Thursday, May 31, 2007

Screenings and Conversations

This has been a hectic day, being the first day of MEDIA: Overseas Conversations (IV): An International Conference on Media Literacy-Ecology-Studies-Education, which I've provided some assistance with. The Directors of this project are Jordi Torrent and Valenti Gomez i Oliver. Jordi is an independent film director and producer, as well as a media literacy advocate/practitioner, his production company is Duende Pictures, and they've done some pretty impressive work. Valenti is associated with the European Observatory of Children’s Television, and they have been working on a variety of different projects relating to children and media.

Here's the blurb on the conference:

This international conference provides and open forum for exploring media and youth culture. The conversations will accent the positive approach of providing young people with the tools they need to take ownership of the media – as creators and as consumers. Media as a determining factor in the well-being of youth worldwide will be a strong focus of the discussions. Several panels will address Media Literacy and Media Ecology as contributors to the development of critical thinking skills.

Selections of new youth-produced media will be presented by: Listen Up!, Reel Teens Festival, Machinima and OETI’s UNICEF Awards.

Panelists from Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Japan, Mozambique, Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Venezuela, and the USA will lead the conversations. Attendees will include media industry professionals, educators, students and the general public. Open conversations and discussion forums will explore: the extent to which internalized media images determine the perception of reality across cultures; the potential of media as socio-economic equalizer in education; comparing media literacy education resources in diverse cultures; new technologies and social networking; contemporary uses of comics and graphic novels; cross-cultural perceptions of the role of media in formal education; and, an international perspective on the role of government policies and youth media.

Today's events were held at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City (25 W 52nd St., just down the block from Black Rock (the headquarters of CBS).

We started at 10 AM with a screening of videos, and here's the general description:

UNICEF Awards – Curator: OETI
The Barcelona International Television Festival (FITB) annually awards the prestigious UNICEF Prize (from the United Nations Fund). This prize goes to audiovisual productions devoted to children and youth that highlight ethical values and the defense of human rights according to the Convention of the Rights of the Children. The Jury is presided over by UNICEF/Catalonia.

So, this first session was courtesy of the European Observatory of Children’s Television, and they have previews of some of these videos on one of their web pages. The short videos were professionally made by adults, with the intention of giving voice to children from various parts of the world, especially children facing difficult situations. It's kind of like oral history, although that's associated with the past, and typically involves interviews with older individuals. This is more like trying to see the world, especially parts of the world we are unfamiliar with, through the eyes and mind of a child. The videos were absolutely beautiful (how could they not be when the focus tends to be the faces and voices of children?), and touchingly poignant, and the aim, as Valenti explained, is to provide a kind of moral and ethical content for the video medium.

Here are descriptions of the individual videos from the program:

The Children of Nepal (32 min., 2002)
UNICEF Award FITB 2002
Country: Spain
Director: Joan Soler Foyer, Javier Berrocal
Producer: Centre d’Estudis Cinematografics de Catalunya (CECC)
The Daleki School was founded in Katmandu by the Catalan Vicki Sherpa and created for children of families without resources like Narbu or Sanjev who dream of a better future. Stories of children are portrayed: Vicky, a boy on the street, passes the time with his friends, looking for coins to survive and dreams on the cold floor of the temple that serves as his house. Dependra dreams about being like Tony, the man that brought them off the street, away from marijuana, to live in a house full of princesses. The permanent smile of these children is the only perennial thing in Nepal, where unfortunately dreams are so fragile.

Unexpected Blow: Jolieke (15 min., 2004)
UNICEF Award FITB 2005
Country: The Netherlands
Director: Suzanne Raes
Producer: Lemming Film
Jolieke is 12. She hasn’t had it easy so far. Her father died 8 years ago, and she also has a chronic immune system disease. This means she has to go to the hospital every two weeks for treatment, which often makes her tired. Her little sister has the same illness and together they share their pains and frustrations. Jolieke and her sister show us that sometimes sadness and bad luck are just a part of life and shouldn’t be determining factors of life.

Your Own Voice: Right to Culture (8 min., 2004)
UNICEF Award FITB 2004
Country: Bolivia
Director: Lilliana de la Quintanta
Producer: Nicobis Productions
Alfredo is a Quechua boy from Bolivia, from the Layme community of North Potosi, who stood out in the children’s parliament by fighting to preserve his culture, language and clothing. He fought for the different identities of indigenous children of Bolivia.

The Sky in Her Eyes (11 min., 2001)
UNICEF Award FITB 2003
Country: South Africa
Director: Ouita Smit and Madoda Ncayiyana
Producer: For the Future - Vuleka Productions
This moving short shows a small girl who has just lost her mother due to AIDS and fights to cope with her sorrow and confusion. When a boy puts a picture that she drew of her mother onto his kite, this act of friendship and the shared joy of flying the kite together, makes the girl smile again.

The second session, at 4 PM, was also a screening of videos, these produced entirely by teenagers (ages 13-19). The sponsor was Listen Up!, a fascinating and impressive organization that established a network in schools and community centers throughout the U.S. and internationally, through which teenagers can create and submit their own videos. We screened videos from Beyond Borders: Personal Stories From a Small Planet, which just won a Peabody Award (broadcasting's highest honor for serious work). The films were introduced by Sharese Bullock, who's in charge of their strategic partnerships and marketing, and I had a long conversation with her at a reception afterwards about possible collaborations (or to use that other term, strategic partnerships). Anyway, here's a general description of the organization:

Listen Up! is a youth media network that connects young video producers and their allies to resources, support and projects in order to develop the field and achieve an authentic youth voice in the mass media.

And here are the videos we screened:

Beyond Global: (Self) Portraitures in Youth Media

Sahar: Before the Sun (6 min., 2005)

Light House, Charlottesville, VA, USA
Featuring: Sahar Adish
Youth Filmmakers: Joe Babarsky, Sahar Adish, Luke Tilghman, Sanja Jovanovic
Adult Mentor: Shannon Worrell
After the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996, Sahar Adish fled Afghanistan with her family to find safety in the United States. Sahar, at age 18, speaks powerfully to the courage and aspirations of her parents, her family's struggle for intellectual freedom and educational rights.

Alienated : Undocumented Immigrant Youth (8 min., 2005)

A Youth Organizers Television (YO-TV) Documentary, New York, USA
Educational Video Center/YO-TV Producers
YO-TV Directors: Adam Gutierrez, Lindsay Fauntleroy, Kyle Lorde, Steven Kranston Music Composition: Cesar Lazcano, Kyle Lorde, Rebecca Norton, Alina Ortiz
In Alienated, we meet Licia, a determined young woman from St. Vincent who
commutes from Brooklyn to New Jersey to work as a nanny for $4 an hour.
Meanwhile, anti-immigrant groups rally around lobbying efforts that seek to impose ever harsher policies and to "protect our borders." Through interviews with individuals on both sides of the immigration debate, Alienated examines what it means to be young, able and "illegal" in America.

Skin (1:34 min., 2005)

TRUCE (The Renaissance University for Community Education), New York, USA
Youth Producers: Kaderjra Holmes, Tyrone Broughton
Skin' is an experimental video piece that explores the issues of discrimination, racial identity and self-esteem. It follows two young African Americans who attempt to change the color of their skin and are haunted by the effects of their decision. Ultimately, they come to rediscover themselves, and the rich natural beauty of their own skin.

A Divided City (6 min., 2005)
Sawtona "Our Voice" Amman, Jordan and Phillips Community TV, Minneapolis, USA
Featuring: Ghayda Nawrus. Youth Filmmakers: Ghayda Nawrus, Aya Al Tal
Adult Mentors: Mustafa Tell, John Gwinn
Ghayda Nawrus is one of almost one billion Muslims worldwide who
adheres to her faith, traditions and family. But Ghayda, who lives in
Amman, Jordan, attends a Christian school and is also a product of
satellite television and the Internet. This bright, soft-spoken 16 year
old looks candidly at the issues causing her and her family the greatest
fear: the challenges and complexity of a modern society embedded in
traditional culture.

Out of Control Room (4:15 min., 2005)

Produced by Reel Girls, Washington, USA
Nicole Levy, Allison Rinard, Lena Takamori
A teenage girls finds herself feeling trapped in a world of double-standards and contradictions, guided only by her own conscience in the form of a video control room.

Rapping at Fear (7 min., 2005)
Polimorfo, Bogotá, Colombia
Camera: Mayuri Bolívar, Willy Villabón, Viviana Rivas, Andrés Tabares
Audio: Gina Yagüe, Andrea Reinoso, Carolina Yagüe
Animation: Carolina Yagüe, Manuel Reinoso. Editing: Manuel Reinoso, Juan Cortés
Script: Luisa Bustos, Marcela Palacios. Adult Mentors: Libia Tattay, Sayuri Matsuyama, Pablo Tattay, John de los Rios, Rodrigo Escobar
Whether in the Colombian countryside before the rebels forced his
family to leave, or the city slum where his family now lives, Andrés
Tabares has always had a way with words. In Andres' barrio where "social
cleansing" groups wage war, this 13 year-old writes and performs rap to
speak out against violence . . . and people are listening. He now hosts
his own Saturday morning variety show on Colombian national television.

Cultivate (3:03 min., 2005)
Perpich Center for Arts Education, Golden Valley, MN, USA
Youth producer: Yoko Okomura
An experimental video poem with the thematic over tone of re-birth and duality.

We Don't Want No War (6 min., 2005)

Featuring: Mohammed Sidibay
Youth Filmmakers: Edwin Daniel, Schwarbu Emile Kamara, Jane Peters,
Rashid Peters, Mohamed Sidibay.
Adult Mentors: Andrew Greene (Sierra Leone), Austin Haeberle (USA)
10 year-old Mohamed Sidibay is a bright, hard working 4th grader who likes to play soccer, work on computers and go to school. Yet, only two years earlier he was commanding rebel troops in the "bush" in Western Africa. This sensitive, thoughtful young man articulates in simple terms the devastation of war and growing up as child soldier in Sierra Leone.

Now, here's the good news: You can watch these and a multitude of other videos at the Listen Up! website (sorry, no embed codes provided, so I can't add them here like I can with YouTube videos). Like the OETI videos, these are gorgeous, moving works. And in case anyone's interested, the organization is open to setting up screenings and events. An added bonus was that they had a few of the young filmmakers present so we had a bit of a question-and-answer session with them.

This was followed by a panel discussion from 6-7:30, and here's the write-up on it:

International Perspectives on Government Policies and Youth Media

This panel will explore how government policies impact youth media around the world. Issues such as whether media regulations succeed in providing better access and enhanced content will be addressed.

Victoria Camps is a counselor of the Audiovisual Commission of Catalonia, Spain since 2002 and a member of the Commission of Information of Catalonia since its founding. She currently is a professor of political and moral philosophy at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She holds a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Barcelona and has published numerous books.

Jean-Francois Furnemont has been the director of the Audio-Visual High Commission in Belgium since 2000. Previously he was administrator of RTBF – Belgium Public Service Broadcasting System from 1999-2000. He has a Journalism degree from the University of Brussels, Belgium and a Masters in International Relations from the University of Liege, Belgium. His published works include political biographies of Jean Gol, Francois Perin and Guy Spitaels.

Julieta Langa is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and head of the Linguistics Section, at Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique. She is also the president of the CSCS - High Council for Social Communication, Mozambique; acting chair of the African Communication Regulatory Authorities Network – ACRAN/RIARC as well as a member of the executive committee of the “Broadcasting Regulation and Cultural Diversity – BRCD”. She holds an M.A. in Linguistics at the Faculty of Arts from Eduardo Mondlane University.

Gloria Tristani is a former FCC commissioner (1997-2001) USA. She served for several years on the New Mexico State Corporation Commission and has been president of the Benton Foundation. Among her professional accomplishments, while heading the United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication, she brought national attention to Univision’s failure to meet children’s educational television programming requirements. Currently she is the counsel at the Washington, DC - based law firm of Spiegel &McDiarmid. She is a frequent speaker on media issues, particularly on the media’s effect on children.

Moderator: Matteo Zacchetti has worked at the European Commission since 1995. He is responsible for the Media Literacy initiative and the Media Programme Pilot Projects within the DG Information Society and Media. He spent most of his professional life in the media or dealing with media related issues both in the private sector (Super Channel ltd.) and at the European Commission where has had been working for more than 10 years on different policy aspects of audio-visual media. He holds a degree in Economics from the University of Genoa

Now, I have to confess that policy talk is just not my thing. The introduction of new media and technologies have an enormous impact on all aspects of human life, and policymakers enter into the process after the fact generally, have difficulty recognizing the big picture or making significant changes if they do see the forest for the trees, and end up only tweaking things a little one way or another.

Julieta Langa from Mozambique was the most interesting, because her remarks were all about how they don't have the technology (such as TV, computers, internet), people don't have access, and they need to find ways to educate, modernize, and alleviate the scarcity. A perspective very different from the others coming from developed nations, which underscores the fact that we are unhappy when we don't have the technology and get all worked up about trying to get it, and once we have it, we get all upset about what it's doing to us and try to mitigate its effects as best we can. People are never happy it seems.

Gloria Tristani's remarks focused on the problem of violence in the media (the most researched topic in all of mass communication).

Victoria Camps made the interesting point that parents do regulate the TV watching of their children, but tend only to be concerned with the time (how much, how often), not the content. This reminds me of a key media ecology point about TV as a medium--we watch TV as a generalized activity, whereas we don't read book, we read a book, that is, a specific book. Victoria also talked about how children live within an audiovisual environment, and that there is a shared responsibility to evaluate television programming and determine whether it causes moral and mental damage.

Jean-François Furnemont spoke about the need for filters, such as a ratings system.

Oh, and when Jordi Torrent introduced the session, I was pleased to hear him quote Neil Postman about the need to study media in a moral and ethical context, and the need to have conversations about technology.

With the day's program over, some of us attended a reception at the offices of Listen Up!, which was where I had a great talk with our host, Sharese Bullock, and also had a good conversation with Gerard Jones, a former comic book writer and author of Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book (click on the link to buy the book at a bargain price!). We talked about the comics industry, and also about movies and TV, kind of pretty much the stuff I write about on this blog.

And now, it is getting very late, and I have to get up early tomorrow because the conference moves to Fordham's Lincoln Center campus, and I need to be there early to make sure everything's all right. See you in the funny papers.

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