Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The videos from the Revolutionary Filmmaking Project, Guatemala

The Revolutionary Filmmaking Project, Guatemala was an intense 5 week/6 day project I created in order to teach youth about revolutionary cinema, feminism, and violence prevention with the end goal that they create their own videos based on the ideas they learned.  In addition to creating this project I created a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter in order to purchase 10 Flip video cameras which the students would keep at the end of the project in order to motivate them to keep learning, creating, and provoking.

I blogged about each day of the project in Spanish on a separate blog with photos and videos on this account if you are interested in checking it out.  That blog was more for students in the project and those interested to see what we were learning, discussing and creating on a weekly basis.

Here is what we did in brief:

Day 1: Introduction to Gender, Film Theory, Violence and each other
Day 2: Feminism, Sex, the Body, Body Image, Sexuality, Sexual Health, Sexual Pleasure, Sex, Gender Identity and LGBTQ Ally Training
Day 3: Revolutionary Film Theory, Brainstorming, Group Formation, Introduction to the Cameras,  Storyboarding.
Day 4: Domestic Violence, Filming, Editing
Day 5: Oppressions, Event Planning, Filming, Photos
Day 6:  Filming, Editing and Interviews

In order to get a better idea of what the project was all about check out the following videos:

I made this video for the Kickstarter website in order to fundraise for the cameras.

This video is comprised of footage taken on Day 3 by a student named Michelle.

This video is a glimpse of what we did on Day 4.

This video is a glimpse of what we did on Day 5.

I made this video to show at the Premiere so the students could explain the Project in their own words and discuss how they were affected by it.  An extended version in Spanish can be found here.

The following video, ¿Cómo eliges vivir? (How do you Choose to Live?) was made by students from the University of San Carlos (USAC) and the Normal Central American Institute (INCA), a high school in Guatemala City.  The filmmakers names are Flaviana Morales (USAC), Maria Esther Mendoza (INCA), Nereida Vanegas Reyes (INCA), Mauro Montejo (USAC), Karla Vanessa Coronado (USAC), and Vilma Chiroy Cua (USAC) with the mentorship of Olga Lorenzana and Emmi Samayoa of USAC.  The unsubtitled version can be found here.

The students that created this video had a variety of ideas.  Mauro wanted to discuss domestic violence, Flaviana wanted to talk about child abuse, and Karla wanted to talk about homophobia.  After the students storyboarded on Day 3, they were very excited to film on Day 4 so even though it wasn't in the schedule I wanted to let them film a scene just to get an idea of what goes into making an entire short video.  After much deliberation among the group they had decided to make a video about a family which would address all the themes they wanted to address.  The problem was that they would be filming at the University and their video took place in a living room and a bedroom.  The other problem was that Mauro, the only man in the group, originally refused to be in the video so Karla dressed up as a man.  The students ended up filming their two scenes on Day 4 and scrapping them.  Then on Day 5 they changed their approach in order to account for the University setting and Mauro decided to be in the video.  After Mauro, the director, and I went over the footage that weekend we decided that the last part with the vignettes of PSA-type calls to end the violence  was great but that since the entire group was in the last part and only Mauro and Vilma were in the beginning part, that they would need to film all over again.  Additionally the footage was a little shaky.  Thus, Mauro and I found a way to keep the last part by incorporating all the characters in the end in a small scene in the beginning and connecting everyone.  In this way everyone's ideas were still represented.  Mauro also added the beginning and ending words which provided a frame for the video of provoking action, something encouraged by Revolutionary Film Theory.  

The students chose to show how one can be oppressed meanwhile oppressing or dicriminating someone else in order to hold ourselves accountable.  As Mafer said in the interview video, we are not only trying to stop society from being oppressive and violent - we are also part of society and need to change ourselves as well.

The following video, Mi Mejor Amiga es Una Mujer y Mi Enemiga También (My Best Friend is a Woman and My Enemy) is the second video made by students of the project.  It has yet to be translated into English.  This video was made by Michelle Rojas (USAC), María Fernanda Bracamonte (USAC), Carolina Chacón (INCA), and Guiby Sical (INCA).  

The four young women involved in this video also had varying ideas.  Guiby wanted to talk about gender roles, Mafer wanted to talk about sisterhood, and Michelle wanted to talk about gender role reversal in order to expose gendering.  The ideas were all fantastic and the young women said that they were incorporating everything, but when I got to take a look at the video (which was admittedly difficult as they were not as open to meeting and discussing their progress) the video was all over the place and longer than 15 minutes.  The theme of sisterhood was the only story that was complete so I cut out the other pieces that did not fit and was able to trim it down to under 9 minutes, still 4 minutes longer than the preferred time frame.  However, the video is a great way to show a problem that is rampant in Guatemala and that many men don't realize is happening.  The women said that the idea behind this video was to expose the lack of sisterhood and solidarity among women in Guatemala and that the goal was to provoke introspection and change in women to make us realize that we should see eachother as allies instead of enemies.

So there you have it.  All the videos from this project that I created based on years of experience, work, classes, and research.  I am happy with the results since for me the real results are the videos, the continued communication from the participants as they go forward in their work in feminism, video, and violence prevention, and the knowledge that they have the wisdom and resources to keep going. 

I know that if I had tried this project in my neighborhood it would have been ten times easier since I would have had a car, people would have working cell phones, internet, no fear of being outside at night and all the other conveniences that make communication and travel easier in the United States.  But I chose to do this in Guatemala and considering all the obstacles (especially the flake-out of a bilingual mentor) I am filled with pride in the students and in myself.  As I told the students the entire time, this project is only the beginning and during the project and afterward they should rely on eachother and keep up the community they built.  From what I can tell so far, its working!  For me, for them to have inconspicuous cameras that wont put them in danger was important, but not as important as leaving them with a feminist community.  That is priceless.

Interview with Sandinista Youth

Fu, a member of the Sandinista Youth in Esteli, Nicaragua answers questions about Sandinismo.  

The Sandinista Youth (we worked with at least thirty) were full of life, energy, ideas, passion, activism, and just bursting with excitement to hang out with my brother and I when we were translating at a hospital in Esteli, Nicaragua for a "medical mission" with the organization IMAHelps.  I was also bursting with questions and when I finally began asking them, Fu was overjoyed that I asked about women and the LGBTQ community in Sandinismo.  Here he answers the questions: What is Sandinismo for you? What is woman's role in Sandinismo? What is the role of the LGBTQ community within Sandinismo?

His answers in brief since I still need to translate this video are:

1. Sandinismo for me is whatever Sandinismo is for our grandparents
2. Women are key to Sandinismo or we never would have won the revolution.  However, they do not get their due credit and we still need more woman leaders.
3. LGBTQ people deserve human rights but there is still a lack of social consciousness of this.  

War and Sandinismo: Voices from Estelí, Nicaragua

This August 2011 I went to Esteli, Nicaragua for two weeks as a medical translator for an organization called IMAHelps that my Granny has been volunteering with for over ten years.  This was my second time translating with this particular group in Nicaragua.  Last year when we went to Somoto I was the only gynecological translator at the hospital and we were pretty isolated in our hotel in the evenings so I was unable to connect with locals about history and politics of the Nicaraguan revolution.  However, this year the organization had the great pleasure of working with local volunteers from the Sandinista Youth and the Lions Club of Esteli.  We even had a few gynecological translators from the Peace Corps who were able to give me a few breaks halfway through the “medical mission” so I could conduct my interviews.  I suppose this is just a long way of explaining why I was in Nicaragua to begin with and how I managed to connect with some cool people that were willing to be interviewed about their views and experiences of the Nicaraguan revolution/Sandinista Revolution/Contra War.  
One of the first things I did to prepare to interview people was to do a little research about the Revolution and Contra War.

What follows is a historical cheat-sheet I made myself:
Like a lot of Latin America, the Cuban Revolution which took power in 1959 inspired hope in Nicaragua that a revolution could overthrow the Somoza dynasty.  (The first Somoza ruled Nicaragua starting in 1937 and the dynasty ruled for over 40 years.)  The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was formed in 1961 by Marxist college students and after years of training and organizing the FSLN, more commonly known as the Sandinistas, finally overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979.  The FSLN was named in homage of the Nicaraguan radical and guerrilla leader Augusto César Sandino who fought U.S. occupation in Nicaragua in the 1920s and 30s.  The FSLN, originally the organization which led the revolution, later evolved into a political party which led the country from 1979 until 1990.  The FSLN was led by President Daniel Ortega from 1985-1990 and both Ortega and the party have been back in power since 2007.  The Contra War was the anti-Sandinista counter-insurgency of militias funded by the US CIA  which fought from 1981 until 1988.  
I also decided to do a little research to check out what Nicaraguan Revolutionary Cinema was all about, especially since I had never heard of it.  What I found was that, as Jonathan Buchsbaum points out in his book Cinema and the Sandinistas: Filmmaking in Revolutionary Nicaragua, while film was the largest source of mass culture during the Cuban revolution, by the time that the Sandinista’s came to power it had become television.  Regardless, Cuban revolutionary advisors in Nicaragua began INCINE, the Nicaraguan Institute of Cinema, which began by making newsreels under the advice of the Cubans.  However, though the Sandinistas looked to Cuba for inspiration, support and comradship, when it came to revolutionary cinema they tried to break with the models created by Cuba et al. They neglected the newsreel model and aimed to be less propagandistic and dogmatic as they began making short documentaries which portrayed real people, did not fear being critical of the revolution, and finally made their last films (before folding due to lack of funds) fictional stories of devastation caused by the Contra war. 

I decided to make a short video of interviews about Sandinismo and the war with real people to get a glimpse of the complex affects of war, even if it is for a socialist state.  In fact, my first mistake was to ask about “the war,” believing I would hear about the Contra war of the 80s but really people identified the term with the revolution in the 70s as well as the war.  However, the variety of responses reflects the later INCINE documentary model which does not simply portray the revolutionary process as positive but allows for critiques.  I was happy to speak to both supporters and one strong critic, though she chose to be anonymous, something that begs the question of how tolerant current Sandinismo is to criticism. She mentions in the video that she was pregnant during wartime and has nothing but bad memories.  This particular experience is something that the man who speaks about the love and brother/sisterhood* he found in the ranks couldn’t have experienced.  Celvin Quintero comes from a family of Sandinistas and speaks about the war proudly, yet only learned of the war from history books.  His mother was also pregnant during the war but because she doesn’t talk about it he grew up without the personal experience that the woman interviewee had to inform her dislike.  While the stories vary, I was surprised to find that though each person I spoke to did mention that there was a lot of death, the things they seemed to remember most was the economical effects.  Lack of food, milk, and work were factors that forced adults and children, guerrillas and civilians to make great sacrifices such as leaving their homes and entering war zones. 
The reason I spoke to the people I spoke to, that is people over the age of thirty, was because when I spoke to the Sandinista Youth they had incredibly different experiences of Sandinismo than did their parents and grandparents.  I chose to speak to one of the Youth in a separate interview (which I will be posting) about Sandinismo rather than the revolution.
I hope this video gives a small glimpse of the very recent Revolution and War in Nicaragua and, in classic Revolutionary Cinema style, provokes the viewer to learn more in the hopes they will be inspired to take action.

*The reason I am not translating hermanidad to brotherhood is because the Sandinistas encouraged women to fight as well and there was a large portion of women who did so.