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EngageMedia in Yogyakarta

On February 5th 2007 EngageMedia collaborated with the Cemeti Art Foundation in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to put on a workshop about net-based video distribution.

Cemeti’s main mission is to document art practice in Indonesia but they also frequently put on a range of workshops and discussions. Cemeti has nice space with a library, meeting rooms, video editing studio, kitchen and more.

The workshop was held at a net cafe called “The Gate”. At about 1:50 PM (10 minutes before start time) a massive downpour began and lasted about 45 minutes meaning half the attendees were stranded in the rain and unable to make it. We waited about 45 minutes and by that stage, most people had turned up, if a little wet. There was a good pool of about 10 people, in the end, the maximum really to make this workshop effective given its practical nature. All attendees were already making video, none had put any of it on the web, some had done some encoding before, most were students and either from an artistic or activist background.

Two big problems very quickly encountered were English and net connection. Pitra from Cemeti offered to do translations but people were a little too hesitant in saying they needed it. I think we managed to get through ok though and when people really did have blank looks on their faces Pitra translated just to be sure.

Yogya workshopAn even bigger problem was bandwidth. Even at a fairly upscale net cafe, the connection was very slow. I can’t imagine broadband gets up above 128kbps in most places, downloads happened at about 5-8kbps, far slower than dial-up. The EngageMedia site loaded particularly slowly – I’m guessing this is a problem with Plone as it’s a common criticism of the platform.

At the beginning of the workshop and throughout I emphasised very heavily that you shouldn’t think of online video just as watching a streamed clip in the browser a la YouTube. The fact that you cannot download clips from YouTube and must download them again if you start a new session on your computer, just adds to all the other problematic elements of that site.

Instead, I tried to emphasise three other strategies to employ online video distribution in low-bandwidth situations

  • short preview clips – putting a low resolution 30 seconds to 2-minute clip online can be a great way to ‘advertise’ your film – if someone is interested they can contact you for a higher resolution version that you can send in the post.
  • screening resolution version – think of your video as a means of getting your work from A-B at a minimal cost. An organisation (university, art centre, net cafe) with good bandwidth will be able to download it. They can then redistribute the video at screenings, on CD or via flash drives. Having a downloaded version means it can be shared by multiple other means.
  • think of a wider, global audience – distribution inside your country might make more sense on DVD/VCD etc. but online you can reach a global audience – festivals can access it as can activist groups who might use the film in solidarity or benefit screenings.

All this points to the need to have multiple resolution videos for all of the above scenarios but also to more greatly emphasise that online video is not a panacea for every distribution need – just one tool in the toolbox.

Rather than imparting the nitty-gritty of encoding, I talked about more about basic principals – most importantly who is your audience and what do you imagine they will do with your video? I think a couple of hours of people actually encoding their films is really required for them to go on with the knowledge. 10 participants to 1 facilitator is really too many for this, I’d say 1 to 3-4 is ideal.

If I’ve done my job right we’ll be seeing more Indonesian content up on the site – the proof is in the pudding.