Tuesday, 26 January 2010

30 Ways to Put the Community Into Film ...

A Checklist of 30 Questions to support the community film-making process - from first ideas to mass distribution.

1. Is your film defined by the collective engagement of all participants?

2. Is it a group narrative with multiple visions and voices?

3. Are there elements which are collaborative and improvisatory?

4. Are its questions and answers unpredictable and undetermined at the outset?

5. Is there a dialogue between creativity and critical analysis (making and reflecting)?

6. Is there a process or product that contributes to social change, empowerment and social justice?

7. Does you film build the social capital of the community?

8. Is there an opportunity for reflection and dialogue with other communities?

9. Have you fully employed the skills of community agents and artists in a supportive and empowering environment?

10. Are you prepared to take risks?

11. Does your film challenge traditions or expectations within and outside the community?

12. Have you negotiated aspects of its methodology/approach/plan of action?

13. Have you been  prepared to reconsider your methodology or ideology?

14. Is you film sensitive and responsive to ethical, ethnographic and postcolonial issues?

15. How much of your film was produced and led by volunteers, social actors, community participants and their supporters?

16. Have you been economical with resources and sustainable in your approach?

17. Is there an educational dimension that builds skills and confidence for individuals and the group?

18. Is your film designed to showcase democratic and inclusive processes and their outcomes?

19 Does your film create a product worthy of its participants’ efforts?

20. Have you captured the passion of the people involved or represented?

21. Is your film the conclusion and/or the commencement of a community enquiry process?

22. Is your film equipped to provide a body of evidence that counts as research?

23. Are you committed to finding new ways of engagement and interactivity through Web 2.0?

24. Is 'You' Singular or Plural?

25 Does your film work alongside other modes of activism and forms of communication?

26. Is your film a form of advocacy for social causes?

27. Does your film embrace spontaneity, acting, volunteering, gaps, wigs, rapping, sound worlds, technique, sweat, manners, scripting, youth, humour, risk, evolution, rebellion, make-up, repetition, costumes, tripods, outdoors, lights, cities, colour, panoramas, poetry, age, trains, dollies, butterflies … ?

28. Have you created a personal narrative of public value?

29. Is you work an act of faith and a form of communion with the other?

30. Have you considered any insights not listed ABOVE ?

Good luck!
© Dr Ian McCormick. But please do contact me if you want to use the TEXT of this article as a guest post on your blog. With attribution offered I seldom refuse!

For further information on the International Community Film Forum, please visit www.icff.info

Sunday, 24 January 2010

7 Steps to Transform your Community Newsletter from junk to jewel

1. Questions

Is it time to dump the traditional newsletter? Is your newsletter your jewel in the crown, or just junk mail, destined for the waste bin? Many voluntary and community groups are becoming addicted to e-communications. It’s quick, cheap and efficient. In a few clicks your message has reached millions! And the pressure is on to Modernise. The new social media scene from Twitter to Facebook offers bewildering, enticing, and self-indulgent opportunities.

2. Purpose

I’d like to step back from the fast-track path to new technology and suggest that we ask some questions about what your organization is trying to achieve in and through its newsletter.

Are you trying to reach out to the general public, to raise awareness, or to raise funds?
Is your focus more on volunteers, or on users of your service?
Are you directing your message at existing or new services users?
Is your primary aim to recruit more volunteers or to inform the ones you have already?
Is your message directed at sponsors and funders, or at other stakeholders?

3. The Attention span fix.

As people have more and more pressure on their time the tendency is to read only what you feel is relevant to you. If your newsletter is trying to do everything then most of it won’t get read. If you have several target groups it might be worth dividing your newsletter into themed pages such as ‘Volunteer News’ or ‘New Services.’

4. Be Interactive: Listen and Reflect 

Having identified your target groups why not find out how they respond to your newsletter. A survey may be helpful but 90% may not respond. Undertaking some 15- minute interviews with your readers could be time well spent. Newsletters can tie down a lot of effort and energy that could be devoted to other services. So let's try to tailor them better to their target. Mix in traditional forms of enquiry: call your readers on the telephone to find out what they really think. Quality always beats quantity when it comes to winning.

5. Quick Fix Improvements 

The most common complaints about newsletters is that they are too long or irrelevant. Do you really need eight sides of A4 every fortnight? What’s the minimum needed to keep members up-to-date? Could you move to a monthly 1-pager with events and a quarterly with more reflective articles? If you really feel that there is no news will you produce a newsletter out of obligation?

6. The Monster Newsletter in your Office

Newsletters sometimes devour resources with little or no return. The poor editor(s) end up feeling tired, stressed and guilty. The idealistic or practical campaigner becomes a frustrated drudge. Going electronic will multiply rather than reduce your problems. More waste bins filling up with unread newsletters, emails and blogs, leaving volunteers irritated if not alienated.

7. It's the Vision Thing 

But let’s not despair! Tackling the issues with your newsletter could be fundamental to the existence and future of your organization. The big questions, that need to be discussed from time to time are, What are we trying to achieve?

How do we get there?
What do we need?
Who benefits?

These questions are at the centre of any vision and are essential to your business plan, and to success in future funding. They are also questions that your newsletter needs to address.

Turning your newsletter into a treasured, sustainable resource could unlock the inspiration and energy needed to take you forward. Before we dash for digital let’s check the junk mail.

Dr Ian McCormick is a community film maker and a freelance media writer and consultant. He also serves as a Trustee of the Birmingham Ethnic Education Advisory Service.

What is Community Film ?

"Community film" is a variety of practices and approaches that interrogate the dominant use of "film" and "cinema" in association with a global, big budget "industry". 
"Community film" draws on the democratic and participatory potential of new technology which has decreased the cost of entry for new film makers, new distributors, and wider, more interactive audiences. Taking the argument further, the traditional power triangle of film maker-distributor-spectator can also be challenged and opened up.

As a global movement "community film" preserves the integrity and identity of the local community (and importantly, dialogues between local groups) against the homogenization of the the dominant transnational industries that seek to erase distinctive voices in order to create their commodities and oppressive brands. 

"Community film" challenges the notion of "film" as a 90 minute, big budget commercial entertainment product. Accordingly it embraces avant-garde experimentation as well as process-driven approaches. It challenges the dominant modes of top-down celebrity-driven merchandising and consumption models.

As an example of organizational practice and methodology "Community film" draws on and emphasizes the collaborative nature of film making. The focus is on co-operation and team work rather than the self, the ego, the auteur, and the hierarchy that dominates mainstream cinema. Community film considers that by employing more collectivist approaches than the "industry" it can be liberating for communities and can also develop creativity rather than holding it back. 

"Community film" encompasses a range of sustainable tools and emerging tool kits for the creative liberation of citizens and the planet.

By working on a smaller scale than the global film industry "Community film" combats the specialization and alienation that big budget films incorporate as business practice. In "community film" the individual will have the opportunity to undertake a variety of roles and to learn a range of skills. Formal qualifications and traditional film industry experience are not required. "Community film" places a greater emphasis on a willingness to learn, to experiment, and to take creative risks.

"Community film" embraces and celebrates social documentary and political film approaches but does not confine itself to seeking participatory solutions to a specific social problem. Any group of individuals coming together to make, watch and discuss film constitutes "community film" in action. Traditional notions of the trained professional crew,  the film set, scripts, and acting skills, are not essential to the "community film" practice. 

Similarly, "community film" does not require traditional large scale cinema distribution. "Community film" is a movement to occupy screens anywhere and everywhere.

"Community film" promotes (1) visual/media literacy and (2) digital media participation as basic human rights. The first implies an ability to interrogate and discuss film and other media, rather than to be shaped as a passive consumer of the entertainment industry. The second entails opportunities for ownership of the means of production. 

Furthermore, "community film" argues that active participation informs and alters literacy. It does not make sense to have one without the other. We would not tolerate a culture's claims to freedom and citizenship in which the majority reads but only a minority is empowered to write.

"Community film" asks questions in order to promote liberation. What's inside the frame, and what's outside? who is holding the camera? why this story rather than that; how was the film assembled and edited? who owns the film? who profits

"Community film" proposes that finding answers can be a shared practice.

The definition of "community film" is in other respects an open set of questions and answers that those coming together for the purpose of "community film" will decide. 

A "Community film" definition or manifesto cannot fully describe or prepare for community film solutions which will of necessity be practical, local and specific. A finished manifesto is a straitjacket that holds back the creative life and energy of the people who have come together to make, watch and discuss community film.

"Community film" promotes open dialogue and global debate about its own development as a practice.

Rather than attempt to provide an answer or a solution that is systematic, fixed, or closed, I have sketched out several ideas that provide fluid, open, branched-out answers. They are options and opportunities rather than a strict programme. They are designed to provoke discussion and are a call for action.

Something to think about - Agree? Disagree? Unsure?

A Community Film (is)
Not a toolkit or a rigid methodology

Defined by the collective engagement of all participants
A group narrative with multiple visions and voices

Collaborative and improvisatory (its questions and answers are unpredictable and not pre-determined)

A dialogue between creativity and critical analysis

A media process or product that contributes to social change, empowerment and social justice

A way of building the social capital of the community

An opportunity for reflection and dialogue with other communities

Happy to employ the skills of community agents and artists in a supportive and empowering environment

Prepared to take risks and challenge traditions or expectations within and outside the community

Negotiates aspects of its methodology/approach/plan of action at the outset and reconsiders it when appropriate

Sensitive to ethical, ethnographic and postcolonial issues

Produced by volunteers, social actors, community participants and their supporters.

Critical, creative, reflective, respectful, diverse

Economical with resources and sustainable

Broadly educational: building skills and confidence for individuals and the group

Designed to showcase democratic and inclusive processes and their outcomes

Creates something worthy of its participants’ efforts

Captures the passion of the people involved or represented

Furnishes both an end and a beginning of a community enquiry process

Equipped to provide a body of evidence that counts as research

Committed to finding new ways of engagement through Web 2.0

Works alongside other modes of activism and forms of communication

A form of advocacy for social causes

Embraces spontaneity and improvisation in order to transcend traditional practices and approaches

A personal narrative of public value

An act of faith and a form of communion with the other

How do we mean to proceed to answer the question, What is community film ? 

To quote social education theorist and teacher Paulo Freire (pictured above),

"To achieve this praxis, however, it is necessary to trust in the oppressed and in their ability to reason. Whoever lacks this trust will fail to initiate (or will abandon) dialogue, reflection, and communication, and will fall into using slogans, communiques, monologues, and instructions. Superficial conversions to the cause of liberation carry this danger." 

(Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 66)


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Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (2013) ... 
also available on Kindle, or to download