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The eyes have it

Fed up with the mainstream news agenda? Got a story to tell but no contacts to help you? Then arm yourself with a video camera and follow Suzanne Fane-Saunders’ tips for guerilla filming and let the credits roll

June 1, 2006
4 min read

Ever been in a situation that has made you wish you had a camera? And not just a camera but a video camera? A movement is growing to help people use the power of video by direct action.

The alternative media scene is flourishing in the face of an untrustworthy mainstream. More and more people are turning to subcultures to get a clearer understanding of the society they live in. There is unprecedented power in having someone look into your eyes while they describe hardships. These are people, after all, not simply figures.

Success stories include the psychiatric patients of Paraguay, whose government decided in 2005 to implement community-based mental health services after Witness (www.witness.org) helped engineer a video showing patients kept in tiny cages, their own faeces smeared over the walls, and allowed to drink out of puddles. Closer to home, the extreme violence of the authorities during the G8 summit has been well publicised and the protesters’ stories verified thanks to images shot on the ground.

Once upon a time…

First off, you must have a good story. Whether you are going to an anti-nuclear protest or making a short film documenting a human rights abuse, it helps to have a clear understanding of exactly what angle you will concentrate on, and exactly who the target audience will be.

Be aware both of others’ propaganda and your own. Try to remain objective: it will almost certainly have more effect on the viewers.

Frame the story. It’s all very well to have a camera and an idea, but what you often need is expert opinion. Try to frame the story with comments from someone who knows what he/she is talking about.

Two heads are better than one

The most powerful way to effect change is for the individual to join others. Most NGOs will have video campaign programmes already set up. Offer to lend a hand or create bonds with similar minded people at BeyondTV International Video Festival (www.undercurrents.org/beyondtv).

Curiosity killed the cat

Safety is crucial. Not just of the film crew, but also of those being filmed. Depending on the context, the camera can be seen as either a shield or a target. Whether you are in Mexico or Edinburgh, theft, violence or downright fear of exposure can lead people to do extreme things.

The US not-for-profit group, Witness, has published Video for Change (Pluto Press). It offers a comprehensive guide to video making, as well as highlighting the need for safety and a clear understanding of the dangers involved.

Know your rights

Worldwide, there are issues of censorship and corporate control over the media. However, legal rights do exist. In the UK, for instance, if the cameras are turned on you, you can demand to see the police footage. For advice on your project, talk to the video veterans at Undercurrents, described as ‘a media counter-culture’ by the BBC (www.undercurrents.org, 01792 455900).

Equipment and editing

Whether it’s the latest HD or VHS hardware, there is lots of specialist lingo. Don’t let that scare you. What it’s really about is capturing the footage and getting it seen. Undercurrents runs workshops in Swansea and Oxford, training beginners in the use of cameras and basic editing skills. More advanced levels may also be available (www.under currents.org/training).

Getting your story out there

Once you know what audience you are vying for, then comes the lobbying, the legal work, the publicity – all the gritty stuff. The audience can vary from decision makers in positions of power to the very communities you have filmed; it depends on your message. A great way for the general public to view your material is to organise screenings.

Screens, projectors and other equipment can be hired and the event organised by London-based video engineers Inside-us-all. Visit their website for some unique tips on showing your films or help producing the end product (www.inside-us-all.com).

Edge or mainstream?

Somewhere between mass broadcasting and home-made video, organisations like Witness (www.witness.org) thrive. They want to use video to slice through the chatter of the mainstream with a professional knife. Join the media resistance and volunteer with the Independent Media Center (www.indymedia.org).

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
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