Archive for July, 2007
I had just gotten off the plane in Montreal when I got the phone call about Pax. He was gone. The world was without Pax.
Stunned, I wandered up and down St. Denis, overcome with such sadness and desperation. The street was still closed to traffic from one of Montreal’s summer festival parties the night before. Colourful garbage littered the road, as I wove through lackadaisical clean-up crews smoking, laughing and taking their time with it all. It felt surreal. Pax was gone. The world was without Pax.
I was jolted by the time, and I gathered myself to hurry over to the NFB cinérobotheque to meet up with the WITNESS gang. I needed to prepare what I had come for: the Media + Advocacy Panel. I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep it together to moderate a panel in public.
But then I met the participants of the inaugural Video Advocacy Institute (VAI). A project to train 27 human rights activists from 25 countries around the world. Many risk their lives every day to battle for justice and a better world. And tonight, the project was going public.
I met Aye from Burma. I met Musa from South Africa. I met Flavia from St. Lucia. Together with Sam from Witness and Dan from homelessnation.org, we were to take the stage and talk about how to use media for advocacy.
“Back in the eighties, we didn’t know the word advocacy. We just used a documentary to show the politicians what was really going on.” Aye told us about when she first employed video to convince a European country to stop selling arms to her country. Today, she is still working to quell the flow of weapons to the Burmese military, but now the arms come from China and India.
Musa told us about using the internet, print and radio - and now video - to educate all of Africa about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual and Intersex issues. “Our central goal is really to raise awareness and break stigma. To convince people that this is not ‘an import’ and that we are not going away.”
Flavia in St. Lucia is preparing a video to advocate for gender equality before her country’s Commission for Constitutional Reform. “If we can make sure this happens in St. Lucia, we believe other countries in the Caribbean will take these on as they tackle their own constitutions.”
One audience member asked about security issues around filming the vulnerable. Aye told us of the strength she gained from meeting her fellow VAI participants, and from the understanding that despite the hardships, the risks and threats, “People want and need to tell their stories. This gives me strength and hope.”
And when one audience member seemed confused about media advocacy, I highlighted how making media for advocacy differs from other forms of media creation. “Conventional media-makers worry about having as many people see their work as possible. They worry about Ratings. Theatre tickets sold. TV distribution deals. Film Festivals. But that’s not necessarily relevant for Media Advocacy. In Media Advocacy, if only one person sees your video, but that person happens to be a decision-maker that can change a policy or save a life, and they do so because of your work, then you have done your job.”
I stopped for a moment and looked out into the packed theatre. Pax was still gone. The world was still without Pax. But the world was with these incredible people. Aye. Musa. Flavia. and all the VAI-ers. And so many more around the world. As the glorious cheers of the VAI coming-out party filled the room, hope filled my heart.
(some names have been changed)
July 28th, 2007
FILMMAKER-IN-RESIDENCE: The Complete Collection
Available Now on DVD! • To purchase visit nfb.ca/FIR
“It’s the new media equivalent of a book you just can’t put down…Get one for your kid’s school, for your local hospital, your boss, yourself…” according to Huffington Post columnist Julia Moulden.
Everyone participates – everyone has a voice – and the message is revolutionary.
The National Film Board of Canada placed media maker Katerina Cizek “in residence” at Toronto’s inner-city St. Michael’s Hospital, renowned for innovation in patient care and research. The result is a collection of multi-platform documentaries that prove digital storytelling can work as a tool for social action. Young, homeless mothers problem-solve through “video bridging.” Community-based care saves lives in southern Africa. Suicide intervention therapy and film animation intertwine. Throughout, doctors, nurses and media makers work together to create transformative tools.
The 7 Interventions of Filmmaker-in-Residence charts the project’s five-year history, investigating the creative process from within as media makers join doctors, nurses, researchers and patients at the front-lines of urban and global health. Filmmaker-in-Residence is now recognized around the world as a model for social, cinematic and creative innovation.
The Anthology features 2 DVDs and a CD-ROM:
* The 7 Interventions of Filmmaker-in-Residence:
an 80-minute documentary film + special features
* Filmmaker-in-Residence: The films + related special features
The Bicycle, The Interventionists , Hand-held, Drawing From Life
* Filmmaker-in-Residence Web-documentary CD-ROM + resource materials
National Distribution 1-800-267-7710
USA Distribution 1-800-542-2164
International Distribution 1-514-283-9000
Visit our Web site www.nfb.ca email@example.com
July 26th, 2007
We are all in shock. We are all mourning.
Pax Chingawale, our friend, colleague, inspiration and hero of The Bicycle, died yesterday.
Pax was a Malawian AIDS activist, who so kindly — and courageously — invited me into his home and life to make a film about his and Dignitas’ fight against AIDS. I was so moved when he told me of the time he learned about his HIV-status. He said he couldn’t stay quiet for long. He chose to speak out about his condition in the face of great fear, stigma and even hatred amongst his neighbours and friends. With such sadness, he told me that for many months they stigmatized him, but little by little, he earned their trust.
“Every minute of my life is full of HIV activities and I’ve seen a change in many people now. They respect me and they themselves are questioning whether they have HIV/AIDS or not. So there is a very big impact, ” he said.
On our last day together, we had such a blast filming him riding his bicycle around his neighbourhood. I hung out of the back of a van with the camera, as he rode his bike, behind us, then beside us, then behind us again. We were at it for over an hour, trying to co-ordinate the speed of the van with the speed of the bike, while trying to catch the magical light of the African sunset. He had such a wide smile on his face, his neighbours calling out to him, lovingly teasing him and laughing.
Yesterday afternoon, Pax was hit by a truck while he was driving a motorcycle on the highway back towards Domasi, in Zomba, Malawi. He was returning from a meeting with the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Pax was taken to Zomba District Hospital (where Dignitas runs its ARV clinic) but he died several hours later during emergency surgery.
Only a few days ago I had received such a wonderful email from him (please see the blog post just below).
Pax was doing so well. His hard work was only just coming to fruition. He had plans to build a community building right beside his house on his property to better support the 204 orphans and 134 HIV/AIDS patients he and his wife Emmie had taken under their care. He was so happy that he had been recently hired on as staff for Dignitas International.
This is such a terrible loss for so, so many: his wife Emmie, their children and grandchildren, for his community, for Dignitas and for all of us who had come to know his gentle strength and his fierce generosity. May his spirit live on in all of us, and may he continue to inspire us all.
July 26th, 2007
As I was taking his photo, I asked Chief Kuntumanji what books he had on that chair beside him. “I have the Bible, and the Koran. I read both books. I have music. Gospel music. As a chief, I consult many traditional books as well.”
News from Pax in Malawi today. George Kuntumanji, the head traditional Chief in Pax’s area has died of cancer. Pax mourns, “SAPAAO, the AIDS organization which I started, has lost a very good supporter. He was one of my Trustees.”
But Pax’s other news is all very promising:
“To begin with, I wish to tell you that Emmie and I, including the children and grandchildren are all well. We still have good memories of your stay at our village…
Thirdly, I wish to tell you that I am building an office and multipurpose hall at my place so that AIDS activities can now be done in a formal way.I wish to separate my personal life and that of my organization.My wife is now the Co Director of SAPAAO. She is running the organization, assisted by 10 Home BASED CARE VOLUNTEERS who are fully trained by Dignitas. By September 2007 the office complex will be in operation. Ask me where I have got the money?.I have pledged 50% of my Salary from my work with Dignitas to assist my community fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic.As long as I continue my work with Dignitas I will do every thing possible to contribute something for the good of People living with HIV/AIDS in my community.
Lastly, but not the least, the Malawi Government has approved my Proposal for ten bicycles,cooking oil and nutritious foods and the purchases of opportunist infection drugs through Global funds amounting to just above 4 million Malawi Kwacha for a period of 2 years.However we are yet to see when theses funds will start coming to us.The main point is that our Government has finally come to recognize us as a local based Organisation that is fighting the AIDS pandemic. It will be folly of me if I can not recoganise the role Dignitas and you personally has played in supporting me personally and my grouping in particular.
My organization is now looking after 204 orphans and 134 HIV/AIDS patients.”
July 16th, 2007
On July 24, I’m moderating an interesting panel in Montreal, as part of WITNESS’ first ever Video Advocacy Institute.
July 16th, 2007
There is arguably nothing more rewarding for a documentary filmmaker than to have a film become part of a political process.
This afternoon, we showed an excerpt of The Interventionists at a Toronto Police Services Board meeting. They run the police in our city. (When he introduced us, the Chair of the Board revealed he had attended our premiere at the Rendez Vous with Madness festival last fall. I had no idea!)
Dr. Ian Dawe, my co-presenter, then made a compelling argument for three recommendations to the Board about Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams.
1) Equal access to services across the city (there’s still big areas in the city without service)
2) Extension of hours of operation of the teams
3) Using the film to build awareness around mental heath throughout Police Services
Vice-Chair Pam McConnell said that the film “Gives us all a peek into not only the crises, but into the skills needed to do this important work.” She also talked about the need for proper supportive housing to prevent mental health crises from escalating in the first place.
Then, she moved to adopt a resolution in principle for all three recommendations, and to ask the Police Chief review and report on the current MCITs in the city, with a view to adjust the operational budget accordingly.
Police Chief Blair said the team has “proven its value” and that the Police are already actively looking to extend the reach.
The resolution passed unanimously.
Interestingly, we are cited in another item on today’s agenda. John Sewell of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition sent a letter to the Board reacting to the Police Chief’s recent request to purchase 3,000 tasers for 8.5 million dollars.
Sewell writes: “We note the Board will receive a presentation on the film ‘The Interventionists’ … We believe that the best way to respond to the kind of crises which provoke Taser use, is through such units. Currently, units are not available 24 hours a day throughout the city — they are used in only a few divisions, and only until 11 pm. The issue is money, and as our group has urged in the past, money is better spent on Mobile Crisis Units than on Tasers.”
And as we were leaving, the Board was about to discuss another very sad, related matter: the Police response to the Jury Recommendations from the Coroner’s Inquest into the Death of Otto Vass. Vass, diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, died while being taken into custody forcefully by the police in 2000.
That was the year the MCIT was just getting started. But, alas on the southeast side of town, not in the west where this event occurred. So there was no chance of ever finding out if MCIT might have prevented such a tragic outcome.
July 11th, 2007
Brit colleague and ally, Franny Armstrong, has just launched a nice website for her film, CRUDE, which has been 5 years in the making. The film documents the oil crisis through global voices. She is busy editing. If this production is anything her previous work (McLibel, Drowned Out) it’s gonna be great - and as tragi-comic as SiCKO (which made me laugh, made me cry over the weekend).
Franny is a master at financing films outside of the system. She had to, because television wouldn’t come near her or her film about McDonald’s for fear of lawsuits. Eventually, BBC broadcast it, after the film became a cult hit, and millions of audiences around the world had already seen it.
CRUDE is due out in theatres in early 2008.
July 3rd, 2007
The following is a guest-post by Gerry Flahive, NFB Filmmaker-in-Residence Producer. Gerry originally wrote this for the Banff Television Festival, where he presented Filmmaker-in-Residence last month.
Boy geniuses and kidnapping. Flying squirrels and bureaucracy. Murder and love. Who wouldn’t want to watch documentaries on these topics?
They are among the offerings at Banff at the 2007 CTV Documart, and highlight the incredible diversity of the documentary form these days.
But for documentary filmmakers and broadcasters alike, the surge in popular interest in the form known, defensively, not so long ago as ‘the D word’ masks some anxiety about shrinking viewership, the rising costs of clearing stock footage, battles over rights that didn’t exist a few years ago, and a YouTube-iverse in which production values, originality, authenticity and even revenue don’t necessarily seem to matter.
As broadcasters move to more comprehensively brand all of their programming, many documentary filmmakers are embracing new technologies, new aesthetics and even creating new genres (like the animated documentary), insisting that their own creative instincts prevail, as messy and unpredictable as that can sometimes be. How can these two reconcile?
Well, they can and can’t, will and won’t. For every high-end, high-concept, high-budget and broadly popular doc series on an international network, there will be a personal, low-res, non-linear, niche audience documentary film appearing on a small digital channel near you.
One wonders what it will even mean to ‘pitch’ in an ‘Ebay meets fantasy baseball league’ environment of something like www.mediapredict.com, a new site that asks anyone to evaluate cultural products-in-the-making — everything from TV pilots to book proposals. You may be pitching to tens of thousands, who will then ‘buy’ your doc, giving it enough credibility to advance it to the front of the line.
And while the success of theatrical documentaries has been the lead story for several years now, it will be the development of alternative platforms – web, mobile, dvd and docs embedded in everything from political street campaigns to rock concerts – that may give documentary the ‘bio-diversity’ it needs to truly thrive.
A recent survey of young people in the U.K., cited at the DocAgora conference held in Amsterdam in November, revealed that 60% of the media they consume is created by someone they know. So, unless we all get a lot more friends on Facebook really fast, we will have to accept that viewers are now makers, and that they might be more interested in what they are doing then in what we are doing. And while many of them might not aspire to be Morgan Spurlock or Alanis Obomsawin or Jennifer Fox, they might also not take kindly to the notion that their creative efforts are merely ‘user-generated content’ to be used by media companies to fill the digital pipelines.
At the National Film Board of Canada, community-based media has always been part of the mix, documentary filmmaking always fleet of foot, authentic and close to the ground. But newly-engaged publics that refuse to be marginalized and new technologies that are helping them to speak out much more loudly mean that we have to simultaneously lead and follow. We’ve put a documentary director on the front lines of inner-city health as a filmmaker-in-residence at a major hospital in Toronto, working for several years from the inside out alongside health care professionals and the people they serve. In Quebec, a documentary unit on wheels is helping aboriginal youth tell their stories. And a group of artists with Down Syndrome is embracing animation as a form for their self-expression. These communities and these new practices don’t reject television. It’s just not the only screen anymore.
We don’t just need to ‘stay tuned’. We also have to make sure we don’t ‘log off’.
July 2nd, 2007