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Video for Change Approaches (Part 1)

"Video: The Videofreex were a pioneering video collective who used the Sony Portapak for countercultural
video projects from 1969 to 1978."

After defining Video for Change (see this post) we came up with a list of different approaches to ‘doing it’ based on a review of the literature. Below is a brief overview of approaches we’ve identified found so far:

Guerilla video: This approach emerged when video become more accessible in 1965 following the release of the first domestic and portable video camera.[1] Since this was the first time non-television industry actors had access to video this was a time marked by experimentation and rebellion as people tried to figure out what video might be used for. Writing about the early says of Guerrilla video in the United States, Deirdre Boyle says there was a “utopian goal of using video to challenge the information infrastructure in America” through the making of “people's television” and, initially at least, a preference for ethnographic-like and experimental recordings of counter-culture and marginalized groups.[2] The above guerrilla video highlights some of the ways small guerrilla video collectives operated in terms of production and distribution and how innovators imagined the role of video in society.  We would say that guerrilla video-making today is an approach made distinct because of its focus on independence, small budgets and creative autonomy. However, we would also say that it’s an approach no longer focused on marginalised voices and perspectives (for example, it is sometimes used to describe low-budget Zombie films!). Because of this, we’re not sure how important guerrilla video may be to understanding curret and emerging video for change practices.

Participatory and community video: Throughout the 1970s participatory and community-centered forms of video and film production were beginning to emerge in many parts of the world. Video was at this time becoming more accessible: recorders and tape were becoming cheaper as were video players [3]. One early infamous participatory video project example is ‘Challenge for Change’ which was funded by the Canadian government. Established in 1967 and active until 1980, Challenge for Change used film and video production to provide an impetus for community debates and discussion with an explicit belief that film and video could be used to initiate social change and address poverty. In the 1970s the ideas of Paulo Friere became very influential to the spread and development of community and participatory video. Freire believed that as people develop their power to perceive the world critically, so they are able “to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation.” [4] Participatory and community video today incorporates a number of different approaches and models; but from a brief survey of the literature we can say that what tends to make these approaches distinct is a focus on process over outputs with participation, inclusion and empowerment being seen as being critical.

Social documentary video: Scottish filmmaker, John Grierson coined the term ‘documentary’ when reviewing a nonfiction film in 1926. Grierson was pivotal to the development of the UK movement in documentary film-making. He believed film was the next great medium of information dissemination and as such was best used as a tool to make ordinary citizens aware and engaged with social issues, as a catalyst to social change.[5] As head of the General Post Office Film Unit in the UK, Grierson sought to effect change through footage capturing the voice of ‘ordinary’ people; for example, his 1935 film on the state of British slums, Housing Problems, affected audience attitudes and contributed to new government housing policy. Since this time, it’s likely that every country has grown its own list of social documentaries that have altered public consciousness and changed public policies. As with its early days, social documentaries today tend to focus on telling untold stories (often focused on the plight of  “ordinary people”) with a belief that the “authentic truth” can provide a route to awareness, mobilisation and social change. There are many examples showing how social documentaries can be far more directed and explicit with their social change objectives. For example, initiatives like the Fledging Fund fund and help build campaigns and outreach startegies around social documentray videos. 

This post continues in Part 2.

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[1] For example see: Boyle D. (1997) Subject to Change: Guerilla Television Revisited. Cary, NC, USA: Oxford University Press.; Willet, R. (2009) In the frame: Mapping camcorder cultures In Video Cultures. D.Buckinham and R. Willett (Eds). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.; Turner, Terence. "The Social Dynamics of Video Media in an Indigenous Society: The Cultural Meaning and the Personal Politics of Video–making in Kayapo Communities." Visual Anthropology Review 7.2 (1991): 68-76

[2] Boyle D. (1997) Subject to Change: Guerilla Television Revisited. Cary, NC, USA: Oxford University Press.

[3] Willet, R. (2009) In the frame: Mapping camcorder cultures In Video Cultures. D.Buckinham and R. Willett (Eds). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

[4] Cited in: Underwood, C. and Jabre, B. (2003) Arab Women Speak out: Self-Empowerment via Video In Participatory Video. Shirley A. White (Ed.). London: Sage.

[5] Barsam, R. M. (1992). Nonfiction Film: A Critical History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press

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