Monthly Archives: March 2012

What’s the point of documentary film festivals?

I’ve spent some of the past few days working with Glenn McMahon on covering the  Human Rights Watch Festival 2012 in London for visionOntv.

We ended our interview series by asking HRW’s Andrea Holley on her organisation’s thinking about the hows and whys of these video fests. Are they preaching to the choir, reaching out to new audiences or bringing real stories to the often-dry and abstract facts and figures?

As well as answering that question, Andrea explains how HRW selects the documentaries it screens and how film makers can pitch their finished stories.

The no-edit interview was shot using a Samsung Galaxy SII smartphone with an audio splitter and a basic microphone following visionOntv’s mobile reporting template. The reason I like the approach so much, and recommend it in the conclusions of my book Fraudcast News as a basic tool for citizen journalists, is because it cuts out so many of the hurdles to getting video news out there quickly.

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Industrial agriculture meets peasant farmers – who wins?

I’m due to interview Bettina Borgfeld for visionOntv later today to talk about Raising Resistance, a film she co-directed with David Bernet about
the fight of the small farmers of South America against industrial agriculture.

The subject is one close to my heart, I covered a version of it over many years while working for Reuters as EU environment correspondent in Brussels and then again as an independent journalist following the trials of French farmers fighting against genetically modified maize produced by Monsanto and others.

Today’s film depicts this conflict as it plays out in Paraguay, describing the global impact of most of today’s genetic engineering on people and on nature. The film makers describe their documentary as a parable on the suppression of life, the diversity of plants and cultures, and how resistance arises both in people and in nature.

I will be working again with fellow independent journalist Glenn McMahon as part of visionOntv’s coverage of the Human Rights Watch Festival 2012 in London. He will be using an iPhone and iRig mic to shoot a no-edit video interview based on the visionOntv mobile phone interview template.

Before that happens, I need to watch the preview. Below you can see a trailer for the film, which is due out in May this year.

If you’re in London, you can catch it at the Curzon Soho at 6.40 pm or tomorrow at the Ritzy Cinema at 8.40 pm.

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Indy media legacy documents Genoa G8 police violence

 

Carlo Augusto Bachschmidt, director of the documentary Black Block, explains how work by independent media helped piece together the story of unprovoked Italian police violence at the G8 2001 summit meeting in Genoa. (Italian with English interpretation).

His film features powerful testimonies by some of the dozens of activists who were savagely beaten by Italian police during a raid on the Diaz school at the G8 meeting. Lena, Niels, Chabi, Mina, Dan, Michael, and Muli recount in painful detail how they went from demonstrating in the streets to what they thought was a safe shelter for the night — the Diaz school on the outskirts of the northern Italian city of Genoa.

Each describes what they experienced that night and in the days that followed. Despite their trauma, the survivors have continued with their activism, in addition to suing the Italian police through the courts.

Bachschmidt says video and still images gathered by independent journalists in Genoa meant the facts of police brutality reached a wider public, painting a far more accurate picture of events than portrayed by the authorities or conventional media.

I did the interview with fellow independent journalist Glenn McMahon as part of visionOntv’s coverage of the Human Rights Watch Festival 2012 in London. He used an iPhone and iRig mic to shoot a no-edit video interview based on the visionOntv mobile phone interview template.

The idea is to do short videos that can be rapidly uploaded to the internet with minimal hassle, vastly increasing the chances of making media that gets seen. Just the sort of thing needed for covering the likes of the Genoa G8.

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Advice for independent journalists covering violent demos

Journalist Mark Covell was beaten unconscious by Italian police during the 2001 Genoa G8 summit.

He speaks here about the power of independent media and how independent journalists should buddy up, train and prepare to cover potentially violent demos so as to keep safe.

He was speaking before a screening of Black Block, a documentary about demonstrators attacked in cold blood by Italian riot police. It was shown as part of the Human Rights Watch Festival 2012 in London.

I did the interview with fellow independent journalist Glenn McMahon, who used an iPhone and iRig mic to shoot a no-edit video interview based on the visionOntv mobile phone interview template. The idea is to shoot short videos that can be rapidly uploaded to the internet with minimal hassle, vastly increasing the chances of making media that gets seen.

If you’re interested in the Black Block the film, which I highly recommend, you can get a sense of its shocking story in the following trailer.

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Mimi Chakarova talks about making “The Price of Sex”

Documentary film-maker and photojournalist Mimi Chakarova talks about her film, the Price of Sex, which screened in London this week as part of the Human Rights Watch Festival 2012.

Chakarova describes how it took her four years to persuade some of the East European women who’d been sold into sex slavery to tell their stories on camera. They describe being duped by promises of well-paid jobs abroad into leaving their homes and lives in poor parts of Bulgaria and Moldova.

It’s a brutal tale about how poverty makes young women vulnerable to traffickers’ promises, leading them to become trapped inside the virtual cells of brothels and bars in Athens, Istanbul and Dubai.

“You don’t make a film unless you feel that there’s a possibility to change things,” says Chakarova, who branched into film-making having reached what she felt were the limits of photo journalism.

“It’s depressing subject matter but you have to turn it around,” she said, urging everyone to watch and learn from The Price of Sex. Though the film features only a few cities, she makes clears its stories play out every day on streets around the world.

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The Price of Sex


I’m set to interview Mimi Chakarova today, the maker of this film about the sex trafficking of East European women.

It’s a tough tale about how poverty makes young women in former Soviet bloc countries vulnerable to the promises of well-paid work as waitresses abroad, only for them to be trapped into prostitution.

I watched it last night, ending with a feeling of hopelessness. It’s hard to see how to make a difference in the face of so much misery, wrapped up in such shame and taboo. One quote that struck me particularly came from a male human rights campaigner in Dubai, one of the more blatant destinations for those inadvertently trapped into sexual slavery.

“This is about capitalism – you invented it, you brought it into the world we are just being the latest students of the system,” he said of his country’s lax approach to the sex trade.

The film’s great strength is that it goes beyond the personal stories of those women who are brave enough to speak up, striking as they are. It also points a lens at the systemic, economic, cross-border factors that keep a constant supply of new women arriving on the streets of Athens, Moscow, Dubai and countless other cities where money is easier than in the victims’ native lands.

We shouldn’t turn our heads away.

 

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Fraudcast News – the flyer

 

 

This is the draft publicty flyer for Fraudcast News, trying to squeeze the essence of 68,000 words or so into 300ish.

All/any feedback gratefully received.

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Gonzo journalism? Sounds more like the brighter future to me

I enjoyed this recent video interview by Tanya O’Carroll, a fellow volunteer at visionOntv, with mobile media maker and professional blogger Christian Payne.

The man  talks great sense – I agree completely with his thinking about a future for journalism that includes the many citizen journalists in addition to the full-timers.

Just the sort of thing I advocate myself in Fraudcast News.

Good job.

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The bloody realities of self publishing

Self-publishing is a grind. Don’t kid yourself that you can just kiss off that bestseller, throw it up on line as an eBook or paperback then lay back and count the royalty cheques as they roll in, particularly if you forgot to put in the teen vampires chapter.

Here in the grunt room at Fraudcast News, I’ve got to the stage of promoting my book beyond the immediate circle of family and both of my friends. Time for a brief run through what got me here.

There’s quite a skillset to build up or borrow just to get this far, the first being to have the idea for a book.

The ones behind Fraudcast News  began germinating 15 years ago, when I first wondered about the realities of political power in the European Union. No really, it’s sad but true, that’s the sort of thing that bothers my head in idle moments, I can’t help it.

As a Reuters reporter in Brussels, I witnessed political decisions being taken over the heads of European environment ministers – by finance ministers, heads of governments and even European Commission civil servants. It made me think about where power truly lay, who had it and what I as a journalist should be doing to write about that. My immediate concern was why so little ever got done to resolve environmental issues such as climate change. As I now know, the problem goes far wider.

My questions about power and how journalism should cover it mushroomed out over the years, eventually forcing me out of Reuters. They spread down to national and local levels of government and up to the global level. It took ages for me to work them into the broader critique of representative democracy and journalism, and possible remedies, that is Fraudcast News. It’s complicated but not impossible stuff.

The work required me to write and re-write the text, getting various clever friends to read through each version for coherence, content and so on. With a complete first draft in hand by last May, I re-wrote it all again in the subsequent months on the back of people’s comments, positive and negative. Many times over the years, I considered jacking it all in as a bad job. The project survived, emerging complete at the start of 2012.

That took me to lulu.com, one of several self-publishing sites. My first goal was to publish an eBook, which took a few days to work through their system.

My Word document needed juggling about to strip out unnecessary formatting and to make its chapters suitable for the table of contents generator Lulu uses to turn a document into EPUB format. There were all the usual annoying glitches you get with any formatting process but I got there in the end, this being the result. I used one of their off-the-shelf covers to get me going. Once it was done, I read the ebook from start to finish, picking up quite a few grammar howlers, spelling mistakes or wooly sentences as I went. Strange how a changed format threw up errors I’d missed in the previous one.

Next was the paperback, which was more straightforward. I created a PDF from the Word document, played around with fonts, headers and footers and the extra pages at the front. I appealed to the world for help designing a cover before eventually doing one myself and market testing it with my Facebook friends. They were great – I got tonnes of helpful and useful advice.

The process was faster than it would have been with a conventional publisher, once I’d worked the text through to its first complete draft. I’d tried but failed to get a conventional publisher a few years back and decided this time around to do it myself.

Would I recommend that others do the same and bypass the old-style route?

It depends, though probably yes. I’ve learnt a lot having to do all this stuff myself, to say nothing of the experimenting I’ve been doing with Facebook, Twitter and the rest.

You certainly need friends who are willing and able to help and plenty of time that you don’t have to spend on other things, with or without full-time, paid work.

No conventional publisher would have accepted me doing a Creative Commons book or giving away free PDFs, so I was probably always destined to do it this way. Technology set me free then made me work my backside off.

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Uploading smartphone videos to multiple sites

I have been volunteering with visionOntv for the last few weeks, helping out with their project to encourage the widest possible distribution of video for social change.

That has involved me doing and learning ultra-light video shooting and publishing techniques that I hope to be able to share with other citizen journalists working to transform our democracies.

Shooting the videos is one thing, you also need to upload and publish them. The post I link to here explains the simple process of bluetoothing the video to a laptop and uploading it to multiple video upload sites. All pretty basic stuff but new to me.

This was the film I used as a dummy, which was shot in the London Hackspace.

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