These are two pieces of documentation I’ve done for organizations which wanted to use video to draw communities together into collective action.
The first is the Akvo Video Strategy (pdf) and supporting technical doc which from two years ago, February 2009. These two documents together express a vision of how to use video to draw ordinary people into making videos to document projects and enhance their ability to work together to get things done!
Akvo has been working hard on this approach since I did the original strategy, as you can see from this new Akvo film Mulindwa William and his water project in Africa. This film was shot by Luuk Diphoorn. I shot a film of Luuk Diphoorn, and taught Luuk how to shoot these simple films. Akvo also runs Watercube.TV, which has over 500 similar films of water and sanitation professionals from all over the world. The films reveal little flashes about the personality of the people involved, and the stories reveal their work, which brings support, resources and transparency to their projects.
The format is so simple anybody can do it, which leads to participation in video not just by watching films, but by making them. I film Luuk and explain what I’m doing. Luuk films Mulindwa William, and explains what he’s doing. Next year Mulindwa William may film somebody else, and explain the technique and the practice, and this is how the craft of making small, simple videos spreads. Mark Charmer, who commissioned me to do the Akvo Video Strategy, made a landmark film in India which encompasses the best of this approach to video. You can watch it here, in context, at The Future of Poverty. It shows an Indian woman, Hansabai, showing off the well she got financed in her village. Watch it, and understand the future just a little bit better.
There’s also the “how not to do video” film I shot for Akvo which, ironically, has become quite useful to a number of people!
The second is a manifesto I did for the West Norwood Feast, a community market project in London. You can see the films I shot for that project at that link. The manifesto is called Living Video. I’m quite proud of this little manifesto, I think it really expresses why getting people to make their own videos is so important to getting communities organized around projects.
The right approach to community film-making binds together communities of interest around a project, and turns them into communities of action.
Making what’s happening visible to people who’d like to get involved
Producing good video is both difficult and expensive, but the worst photograph is the one which was not taken, and the worst camera is the one you don’t have with you, or the courage to start.
There are four rules for producing useful video easily.
- Stand still or get a tripod
- Film dialogue and interaction
- Don’t hide the camera (or the camera operator)
- Have fun and break these rules when necessary
The visual style of television or film is as impossible to replicate as the glossy full-face pictures on the covers of fashion magazines. You are seeing the work of dozens of skilled professionals – or hundreds in the case of feature films. What is achievable is the “good holiday pictures” level of video; a video which shows somebody who is socially involved with a project roughly what is happening. A video which takes a person who is interested in the project and turns them into a person who is involved with the project. The final thing people do before deciding to get involved is watch the videos – it’s the largest investment of time a person can make short of showing up, so it is the point at which people make up their minds.
Therefore to be effective, such a video should not sell, it should reveal.
“This is what you will see if you come!”
An honest, simple video which shows what is happening, is less than two minutes long, has good sound (just stand right beside people!), is well-lit (daylight! under the spotlight!) can achieve that moment of contact with the reality of something, unedited and unfiltered, which is the spark of engaging with people’s sense of the real, and therefore with their deepest sense of what they want. Some people make great films by imagining cool stuff and filming it beautifully. We make great films by doing cool stuff, and showing the basics of what we have done. The hard part is doing something worth seeing.
Try not to edit, and keep the fact that a camera is in the scene socially visible. Talk over the top of your shot, try not to be invisible. Ask people to do things for the camera. Prompt with questions. Television is the illusion of reality, in which the mechanisms used to create and record the illusion must be invisible. Our films are just a little slice of reality, in which you are stood there with a camera, joking with your mates about making a video of this for the internet, because it’s great!Vinay Gupta, London, April 5 02011
I’ve shot a lot of this kind of video myself. From the beginning the Hexayurt Project has run on video, because a five minute clip of a hexayurt makes it real in a way that no set of pictures ever can, and we’ve found that people who go on to build hexayurts usually watched the full length hour long construction videos, the whole video, end to end, two or three times before actually going on to build one themselves. The power of video to engage people in action is really underestimated, and I hope you’ll be inspired to use video in new ways for your own projects.