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In Cape Town, Palika partnered with The Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education – a brand new educational space providing structured and reflective learning programs for activists to better address and find solutions to the injustices faced by poor and marginalized South Africans every single day.
After a successful experience organizing and strategizing with activists of all ages in Ferguson, I was excited to partner with an organization in Cape Town that would give me another chance to apply and refine my media activism skills within a larger movement landscape. I was also excited to be a part of an organization whose mission is to support the development of activists working in multiple spaces, which is why I thought it was so fitting that we often referred to The Centre as an “activist school.”
I ran a month long media advocacy workshop at The Centre with seven activists representing two different grassroots organizations in Cape Town: The Social Justice Coalition (SJC) and Equal Education (EE). SJC works to advance the constitutional rights to life, dignity, equality, freedom and safety in the lives of all people, but especially those living in informal settlements in South Africa. And EE is a movement of students, parents, teachers and community members fighting for quality and equality in the education system for Black and Brown students.
Although our workshop didn’t meet every day because of conflicting activist work schedules, we were able to delve into the bulk of our work pretty quickly as the activists were slightly older and more seasoned than at the other two fellowship sites. Our workshop focused heavily on creating impact through media. We watched several short documentaries relevant to the region, and dissected media advocacy campaigns from around the world – breaking them into different sections using a worksheet I adapted from a Video Advocacy Toolkit created by Witness. After watching each campaign, we discussed:
• Who we thought the target audience was
• What kind of filmmaking style they used (first person, narrator, documentary, narrative, multiple characters, etc.)
• What the advocacy goal was
• Whether or not it was successful (this required a little internet research), and how the organization/actors evaluated success
We continued to build trust and a strong crew dynamic while refining “soft skills” through icebreaker activities, oral storytelling exercises, and a lot of on camera interview practice. We also developed some “hard skills,” learning how to properly set up an interview, how to control audio levels, and review footage on a computer. We jumped into storyboarding each organization’s final film, delegating different roles to each crewmember and remembering to always think about impact. We utilized the ‘filmmaker partnership model’ pairing each organization’s crew with me and a Babel Project filmmaker, Nick Castle. The activists were responsible for scouting locations, prepping interviewees, conducting the interviews (sometimes in Xhosa, sometimes in English), creating shot lists, directing Nick, reviewing footage, and providing editing notes for me and Nick.
We dedicated the last week of the workshop to creating a “video impact plan” that detailed how each organization would utilize the films produced to create change. SJC’s film documented the story of Vuyokazi, whose home (in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Cape Town) was illegally demolished by the city. Their film, which was told in Xhosa, was an important visual component to their new Housing Rights Campaign work. Their goal was for other people living in informal settlements to watch the film and engage in their campaign in order to better understand their own rights, hopefully protecting them from similar situations. Their “video impact plan” mirrored this goal by creating screening opportunities within the informal settlements, maximizing distribution to those most targeted and affected by the issue. EE’s film, told in English, documented the story of a 15-year-old student who has to walk over an hour to school every day in order to avoid danger. Their goal was for the film to be seen by those living outside of informal settlements, who may not know what life is like for Black and Brown students, in order to help build pressure for the government to provide more safety precautions for those students.
In addition to running a media activism workshop, I conducted an informal needs assessment of the human rights and media landscape in Cape Town. I met with eleven different organizations, listening to their media needs and creating a report of recommendations for The Centre. Those recommendations included:
• Hosting a media advocacy strategy workshop with heads of a few different organizations to imagine a way forward and way to share resources
• Creating a PDF or hard copy media training resource for activists
One of the biggest challenges was creating a workshop schedule around the activists’ needs – keeping in mind language barriers, difficulty in transportation from the informal settlements to The Centre, etc. Because I had previously worked in Cape Town, I was prepped for some of these challenges, but I draw attention to it here as something to take note of when organizing workshop logistics in a new city. I recommend building in 3-5 days prior to workshop to familiarize yourself with any logistical challenges that may arise.
I was excited to utilize the “filmmaker partnership model” again in Cape Town, which was incredibly successful. The final product was visually compelling, and activists were able to concentrate on building a story and creating an impact plan for the films. Being able to see the model through from preproduction to impact is so important (and difficult to achieve), but we often run out of time/resources. It was helpful that the activists were slightly older and more seasoned than at the other two workshops because they were able to build connections between their organizing work and media activism skills quickly, allowing us to dive into the documentation work almost immediately. The workshop process also inspired me to think about how to articulate and demonstrate media skills in a way that fits into skill sets that activists already exercise. For example, we talked a lot about interviewing as information gathering, which activists do anytime they engage with someone in the community. We pulled from their own strategies to make people feel comfortable sharing information, etc. and applied that to the on camera interview process. I’m energized to continue to build these connections and integrate media activism into organizing strategies.
Activist Produced Videos