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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Blog post written by Kelsey Greene, Documentary Studies and Production, '13, FLEFF intern, Buffalo, New York
I had the opportunity to speak with Laura Deutch, an Ithaca College alumna and Philadelphia-based media artist and educator.
KG: Can you please describe why you decided to use media as a tool for social justice?
LD: Media is a powerful tool to support advocacy and educational campaigns for social justice. Visual media allows people to connect with one another, and identify with diverse points of view.
The problem is that in the current system, there is inequitable access to resources for creating and effectively distributing media messages. Even with the explosion of social media, the digital divide is very real.
As an educator, it’s important for me to not only help create alternative media, but to transfer these skills to underrepresented communities so they understand how media is constructed and manipulated, and gain the knowledge to document and express their own experiences and analysis.
KG: Your most recent project is Messages in Motion. Can you please explain this project and your reason to start it?
LD: There are two components to the Messages In Motion project. First, I’ve been identifying and working with organizations to conduct video workshops with the flip camera. At a workshop I speak about what a story is, what a shot is, what it means to upload, edit, and so on.
Participants see that they can create a video, and so they gain confidence. They see the power of this tool to reach a wider audience.
I’m a little less interested in having them recreate media they see on TV, but rather we experiment with voiceover, direct address and images to create something expressive and reflective of their experiences. The videos are used in an educational context or as part of an organizing campaign.
Second, I outfitted an old Chevy work van into a mobile media studio. I have 2 laptops, a workspace and a monitor. The equipment is powered by a solar panel on the roof.
People can stand outside the van and watch what others have created. I wanted to create a self-contained system so participants can create, upload it, and exhibit their work within a few hours.
Once people go through the whole process, it gives them the confidence that they can do it themselves.
KG: What has your experience been like doing such a project?
LD: For me, it has been really great. The neighborhoods in Philly are very segregated and have their own identity, so I enjoy being able to be mobile and being able to show people’s videos and create connections between places.
What’s great is that now that I am building an archive of videos, the participants are inspiring one another. They see the work of their peers in other parts of the city, and they respond to it, and build on it.
I’m starting to develop a broader understanding of the city. I hope to use this work to draw deeper connections between issues and create stronger alliances among organizations and neighborhoods.
KG: You have also recently completed a feature-length documentary, El Sol Sale Para Todos. Can you please give a brief summary of what the documentary is about?
LD: The documentary chronicles the last 15 years of the growth of the Mexican community in Philadelphia.
We wanted to show what it’s like for the first generation of an immigrant community to come to a new place and build a life. By now, the community is quite established, but it’s a history that many people do not know about.
What’s happened in South Philadelphia is similar to what is taking place in many urban and rural towns throughout the US. Through the stories of the seven main characters, the film puts a human face on the struggles and complexity of migrating to make a better life for oneself and one’s family.
It tries to break down stereotypes and can be used as a way to enter into the immigration debate.
KG: How did you find the story for the documentary? What was it like making the film?
LD: Since moving to Philadelphia 5 years ago, I became aware of the changing populations in the neighborhood where I was living.
I started volunteering with JUNTOS and Media Mobilizing Project for an initiative titled, Our City Our Voices. The goal of this project was to train low income and immigrant adults in citizen journalism media production.
During those workshops, I met Carlos and Leticia and we started making short films together, and 2 years later, we collaborated on this feature doc. Between the three of us we each brought unique experiences to the project. Ultimately it’s a piece made by the community, for the community.
KG: Did you ever see yourself doing the projects you are doing?
LD: Yes, as a student I was a media studies major. I never took production classes at school--I got trained at the Public Access Center in town.
I was always interested in community media. My junior and senior year I was more politically active.
Since that point, I’ve been pursuing work that allows me to combine my interest in documentary and radical experimental film with social justice and media education. Going back to school, and creating the Messages in Motion project was a logical outgrowth of those interests.
KG: What are some of the difficulties with a career such as yours?
LD: The biggest challenge is stability. I work on a project-to-project basis and teach a lot of classes.
However, organizations and institutions are only starting to realize how important web video and social media is to their work.
KG: Can you please describe some personal benefits you have achieved from doing your projects/films?
LD: I like the independence that I have because it has allowed me to work with many different people.
Working with media has allowed me to access a lot of different struggles, stories and cultures and it has helped me understand my role as an educator and producer.
KG: What are your views of FLEFF?
LD: I appreciate the vision and holistic approach to expanding one’s understanding of environment beyond global warming, for example, and trying to address the interconnected social, political and cultural issues which impact our natural and social environment.
KG: What are you looking forward to about FLEFF 2011?
LD: I feel very honored to be coming back as an alum.
I was always really inspired by visiting guests as a student--and I hope I can return the favor. I’ll be bringing the van, and I hope to offer something that can connect college students and town residents.
I am also very excited to see and hear the presentations and meet other artists.
KG: What advice would you give to aspiring media students today?
LD: Take responsibility with the skills and knowledge you are developing, stay true to your values and instincts.