Some creativity going on here at the end but I can’t help but feel this is coming from ten years ago rather than now.
I would love to see more social activism initiatives using techniques like this. The manipulation of images has great potential to create unseen or unlikely events, sparking debate (even if controversial). Unfortunately, many INGOs are still in the business of visual ‘authenticity’ and so don’t venture too far outside of the documentary photography safety net.
So, what is the fuss about? Well, the video re-enacts a true story from the conflict in the DRC, but sets it in rural England. It uses a concept I have been thinking about for a while – taking a human rights violation we accept, or at least expect, from one part of the world and placing it in another that we don’t. The idea being to re-humanise populations that we have become accustomed to seeing brutalised in conflicts and by the state. The problem is, that now I have seen it done I realise it doesn’t work, at least in this example.
In this particular instance what we end up with is a cinematic piece that actually feels more like a work of fiction than if it had taken the real location and people as a starting point. Although brutal, the film is no more shocking than a host of high and low brow cinema, like ‘Irreversible’ by Gaspar Noe (which is actually far more shocking). The melodramatic sound track only goes to reinforce this, as does the way it is shot and the editing. Will the controversy produce more traffic? Probably. Will more of those result in action taken? Maybe. And will those people be the better informed and committed to taking part in long term change. Unlikely.
The thing is that Masika’s story, which the film seems to be based on, is far more moving and horrifying. So much so that I am not sure why they didn’t choose to focus on this?
Some comments on Glennie’s blog make the point that the directness of the link made between rape / conflict / minerals / mobile phones is over simplified. This is certainly true. And although I see this as a failing of the piece – most people will see through this and demand to be treated with more intelligence – I think highlighting the economic factors in such conflicts, linking them to our lives, and asking us to take action has a well tested heritage. But others have just done it better, like the work of Ed Kashi on oil extraction in the Niger Delta.
The petition text is in two parts – the first about EU supply chain standards, which is pretty straight forward. The second part is rather vague though;
‘We further urge you to make clear that the E.U. will take swift and severe action if any party breaks the peace deal or instigates mass violence.’
This may be clarified on another part of the website but coming straight from the film I am not sure who would break what peace deal and exactly what ‘severe’ action I expect the EU to take?
It is also probably worth noting that there are some people still alive in Europe who will remember such brutality themselves from WWII, not to mention some rather more recently.
I haven’t been very kind to Greenpeace in the past, mainly because their campaigns lack humour and they come across as a bit self righteous. Well, I am happy to say that their latest campaign targeting Volkswagen – The Dark Side – is a little more relaxed. And is themed on Star Wars. And no one climbs anything.
Not that it is immediately obvious how they came to settle on the Star Wars treatment? I suspect their campaign team or the agency they commissioned to make the ad just happens to be full of 40-something guys with lightsaber fetishes. Not that I would know about that…hmmm. Now we just need to wait and see if Lucas Films will sue.
Additional: So, I am told that Volkswagen ran an ad campaign with some kid dressed up as Darth Vader, thus the Star Wars link. I guess they didn’t run that one in Nepal…
Part of CNN’s ‘Freedom Project’ on modern day slavery, Demi Moore visits anti-trafficking NGO Maiti Nepal (run by Anuradha Koirala, 2010 CNN Hero of the Year) to find out what is being done to address this prevalent issue. The documentary premières on 26 June. Check out times here.
Personally, I can’t be doing with celebs rocking up in a country for five minutes with a film crew acting all concerned about how terrible the world is. I suppose Demi at least has some links to the issues covered due to her DNA Foundation so I’ll cut her some slack.
Trafficking of women and girls from Nepal is a terrible human rights abuse, and one that gets a great deal of donor money and attention thrown at it. Demi’s time may have been better spent drawing attention to less well known issues such as indentured labour, such as the Kamiyas and the practice of Kamlari. Although outlawed both practices persist.
The BBC article today on Rob Crilly’s new book, ‘Saving Darfur, Everyone’s Favourite Africa War‘ reminded me of how NGOs sometimes over simplify issues and in doing so run the risk of unintended negative consequences.
Crilly argues that, as a journalist sent to cover conflicts in Africa, he was predominantly told to focus on Darfur as to outsiders it appeared to be simpler to understand (good guys vs. bad guys) than other conflicts in the region (Somalia or DRC). However, as he explored the issues and country he found things to be far more complex – nuances that were not communicated in the celebrity led campaigns.
Campaigns are designed to change the world for the better. But anyone who works as a campaigner will tell you that what looks simple on paper becomes a whole different proposition when you unleash it into the noise and alternative outcomes of real life. This is an accepted risk. What you don’t want to do it add to this risk. This can happen when you either rigidly pursue ideological or principled positions or over simplify a complex issues as a means of communication. The former often happens in human rights campaigning, predominantly driven by lawyers working in the incomplete realm of international human rights law or in countries where the rule of law remains weak. The latter is seen more in environmental campaigns, particularly regarding global warming and its impact of those living in poverty.
The corporatisation of INGOs – rolling out ‘international campaigns’ on broad themes – demanding strap lines, promotional videos and celebrity endorsement – means that detail can be easily lost. In fact, it raises the question of whether INGOs wish their supporters to be truly informed of the nuances at all? On-line campaigning and fund-raising allow ‘light touch’ activism and giving – almost time commitment free. Rather than invest in products that communicate the complexities of issues – crediting their audience with the intelligence to understand and digest issues that are far from black and white – INGOs appear to bank on short promo pieces that are focussed on extracting £25 from you.
There may be no easy answers – NGOs need money to function as professional organisations and people are perceived just not to have time – but over simplification, such as ‘Climate Change = Poverty’ or ‘Human Rights = Less Poverty’ illustrated by a celeb photographer’s shots may sound good in the brain-storming session at HQ but are unlikely to generate a sustained level of engagement that will contribute to long term positive developments.
NGOs will obviously put forward one side of the argument. The trust levels they enjoy are based on the perception that they are ‘objective’ or ‘independent’ enough to be giving us a balanced picture. In the main this remains the case, but this should not be taken for granted. It is not easy to produce nuanced and compelling audio-visual communication tools on what can be complex issues. It can be expensive too. But in the long term this will be an investment that NGOs will reap in the future, with a truly informed constituency to mobilise on issues that require a sustained and committed response.
Meat and potatoes video from Amnesty International, but no less powerful for it. This timely video comes in the week the UN panel investigating allegations of human rights abuses and war crimes in the last days of the Sri Lankan civil war published its report. However, it has yet to be made public. Whether it is and whether it will result in an international commission of inquiry being establish is another thing.
AI are running an action linked to this video here.