Conference finale and the far reaches of film: dedicated to Eva Gluyas at Workspace

I’m a fan of the moving image and like most in the industry I have an area of specialty, a genre that gets me going. Mine is documentary, or at least ‘based on a true story’, which if we’re being honest is really what documentaries are.

At this conference there were two individuals doing things with mobile film technology that piqued my interest. They were totally different ways of gathering data, telling stories and communicating science.

The first was project COBRA, an amazing, simple and empowering initiative that allowed tribal cultures in the Amazon to make films about how the forest sustains them, and crucially, how they sustain and manage the forest.

Of several hundred tribal communities that once lived in the Amazon only a handful still exist. The films being made by a cluster of communities are being used to educate policy makers on the economic value of the ecosystem services that the forest provides. These tribes don’t log the whole lot, sell it and move on, theirs is a mentality of guardianship, not ownership or capital worth.  By capturing on film their wealth of knowledge on plant and animal life cycles that it would take years to learn, the communities are in a more powerful position to argue against logging and habitat destruction.  I love this and the presenter of this project, Andrea Beradi and I are hoping to collaborate and do something similar in New Zealand.

I think we are now at a stage where audiovisual technologies have become so accessible that we can transition from a situation where non-indigenous people construct narratives ‘about’ them, to one where indigenous people themselves are in control of the narrative creation and dissemination process.
— Andrea Beradi

The second was an initiative through the Oxford University’s Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam. The Mekong Delta in Vietnam has the highest rate of Zoonotic pathogen transfer in the world. Zoonotic’s are the kind of pathogen that moves between humans and other animals like swine flu or mad cow disease. This comes from the practice of eating raw meat, drinking blood, low regulations on the slaughter of animals and the absence of hygiene/protective practices like using plastic gloves.

Traditionally in order to address this sort of issue, you’d send in a bunch of researchers and run workshops that instruct the people who live and work there that they’re wrong, that their ways of managing their food are unhygienic. Then expect them to be grateful and immediately change the culture around their food. This group went about it in an entirely different way.

By giving the people who raise, slaughter and sell animals a camera and the simple direction ‘film things you think are unsafe’ they got over 30 films that were astoundingly rich in information. Richer, and more insightful than the data you’d get from a paper survey with externally generated questions. This enabled the researchers to create hygiene workshops around the information gathered by the residents of the Mekong, a far more empowering experience and, it turns out, far more effective at changing behavior.

As a filmmaker I feel I may be encouraging myself out of a job, but these projects are just too exciting and promising to not celebrate.

Collaborations and inspirations abounding the conference is over, and I have two days to immerse myself in the food and music of this colourful place.