Friday, April 18, 2008

Telling Stories

Hmmm. So while we all watch a boat of weapons off our east coast, was anyone aware of our North Western neighbours dealing with floods for the past month? Did this pass only me by?

We seem to know more about what is going on in a mountainous region in mid-Asia than what is taking place one footstep across some of our borders. Do we explain this down to our obsession with the Euro-centric news channels, or that floods in Namibia just really aren’t newsworthy?

But watching a snippet of a woman’s film at this past conference has made my attention latch onto Namibian news for awhile. Not that I have not become more and more fascinated with that country over the passing months, as more project opportunities have opened up there.

I shouldn’t tell this woman’s story, and I won’t say much – mainly because I don’t know much except that the 5-minute snippet I saw really did make an impression. Which was the point…

A group has been training people in rural communities about basic filmmaking. About lighting, mood shots, how to record and edit, about storyboards and build ups. They have handed over cameras and let a person recreate his or her own story - about living with HIV or dealing with AIDS in their family’s life. The rest of us insensitive lot get real insight into someone’s daily life, daily issues, and perspective on the world – rather than a reporter assuming what the person’s “voice” would say.

It is putting the microphone AND the camera in the affected person’s hand. And an excellent concept. This person is empowered to tell what he or she wants to say (the same way I choose each day what topic of my life I wish to blog about), who the audience to this story should be, and what journey this story should take.

Not some reporter coming in, voicing their interpretation of your life, and then that outside reporter throwing the story about willy-nilly. Which is where the irony comes in about me telling a snippet of her story in this public forum.

So, the woman with a fascinating story and incredible life strength might decide you will never watch her story.

How frustrating is that!

Following on from the “Participatory Media” idea is that an audience member must identify what aspects of your life and her life relate. Even though this woman lives a parallel life to me, up there in her rural community on the Namibian/ Angolan border, other than our female sex… do we have any common issues or experiences?

And for me, it is that frustration of an older brother. From the moment a younger sibling pops out, especially if the newborn is a girl, the older brother is told by the folks to look after her. And I think, also just instinctually, he takes on a parenting role. No matter whether it is fair or not, this older brother for the rest of his life will say and act in the best interest for this younger sister, as he believes and understands it.

This woman’s husband died from AIDS. She had discovered she was HIV-positive when she was pregnant with her third child. Somehow her family discovered her status. Her oldest brother arrived when she gave birth to this child and, in what he believed to be in the best interest of the family, the new child, and her, he took the child away from her to raise in his own family. From then on, she has been struggling to get this child back to her.

And while I do not know the extent of that frustration, I know the frustration of using all means to change my brother’s mind of what he believes is best for me. I can fight, shout, attempt charm, bribe, beg, sob, anything, but he will remain strong to what he believes is best for me. He does it out of love for me. Even if he is wrong in the long run. Or misinformed as to what the issues are.

And so I gain even the slightest insight and identification with this foreign woman. And realise that, as an AIDS fighter, we still have many battles of raising awareness that people with HIV can live long productive lives, can have children and raise these children themselves. That stigma and discrimination are alive and well and thriving.

And that no amount of words on a blog post can raise the same awareness, insight, empathy and understanding as five minutes of a film of a woman’s life can, especially when you realise she was the director behind the film.


Along with this idea, is an activity of children filming their lives and their concerns, worries, messages. Then, without the children present, parents are called to the classroom to watch their children’s films. The parents finally get an insight into how their children feel and think, what these children worry about – such as how stressed a child feels when the parents keeps coming home drunk – or that their kids have incredible talents that can be realised and can be taken somewhere.

There is an exhibition on at the Seippel Gallery about this from yesterday until next Thursday (24 April), if you can get there.
(August House, 76-82 End St. Corner Pritchard Str, Doornfontein, Jhb)
Or email me if you would like more information about the organisations that conceptualised these programmes.

2 comments:

Riversprite said...

That kind of thing makes me sad and angry. Since I had my own children, the thought of losing them is unbearable and my heart goes out to any woman who has to fight just to be with her own child.

And the idea of giving people the camera....it makes me wonder what I would do, or what story I would tell, if someone gave me a camera. I fear I have no story to tell at all. :(

Champagne Heathen said...

Riversprite - you'd be surprised at what you could tell that would would interest and help people. The people that do end up with the cameras do go through several sessions of 5 days each that help draw a person's life out, so that they recognise how beautiful and unique it is, and deal with the difficult bits, and become self-empowered.

So do not fear, just think over your story, and you'll see one emerge over time. Hell, having kids is story enough for many people!