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20 juillet 2008

Telling it like it shoots

By Giuseppe Valiante, The Gazette Montréal, Sunday, July 20, 2008

the power of the video camera is being taught at Concordia to human-rights activists from around the world

The video camera has the power to change the world.

Video footage of child soldiers in eastern Congo convinced the International Criminal Court in The Hague to make prosecuting those who use children to kill a priority.

Video testimony of abused workers in Brazil helped the Brazilian government reinstitute inspection squads to root out organized slave labour in the countryside.

"In a lot of cases (video documentation) can be the tipping point," said Sam Gregory, program director at WITNESS, a New York-based human rights organization that provides funding and support to those who use video and related technologies in order to raise awareness of human rights violations.

WITNESS was co-founded by musician Peter Gabriel in 1992 after a strong response by the U.S. public to footage of Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles police officers.

The people who took the footage of the Congolese child soldiers and the slave labourers were trained by WITNESS, and Gregory and his team are training another 30 human-rights activists from around the world for the next two weeks at Concordia University to do the same.

They'll learn techniques like how to shoot in protest situations or when there is little light, as well as how to conceal someone's identity on film.

By the end of the intensive training program, the 30 participants will have created a "video action plan" for their advocacy campaigns that includes a clear target audience and message, and a strategy to distribute their film.

All participants are human rights advocates campaigning against daunting issues such as the vulnerability of psychiatric prisoners in Brazil, female genital mutilation, ethnic cleansing and abused migrant domestic workers in Asia.

The project is in its second year and is dubbed the Video Action Institute. Gregory said his organization chose to team up with Concordia's communications department among several universities around the globe because of the school's great facilities and expertise.

Alfie Gordo works in Bangkok for the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women. He participated in the first training workshops last year at Concordia, where he developed the skills to produce a film that highlights the practice of illegal salary deduction against Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong.

He said that his film will be ready in August and he hopes to screen it to the Indonesian government in the hope legislation will be enacted to protect these workers.

"I learned that making a video ... requires a clear message to the target audience ... It will determine the kind of response that we are seeking," he said.

Olga Golichenko, a policy advocacy officer for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine, is attending this year's program and said she is hoping to create a film that will help remove some of the social stigma attached to HIV in her country. She said she wants to make a film about drugs users targeted to mainstream society, "to show them this group of people are not dangerous, are not far removed from us."

Patricia Ovando works in south Los Angeles for a community organization that supports low-income Latino and black parents in their fight for public education rights for their children. She said that public schools in her area often transfer children to other schools without parents' consent or expel the kids for dubious reasons.

Ovando said video documentation will help to recruit new members to the organization and "put more pressure on the school district to stop turning their backs on our children by pushing them out of the education system that is their human right."

The Video Action Institute's budget is about $150,000, Gregory said, paid entirely by WITNESS.

"The power of people speaking directly and of visual evidence ... of someone speaking directly to you saying, 'This is what is happening to me, this is what I want you to do' ... is what really drove WITNESS," Gregory said. "And I think it's only increasing now that we move into a more video-literate culture. More people aren't afraid of the idea that you can communicate using video."

A panel discussion with the activists about video advocacy will be held along with screenings on Friday at the National Film Board's CineRobotheque, 1564 St. Denis St.

Listen and watch the daily blog by participants in the VAI program


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