In London, Palika worked with Fully Focused Productions – a youth-led and grassroots production company using narrative and documentary film to challenge perceptions, raise awareness around human rights issues, and champion diversity both onscreen and behind the scenes.
Instead of running media advocacy programming as I normally do, in London I worked as an action researcher fully immersing myself in the organization’s model – paying special attention to how they’ve been able to scale internally while sustaining a base of loyal funders. Of all the organizations I worked with, Fully Focused is the oldest with the most developed model, and so one of my goals was to simply observe. I was also excited for the opportunity to learn from the organization’s energetic cofounder and executive director, Teddy Nygh, who I met a couple years ago at a conference in Istanbul. Because The Babel Project grew directly out of my graduate school work, I dove right in, never having much of a chance to spend time working under other executive directors. Having the opportunity to work so closely (and almost everyday) with Teddy – who was gracious enough to invite me to partner meetings, internal meetings, client shoots, office days, etc. – offered me the chance to reflect on and strengthen my effectiveness as a leader.
I conducted my research by engaging staff in interviews both on and off camera (some of those interviews resulted in a video about the organization and its process – see below), and taking extensive field notes. I asked questions, stayed present, observed quietly when necessary, and participated when appropriate. I also produced a short piece documenting “A Day in the Life” of a Fully Focused team member. Additionally, I ran a participatory mapping activity where organization members (new and old) created a timeline of Fully Focused’s most significant moments, also situating their work within contemporary social issues in London.
It was both informative and much more challenging than I anticipated to position myself as a researcher in London and not as a practitioner. It was an important obstacle for me to overcome, and I ultimately benefitted from resettling into the role of “student.”
Another challenge was time. When entering a situation as an action researcher (or any visiting/temporary role), it’s important to remember that an organization is a living and breathing thing that can’t adhere to your schedule. You have to be ready to adapt your research method and goals to fit the needs of the organization. Working around their shoots and meeting schedules was challenging, and I wasn’t able to share as much of my work as I had originally planned.
I also learned that not all who are engaged with social justice work are comfortable identifying as activists. That word holds different meanings and power depending on personal, situational, and historical context (funders and external reception is also important to consider). Vocabulary can be a crutch, and it was important for me to push myself to talk about social justice and film in a way that felt unfamiliar after so many years submerged in the activism space.
Working with Fully Focused was a brand new experience for me that took me out of my media advocacy comfort zone. Because they are a production company, their goal first and foremost is to create content that is visually beautiful, inspiring and entertaining. In the activism space, I’m used to thinking of media as a strategic tool for campaigning and creating targeted change. Working with a socially conscious production company and seeing the impact they create internally and externally, I learned how much value there can actually be in “raising awareness” and helping to create a public mind shift – though those goals feel less tangible and more long term. Ideally, we can use media in both ways – targeted and local, and lofty and global.
Filmed and edited by Nick Castle, produced by Palika Makam.
Work in progress.