uncomfortable about some of the debates? I think the main reason is because the majority of the photographers referenced in this particular chapter are of Western descent – but there are some highly talented photographers in the global south documenting the work of humanitarian organisations. Why are so few of them featured?
Maybe this is one of the reasons I was so intrigued by the VftF project when I first heard about it. I instantly wanted to learn more, hence my trip to Madagascar to spend three days in the field with Ernest Randriarimalala, WaterAid’s VftF officer there.
Making a film about Madagascar
During my time observing Ernest he was filming a video about Madagascar from his perspective with the help of the production company. After a few general shots of the capital, Tana, we set off towards Antsirabe, Madagascar’s second largest city.
On the way we made a few stops to take some background shots and the first thing I noticed about Ernest was his natural communication skills. Whenever we asked to film, no one challenged us. Ernest explained that he was making a film about his country and not one single person objected.
Having worked myself in marketing and communications for over 20 years, I often encounter people who do not want to be filmed.
Perhaps the Malagasy people are just too polite to say no, maybe they like being photographed more than some other cultures, or most probably they are charmed by Ernest and his enchanting smile.
Building long-term relationships
In my opinion communication skills are absolutely fundamental for the VftF role. Ernest speaks Malagasy, French and English fluently which means he can genuinely inform people of his work.
He is also able to relate to the communities he visits, as he grew up in a village with no water or sanitation and was often sick as a result.
I visited both pre- and post- intervention sites during my trip and I was heart-warmingly touched by the difference between the two.
The VftF project is about building long-term relationships with communities, documenting progress and creating stories to inform donors that their fundraising efforts are making a big difference to people’s lives.
Helping people thousands of miles away
For three weeks in June, Ernest visited the UK for training and advocacy work.
During this time he spent five days in Northumbria visiting a number of WaterAid supporters, which included speaking at a fundraising ball organised by Northumbrian Water.
To me, the VftF programme has so many obvious benefits, such as language, relationship building, informed consent and effective use of funds, but what I hadn’t thought about was the two-way communication and advocacy work that Ernest carries out each year.
At the ball he showed images of the toilets and access to clean water that have been installed, and more importantly the people who benefit, as a result of their fundraising efforts.
When he returns to the field, he is also able to tell beneficiaries about meeting the many people who have organised balls, raffles, cake sales, sponsored runs, all to help communities they are unlikely to ever visit nearly 10,000 km away.
As Ernest said, “It was great meeting these people in a city in the north of England, who are doing all these fundraising activities to help people thousands of miles away. It is so amazing that they organise so many events to help the Malagasy people.”
A watchdog for WaterAid
The other thing I’d never really considered was the accountability side of this role. Ernest is truly passionate about his work and in many ways acts as a watchdog for WaterAid and its supporters as he documents the installation of new facilities.
As he puts it: “I really enjoy my job. I get to meet all these people whose lives have changed as a result of our work. I’m really glad that I get to see both the fundraising side in the UK as well as the end result.
“If I ever thought that money was not being spent well, then I’d quit my job. Simple as that. I’m lucky that I don’t feel that way at all. I absolutely love it.”
A lot has been written in recent years about the use of social media in disaster relief , in particular platforms such as Ushahidi which is used to crowdsource data and visualise incidents which enables real-time response from relief agencies.
I first heard about the earthquake in Nepal on Saturday 25th April 2015 via a direct message on Twitter about a colleague in Kathmandu being safe despite damage to his house. I was meant to be visiting two weeks later.
Within hours of the earthquake Mark Zuckerburg had announced the launch of Facebook Safety Check, which is a tool created in 2014 to link people in disasters. Similarly, Google Person Finder had been launched. That day my social media timelines were awash with charities that had reacted immediately and set up fundraising campaigns. Those fundraising campaigns both on and offline have continued. This drone footage by filmmaker Paul Borrud, shows the devastating results of the earthquake around Kathmandu, and has been used as a fundraising tool by UNICEF UK. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yir6ArRZY4o One interesting development a week after the earthquake was a Twitter account set up by the Nepalese Government National Emergency Operation Center, which started to tweet the official number of people who had died and who were injured. The account also announced advice on information such as access to clean water and the relief that was being received from around the world. This account helps raise awareness of the tremendous support from the national and international community. Similarly, the infographic below, produced yesterday, shows how UK aid has been spent
The impact of social media in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake is merely a drop in the ocean, but it’s better than nothing. This excellent article on GlobalVoices written the day after the first earthquake, describes in more detail the global social media response to the disaster.
I recently organised for Steve Melia, Head of Film at WaterAid UK to speak to students on the MA Media and International Development course that I teach on. The seminar was a huge success and many students (and myself) were engrossed by a film ‘Across the Tracks’ that WaterAid produced this year. I caught up with Catherine Feltham, the producer/director to find out more about the production.
Trailer for Across the tracks by WaterAid.
Why did WaterAid produce this film?
We were commissioned to tell an in-depth, character-led story that people would be able to connect emotionally with, while also demonstrating the impact of WaterAid’s work in India through the HSBC Water Programme.
After meeting HSBC NOW TV, a web-based TV programme broadcasting weekly to HSBC’s 265,000+ employees and wider community around the world via the organisation’s intranet and external YouTube channel – we set about identifying the right story to give an insight into WaterAid’s work in India. We were struck by one particularly challenging urban slum, where lack of sanitation was a major issue. We quickly identified that violence against women and girls was prevalent in the slum, and that the lack of toilets only added to this risk. This also felt the right time for WaterAid to make its own in-depth documentary film, which could be pitched to different audiences such as film festivals and media outlets.
We planned for a shoot that would enable us to gather the depth of content for HSBC NOW and also to enable production of a 20-minute film to be pitched at broadcasters, and a 10-minute film to be pitched at short film competitions, festivals and other online sites.
What are the objectives?
At the front of our minds was that this story should meaningfully contribute towards the national and international conversation around Clean India, a campaign launched by the Indian Government in October, which aims to see a toilet in every household by 2019. As well as attracting global attention to sanitation issues, we were keen to show that not having access to somewhere safe and clean to go to the toilet doesn’t just impact on health, but also dignity and livelihoods.
One of the key messages we wanted to emphasise was that everyone, everywhere should have access to basic necessities such as a toilet, regardless of where they live.
Who is the main audience?
We wanted to reach a wide audience, from HSBC employees and WaterAid supporters, to policy makers and people working in development. We also wanted to tap into an audience of film enthusiasts and the culturally engaged.
How long did it take to produce? How many people were involved?
We undertook a recce in April 2014 to identify potential characters for the film. This took place in as part of an existing WaterAid supporter visit to Kanpur, India. This was really crucial for the planning of this film as it enabled us to gather interviews with several people living in the slum, get a sense of people’s personalities and how they might be on camera, and to start to work out who the key individuals were who were engaged with the WaterAid project there.
After the recce we started regular communications with WaterAid India and the project partner, a charity called Shramik Bharti, which delivers the project in Rakhi Mandi and therefore knows the community closely. We discussed the full implications of filming with them, impacts on the project, people’s time and the logistics around filming the construction of Radha’s toilet from start to finish. We wanted to film ‘in the action’ and actuality style footage, rather than after the event, so we needed to ensure this was possible. We didn’t want to turn up to a toilet already half way through construction!
As the shoot only had one content-gathering objective, we had time to consider how to create a product with high production values. So we researched film techniques and styles and this is when we decided to gather aerial footage. We booked an Indian drone operator called Nikhil Thakkar, from Wonderwork Productions, and worked with him to gather general shots to show the scale of the slum, the location of the slum, the area the community used for the toilet, and also to gather shots of each character from above. We felt this footage would be integral to telling the story by showing the challenges of the urban slum environment.
The shoot took place in October 2014 over ten days, with the first two days used to complete the recce and plans with no cameras out. The core team on the shoot was made up of myself (producer/director), the DOP, a second camera operator/photographer, and two translators. In addition we had fantastic support from Shramik Bharti day-to-day, and WaterAid’s Partnership Communications Manager joined for half of the trip to help with logistics, and wider fact and story gathering to build the context. We also had the local drone operator join for two days of the shoot. Having the support of the WaterAid India local team was also integral to making the shoot a success.
In December we began the edit and completed the 20 minute and the 10 minute film the day before the deadline (25 January) for the first competition we wanted to enter! We were shortlisted in the final 10 films (of over 100 entries) in the Rankin and DocHeads short film competition 2015. Our 10 minute film is now live on the Rankin site as a result of this exposure. We hope that this is the first of many distribution opportunities for the film and Radha’s story.
The film also aired HSBC NOW on 6 February and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from employees including converting an editor from HSBC’s production company into a new WaterAid monthly donor! The intranet version of their film has reached nearly 16,000 people so far. As you can probably gauge, a lot of people were involved in the project overall, from internal WaterAid stakeholders, to the partner organisation, the corporate partner and production staff.
How did you choose the main character?
The main character is Radha Verma. Radha immediately stood out as she had engaged with the WaterAid project work very early on in an environment where it was very difficult for our partners (Shramik Bharti) to gain the trust and ears of the community.
Rakhi Mandi slum is situated next to the Delhi-Kolkata railway line in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Northern India. Rakhi Mandi is one of the oldest slums in Kanpur, thought to be around 65-years-old. There are at least 3,500 people living here. The biggest challenge with the project work was to change people’s mindsets. Living on unofficial land with no support from local government, people thought nothing could be done and that they were born to live like this and that going to the toilet in the open was just the ‘norm’.
Before the project could get underway, Shramik Bharti had to bring a largely disparate community together. Community facilitators described families in Rakhi Mandi that were not close, with high levels of domestic violence, alcoholism and drug abuse. It took a long time to identify potential leaders and build people’s trust. In the first five months they visited Rakhi Mandi every day, focusing on cleanliness, and started to encourage families to build soak pits to dispose of household waste water, which would bring a visible change to people’s homes and surrounding areas, and go some way towards tackling serious drainage issues in the slum. Shramik Bharti first talked to people about their personal problems, their health, their kids, and built up a bond, before identifying leaders, forming a water user committee and training them on how to access services from local government officials.
Radha shone as an example of someone who wanted to change her situation and understood the benefits to her and her family. She had been one of the first in the community to build a soak pit and was also really determined to get a toilet for their home as her daughter Nisha has narrowly escaped an attack when going for open defecation. This incident also demonstrated the very real dangers women and young girls face, as a result of having no safe place to go to the toilet, without sharing the detail of some of the more violent stories we were aware of such as rape in the community.
The secondary characters we selected – Kalavati (who features in both the 10 and 20 minute film, and HSBC’s film) and Laddan (who features in the 20 minute film) also both stood out as key individuals in the change taking place in Rakhi Mandi. They represented the hope and life that the project has.
Do you think it will share very well on social media?
We believe that social media will be a powerful tool for promoting the film and the wider story the film tells. Already the trailer for the film has received nearly 1,500 views on Vimeo without any real push to it yet. It was liked by well-known filmmaker Philip Bloom who tweeted it out in the first few days and we saw a huge boost to views after this.
We have not started social media activities around the film with full force yet as we are still pitching and entering the films into competitions and to media outlets. However, the small social activity we have done so far has proven to engage with audiences. For example, we edited a 15-second ‘Instavid’ version of the trailer of the film for Instagram and published it the day that the Rankin/DocHeads film competition winner was announced. The film gained 277 views, and nearly 10% of those people used the URL link we provided to visit the website to view the film. Our average views on an Instavid on our channel range between 200 and 300 and we don’t usually provide URL links as these are not direct links within Instagram, so we were pleased with the rate of people who used the link to visit the page.
We have more Instavid’s edited and ready to use as we begin to push the film out further and we will also be using Twitter and Facebook to promote the film. The social media pick-up will of course be more successful if we can link the film to a film festival or screening as we will be able to tap into wider networks outside of WaterAid.
Are you going to enter it into any film festivals?
Yes, absolutely. We have already begun the process and will be continuing to submit the film throughout the year. Before we went on the shoot we put together a draft distribution plan which included film festivals, competitions, online sites, media outlets and screenings. Our colleagues in India are also researching festivals in India that we can submit the film to.
Filmmakers Shekhar Kapur and Philip Bloom are supporting a new film competition called sH2Orts, which has been launched by WaterAid and WorldView for aspiring filmmakers across the world.
This global competition, which will run until 20 February 2015, invites filmmakers to enter one-minute films about what water means to them.
It was launched by British director and filmmaker Philip Bloom, who has worked as a cinematographer for Lucasfilm, Sky, CNN, Discovery and the BBC.
Bloom said: “Water is essential to life. We are made up of it, we are dependent on it, and often we take it for granted. There are so many water stories out there so go out, find one and make a film about it for the global sH2Orts film competition.
“You don’t need fancy equipment to be able to capture a strong story, and so this competition is open for entries filmed on anything from a mobile phone or GoPro to a broadcast camera.”
“Surprise us! Get creative, get imaginative – we want to hear your stories told your way.”
The shortlisted films from the competition will be showcased online ahead of World Water Day in March 2015. The overall winner of the competition will be chosen by a panel of judges, led by award-winning Indian film director, actor and producer, Shekhar Kapur.
He said: “Water is life. We interact with it every day in so many different ways; it is our most important resource, with no substitute. Yet it’s so easy for us to take this basic necessity for granted.
“Through this competition, we’re hoping to see a plethora of ways water impacts on our daily lives through the powerful medium of film. I’ll be looking for individuality and creativity when judging the entries.
“This is a great opportunity for filmmakers to make a mark for themselves and I’m proud to be working with WaterAid and WorldView on this amazing opportunity for budding filmmakers. I feel passionately about helping the younger generation and am therefore offering a masterclass with me as one of the prizes.”
Fujifilm have generously donated five fantastic cameras for winners of the competition. Also up for grabs are masterclasses from Shekhar Kapur and WorldView.
Catherine Feltham, Film Producer at WaterAid, said: “We work in 26 countries around the world and we’ve seen how safe water can transform lives, so for World Water Day 2015, we’re excited be able to celebrate the power of water through the sH2Orts film competition in collaboration with WorldView.
“We’d like to see an original take – it could be through the lens of thirst or floods, a drama set in a car wash, or a portrait of the man who waters plants in your local park. We just want to see your best, creative, quirky or simply beautiful short film all about water.”
Marion Simpson, Project Manager at WorldView, said: “WorldView is committed to supporting filmmakers across the globe to bring the richness and diversity of the world to mass audiences and we are delighted to partner with WaterAid on this exciting project.
“We’re looking for great storytelling told in creative and innovative ways. This is about your imagination, not resources – you can make it on your own or with friends or a crew, using your phone, a top-end camera or anything in between.”
The competition is free to enter and entrants can film on their own, with friends or as part of a crew. The films can be sent in either .mp4 or .mov format and can be any duration under one minute long.
The shortlisted filmmakers will be notified at the start of March and the final five winners will be announced on World Water Day 2015 – 22 March.