Speculations on Openings, Closings, and Thresholds in International Public Media
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Agriculture and Cinema?
What do agricultural economics and cinema have in common?
And five more... the Global Social Change Film Festival (GSCFF) slated to unspool in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia April 13-17, 2011.
For Cynthia Phillips, the founding director of this new festival, the challenges of food security, world hunger, poverty, and sustainable futures lead directly and logically to film and media for social change.
A New Film Festival in Indonesia
The Global Social Change Film Festival and Institute focuses not on film markets, deals, auteurs, landing big movie stars, discoveries of the next breakthrough genius, or launching the next new wave.
“We’re about creating spaces for dialogue around these films,” explains Phillips. “We want to connect filmmakers and activists for community building.”
To this end, the festival plans to convene filmmakers, activists, and audiences for meaningful discussion in Bali, an island renowned for its embrace of the arts, slower pace, and open culture. With only 8 feature films screened in open air venues over 4 days, the festival is making a strong statement that extended dialogue matters.
Phillips hopes that filmmakers will explore how to build audiences beyond festivals by linking with activist groups. And she hopes that activists will learn more about the possibilities of a range of media.
In an international media landscape crammed with film festivals in nearly every city on almost every theme imaginable, the GSCFF possesses an impressive clarity of vision by answering real needs. According to Phillips, the festival focuses on “ addressing the needs of filmmakers to become more effective at outreach, and addressing how activists can become better storytellers.”
It’s a large mandate—but scalable. For Phillips, one word keeps everything in focus: outreach.
From Economics to Outreach
Phillips sports an unusual background for a film festival director.
After getting her PhD in agricultural economics from Michigan State University, she pulled together a team to record a convening by the USAID on hunger and poverty in Africa. That lead to a stint in Singapore working in international marketing for American Express. And, now, she’s a high profile, high energy strategic planning consultant for a range of high end clients like One Degree Media, 2020 Fund, and others via her C. A. Phillips Company.
Along the way, she did some programming for the Sedona International Film Festival in Arizona around sustainability issues and locally sourced food.
That experience ignited her interest in solving a key unresolved problem lurking underneath the utopian, user-generated, all-tools-are-accessible-everyone-can-do everything, Web 2.0 media ecosystem: how do we build audiences for beautiful, well-produced social change films?
Staying on Point
The Global Social Change Film Festival seems to be unpacking that gnarly audience and outreach question in innovative ways. It’s honoring the nongovernmental social media group Engage Media in Jakarta, Indonesia with a special innovator award. It’s giving a special activist award to the Women and Children Crisis Center of Tonga. And it is honoring Indonesian filmmaker and social activist Nia Dinata.
During the day, the Institute part of the festival will offer a range of pointed workshops on pressing, unresolved, but necessary topics like Commercially Viable Social Change Filmmaking and Distribution, Hybrid Models of Distribution, and Film, Audience Building and Social Action and Environmental Film.
Challenges and Dialogues
However, challenges lurk despite this clarity of vision, marketing savvy, and ability to pull in partners like the Global Fund for Women, Global Girl Media,and First People’s Worldwide. All films need to pass through the government review board for approval, a time consuming process but one that GSCFF respects as part of the media regulatory environment in Indonesia. It’s also hard to pull together resources in a tough economy for a first-time film festival.
Drilling down into details like how to get different activists from around the Southeast Asian region to Ubud for workshops, the endlessly optimistic and undaunted Phillips observes “People are always asking me why start a film festival festival in this tough economy? “
Her answer is simple: “I tell them we need to creative a space for dialogue about social change media and activism and outreach.”
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Blog written by Patricia Zimmermann, professor of cinema studies, Ithaca College and codirector of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
Continuing from my last posting, here are the final four of the auspicious take-aways from my Nanyang Technological University colleagues, in no particular order of importance. These are practices and ways of doing intellectual life that unhinged my global north/US centric bias/East coast interventionist assumptions (even though, like most intellectuals, I thought I didn’t have them)
5. Lunch. A big part of my work life at NTU featured lunches and coffees with a myriad of colleagues, collaborators, and contacts.
One of my long-term colleagues in Information Science in the School of Communication, Christopher Khoo, an internationally recognized researcher of knowledge systems and an organizer of lunch expeditions, once told me that interdisciplinary research happens at round tables in restaurants. A wise observation.
Food is a central feature of Singaporean cultural identity. Some might call it an obsession. I dug in.
Usually spontaneous, the narrative of lunch featured the build up of what kind of food to eat—Hokkien, Teochow, Hakka, South Indian, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Peranakan, dim sum, western—and then where to eat--- hawker stalls, on campus hawker stalls, on campus restaurants, the faculty club, off campus restaurants.
The next part of narrative build-up entailed who would come—I rarely had a lunch with only one other person. Usually, we’d lunch in a group. The group usually included senior and junior faculty, although I don’t think this was deliberate as much as it is just ingrained in NTUs culture of inclusiveness and mentoring.
Lunch was leisurely, usually long (never less than 90 minutes), never hurried, crowded with questions about cultural differences, research, comparisons of academic life in different countries. I probably learned the most about Asia at these lunches. Analysis of the food we were eating was expected, which I slowly came to realize was a subtle way to discuss the histories, economies, cultures , media systems of Southeast Asia in a way that gently disguised what an American film and new media theorist/historian like me didn’t know.
In some foodie circles, Singapore holds the distinctive title of "Paris of the East" for its staggering, overwhelmingly complex cuisines.
But my Singaporean colleagues made jokes that a more post-colonialist way of considering this accolades was that Paris was trying, desperately, to be Singapore, but had the ultimate disadvantage of being located at a latitude and in a climate where kang kong, kai lan, durian, limes, and chilli could not grow.
Coda: About a month before I repatriated, I received a couple of emails from academic friends in Ithaca who wanted to set up lunch dates. They provided the list of their constraints—no time, needing to organize far in advance, feeling pressed by many obligations, tight calendars (even in summer with no teaching), needing one on one interaction, needing a firm booking weeks in advance for a date. I had a strong and weird reaction, reading these emails in the heat and humidity of SE Asia (I think I was in Thailand at the time)
I resolved to bring a little bit of NTU back into my life in Ithaca, with spontaneity, collegiality, and leisurely interactions at the core.
6. A Collaborative Ethic. The School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University transmits a sense of collegiality and collaboration that is nothing short of energizing for the alliances it creates, the new research ideas it generates, and the interactions it spurs.
Perhaps this collaborative zeitgeist emanates from the group ethic that is part of Asian culture in general. Perhaps it is because NTU is a high-end, prestigious engineering school where team work and problem solving is part of the profession. Perhaps it is the legacy of the heads of the school like Eddie Kuo, Ang Peng Hwa and Ben Detenber.
Perhaps it is because humility is a major value of Buddhist and Asian cultures, with excessive egotism a negative trait where one could lose face.
I am not sure I can explain why collaboration seems so central to SCI. But it served as a powerful antidote to the isolationism, individualism, self-centeredness, negativity, and competitiveness that cuts through American and European academic life.
I didn’t meet one faculty member who worked alone on research, teaching, administrative work.
Of course, faculty had research and writing they did on their own. Most seemed to be working all the time on their projects, with books and print outs piled high on their desks. But it seemed like almost everyone I met did some sort of project with others, or, if not that, they engaged in endless benchmarking and discussion and debate with others other lunch, coffee, drinks. Courses were team taught. Many faculty were mobilized to help mount the International Communication Conference. I deeply admired their team spirit and lack of grousing.
Part of my position as the Shaw Professor of New Media at NTU was to curate a new media exhibition to represent SCI at the International Communication Association (ICA) meeting—and the first step I took was to assemble an interdisciplinary team: Nikki Draper from SCI, Sharon Lin Tay from the School of Art, Design and Media and Wenjie Zhang from the National Museum of Singapore. And then, I mobilized a lot of lunches with the team and with new media artists and labs we were interested in.
It would have been impossible to curate and mount an exhibition of new media works in Southeast Asia alone. New media in the region is exploding , the platforms are multiplying, the context of each country complex, and, significantly, I am an outsider.
Plus, it was a lot more fun to have long lunches thinking through Indonesian social media after Reformasi, Cambodian digital archives tracking Khmer Rouge historiography, the Malaysian New Wave of online shorts, and the CUTE Center’s radical robotics of the sensorial.
7. Unsettling and complicating "independent media." After my time at NTU and in Southeast Asia, I have a new view about independent media—one filled with more questions than answers. My vectors have been rerouted--- completely.
In the countries of what activists often dub the "Global North", the term "independent media" usually refers to media practices outside corporate media combines, dedicated to exposing voices, practices, and ideas the so-called "mainstream" marginalizes.
In Southeast Asia and India, new media practices and infrastructures are exploding, in different ways in different countries, dependent on political changes, economic global flows, complicated histories, and where spaces are available. They don’t follow the pattern of the center of "mainstream" corporate media and the periphery of "independent media." Spaces exist for new media and other forms of media that wind between the two.
For example, Malaysiakini, an online news site that developed in opposition to the Malaysian government, emerged in the context of hard copy press censorship in Malaysia and a loosening of restrictions on the internet to foster growth in the IT sector in light of the multimedia supercorridor there. I attended a conference of "mainstream" journalists from Asia where the editors of Malaysiakini where featured speakers. The site has successfully monetized: it has more readers than many of what westerners would call "mainstream" media (but what is that, exactly, when there are both government regulated media and then international media, like the International Herald Tribune and Al Jazeera?).
A significant take-away from my time in Southeast Asia and India, as well as my curatorial work for NTU, is that we make a strategic and conceptual error if we do not broaden our horizons to understand the emerging formations of new media and cinema in other parts of the world. They might look similar to our "westernized" conceptual models, but we can learn a lot more if we situate their distinctions and differences contextually.
The urgency of rethinking independent media within a more nuanced, complex, global point of view was underscored for me at a session I attended at the ICA conference on "alternative media."
I heard two presentations by white male scholars, one from the US and one from Europe, who were analyzing "independent media" and "alternative media" in Southeast Asia, one a quantitative social scientist, the other a more humanities oriented analyst.
They both marshalled similar language and theoretical models of the counter public sphere, the public sphere, speaking truth to power, making the invisible visible, giving voices, mainstream media, commercial media, censorship, freedom of expression, independence, independent media, alternative media—terms derived from German critical theory and American media scholarship—to analyze blogs, video and some journalistic practices from Southeast Asia.
It troubled me to hear these invocations of terms from 1970s German critical studies and 1980s American independent media and independent journalism applied to Southeast Asian examples, with no attention paid at all to how even these terms, according to many of the artists, activists and academics I encountered, have a distinctly western, global north bias that ignored the differences in media, histories and politics in Southeast Asia.
These talks felt like colonialism camouflaged in critical theory to me. They also felt very ahistorical. They were importing a US/European conceptual model to a region of the world that didn’t share this same history.
I will be posting more about specific examples of emerging media practices in analog and new media from other parts of the world, including Southeast Asia, in future blogs.
I’m not an expert at all, just an interested observer. It’s my way of countering these two scholars. (Full disclosure: I confronted them at the session about their unexamined definitions and models of independent media, emboldened, I think, because Enrico Anditjondro from Engage Media in Indonesia, a group we had curated for Open Space/Singapore/Southeast Asia, was sitting next to me).
8. Harmony. I thought I might end my reflections on NTU with this idea.
I don’t invoke it in any new age, go-to-the spa-to-fight-stress kind of way, but as an meme that traversed through NTU, SCI, and the new media and cinema worlds I encountered across Southeast Asia and India.
I heard and read a lot about "Asian Values."
I am not sure I ever fully—after two different stints teaching and researching in Asia—understood it.
Some analysts argue that Buddhism infuses cultural values in Southeast Asia, stressing a non-confrontational way that emphasizes social harmony. It's a survival strategy: without social harmony, people in poor communities would not thrive. They needed each other.
Other analysts have pointed out that Southeast Asian culture (if one can generalize, given the enormous economic and cultural differences in the region, where some countries like Vietnam and Laos are communist, some like Singapore global capitalist, some like Thailand and Malaysia emerging economies, etc) is not direct, but indirect, finding ways to suggest critique that do not feel assaultive. It is a high context, rather than low context, culture.
Another book interpreted the term as an ideological and postcolonial countermove to the so-called west that saw Asian communications systems as less than open, more prone to state censorship and regulatory controls. "Asian values" signified the differences in interpretation of terms like censorship, freedom of expression, free press, to emphasize distinctions in Asia, and Asia’s need to self-define media and communications practices. It was a subtle way to refuse the imposition of western values of individualism, free expression, etc.
But the definitions I liked (and understood) the best were offered by one of my SCI colleagues, who explained Asian values with two metaphors, Zen koans that are major take-aways for me.
The first was an expression: stroke the neck of the tiger when it attacks you.
The second: If you want to understand Asian values, just look at all the round tables in any dim sum restaurant.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Blog written by Patricia Zimmermann, Shaw Foundation Professor, Nanyang Technological University and codirector, Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
When we started thinking about programming Open Space/Singapore/Southeast Asia to explore new media in the region last fall, I sent frantic emails to friends who work in international human rights independent media. Well, it was more a cry for help, as I was programming this exhibition from half a world away and not moving to Singapore until January. I was anxious.
My colleague and writing collaborator Sam Gregory from Witness, dedicated to collaborative and user generated human rights video and social media, suggested—more accurately, insisted—that we contact EngageMedia, a non profit organization based in Indonesia and Australia working with new media and social justice issues in innovative ways.
Many emails, website searches, and phone calls later, I finally connected to Enrico Aditjondro, from Indonesia, the Southeast Asia Editor for Engage Media. We’ve invited Enrico to present on our panel on human rights and new media at the Open Space exhibition and ICA next week. We’ve also curated the Engage Media site as one of ten featured organizations in our online exhibition. You can visit here: http://www.ica2010.sg/openspace/view.html
Enrico has lived and worked in Indonesia, West Papua, the USA, Australia, and Timor Leste. He started his journalism career in 1998 when he joined The Maritime Workers’ Journal in Sydney, reporting on labor issues and the shipping industry.
Seeking more excitement, he moved to Jakarta and joined the Southeast Asia Press Alliance in 2000. He traveled and worked in Timor Leste with UNESCO and UNTAET. Enrico also campaigned around corruption issues for Transparency International-Indonesia.
In 2005 he was the Southeast Asia Representative for the International News Safety Institute. In the same year he co-founded and became managing editor of Paras Indonesia, one of the country’s leading bilingual social-political website at the time.
Enrico was a fan of EngageMedia before joining the group in May 2009. He is now based in Jakarta, writing, producing films and maintaining the Southeast Asia content for EngageMedia . You can meet him in person next week at ICA 2010 in Singapore.
Patricia Zimmermann: Can you share a little bit about your background and how you initially got involved in EngageMedia?
Enrico Anditjondro:I've been a journalist and media consultant for a little bit more than a decade. I started in texts and photography, and gradually started to use videos and began filmmaking.
From the start, I've been a firm believer that objectivity is a myth, although in reporting, there are principles and ethics to follow. So, when I found EngageMedia.org, I was impressed with its ideas of voicing the voiceless with videos - well produced videos preferably, and became a fan of it immediately.
Later on, as my ideas and struggles are continued to be limited or even obstructed by the mainstream media I was involved in (i.e. I was tired of the ABC News's quest for Islam fundamentalism stories in Indonesia), EngageMedia became even more relevant and decided to join when the opportunity arrived.
PZ:Can you provide a snapshot of the work of Engage, for readers who might not be familiar with your organization? How is Engage similiar and different from other NGOs working in social justice issues?
EA: EngageMedia's flagship is www.engagemedia.org, a video sharing site on social justice and environment issues in Asia Pacific.
In shorter words, we like to think ourselves as YouTube for activists.
Aside from the site, we organize skill sharing workshops on online video distribution strategy, and video archive; video camps; research; and capacity building programs for organizations. We have similarities with Witness and its Hub, but we focus more on already published videos. We urge people more on distribution strategy and better use of videos in social justice and environment campaigns.
PZ: Can you explain how EngageMedia mobilizes the intersections between user-generated content, social and political issues, aggregation, and new technologies/interfaces? What opportunities and challenges has Engage encountered?
EA: EngageMedia chooses to have closer relations with its users.
Our editors frequently talk to users, suggesting ideas, and on the other hand, susses out who would seek technical advice as well requests to promote specific videos.
All of videos in EngageMedia are licensed under Creative Commons also, and the download feature is easily accessible, therefore campaigners and educators who need special videos can search and find videos easily and download them in high quality for their purposes (although still bound by the Creative Commons license conditions chosen by the filmmakers).
And since EngageMedia is run by its own Plumi software, we provide updates to users for new versions or features. One big agenda we have forward is to develop more mobile based technologies in our scope of work.
PZ: What do you see as some of the biggest issues and debates confronting new technology and social justice concerns in Asia and the Pacific?
EA:The fast rise of internet users in Asia and the Pacific is not followed by the equally fast internet infrastructure.
Nowadays, internet-able devices are very common all over but slow bandwidth remains an issue.
In Indonesia, half the new internet users are actually people using mobile devices for social networking applications. This trend is also followed by the overflow of pushed information, and decreases in the quality of reporting accuracy as reporters (and reporter-wannabees) try as fast as they can to post articles.
Facebook status unfortunately became another source of information, and often their inaccuracies have created problems. However, this phenomenon could also become strengths if used tactically. The other issue to be debated is the digital technology revolution which does not favor the marginalized societies who have very little technological access.
PZ: What are some projects and initiatives that you have worked on for Engage that you see as significant or that have had interesting outcomes?
EA:Being the Southeast Asia Editor for EngageMedia gives me the opportunity to watch hundreds of videos produced by filmmakers from the region.
The role also allows me to meet many of them during our Online Video Distribution Strategy Workshop in Singapore and various cities in Indonesia.
More and more filmmakers are now familiar and capable of using online tools for their video distribution and archiving, and slowly, EngageMedia is becoming a source for information and videos for journalists, educators, campaigners and filmmakers looking for inspirations.
PZ:.What are some of the issues that Engage and you confront in relationship to new technologies and on the ground issues and politics?
EA: In areas where government restrictions are prominent, the internet is a very useful alternative for many media makers.
However, in some places, the internet has also become a target for scrutiny - unfortunately this is caused by pornography and social networking applications. Therefore, more discussions about media regulations and cyber-law are needed so that the restrictions can be diverted.
On the other hand, filmmakers and campaigners are often enjoying so many iterations of these technologies that many have forgotten that the people they are fighting for have limited access to it.
The good old transmitter radio still works wonder in many remote places, much more than YouTube-- or even EngageMedia.