by Enrico Aditjondro
Despite security concerns, 12 Singaporean activists and independent filmmakers dealing with various issues from migrant worker’s rights to civil and political rights gathered in a cosy room at the Singapore Council of Women’s Organizations (SCWO) to participate Engagemedia’s 2-day workshop on video distribution, June 27-28, 2010.
Facilitating the workshop over the course of the weekend were Mien Ly and Fahmi Reza, two well-known filmmaker-activists from Malaysia. Due to the overarching climate of fear, complete lack of free media and the restrictions on the freedoms of speech and assembly in Singapore, the relation of social and political messages through the use of video and its distribution via the Internet has become an essential tool. However, there have been no organized attempts to improve the quality, effectiveness and reach of critical films.
Engagemedia’s initiative is the first of its kind in Singapore and this was one of the reasons for the enthusiasm of the local participants. After an ice-breaking game and a round of introductions, the participants went into the cosy workshop room to get an overview of Engagemedia’s work and the 2-day programme. The workshop proper began with a session getting everyone to outline what they want to gain and learn from the workshop, writing their expectations on meta-cards and sticking them on a wall to be reviewed at the end of their experience together.
Facilitator Mien Ly helped ease everyone into understanding social and political classes and prejudices with a session where participants lined up according to the levels of privilege and respect different kinds of individuals receive in society today.
For example, a transsexual hairdresser of minority ethnic background would have to stand further back in the line as compared to a heterosexual banker whose family was related to the ruling party. This session got everyone alert early in the morning because of the intense discussions on the social and political inequality of human beings based on their class, gender, ethnicity, education and sexual orientation.
After the engaging role-playing session, the workshop got on to case studies related to effective critical video distribution.
Facilitator Fahmi Reza started by providing a comprehensive view of the strategy and measures taken by Annie Leonard, who produced the award-winning and world-renowned film The Story of Stuff. He went on to an intriguing presentation of the online (and offline) steps he took to promote and distribute his own film, Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka (10 Years Before Independence).
While the participants agreed that both the case studies were inspiring, seeing an example closer to home in Reza’s film and even having the filmmaker present to discuss his strategy was a highlight for everyone. Time was also taken for a few more discussions after short preview screenings of critical and non-critical videos that have gained viral status worldwide.
The participants came back from lunch with a clearer understanding of the various methods of DIY (Do-It-Yourself) video distribution, which guided them right into the next session of breaking into groups and mapping out distribution strategies for their own films. Ideas expanding on the examples shown and fresh new ideas were listed by all the groups, which were presented and built on by both the participants and the facilitators.
With a variety plans (even including all kinds of guerrilla distribution tactics) displayed on all the walls of the room, day 1 of the workshop concluded with hopeful prospect Day 2 was the more hands-on, practical day of the workshop, where participants were to gain knowledge on the various technical and legal aspects related to online video distribution.
In the 1st session, facilitator Reza gave an introduction to Creative Commons (CC) licensing. Although having heard about CC licensing a few times before, this was the 1st time that many of the participants have had a concise understanding of the various kinds of licensing available, their legal legitimate and the world of opportunities that shared content can provide.
A presentation on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) followed, with facilitator Ly taking careful consideration to explain its related concepts and practices Compared to CC licensing, most of the participants have never heard of the term FOSS, despite having used a few FOSS programs before themselves. Common misconceptions and misinterpretations were cleared up, granting everyone the chance to become more welcoming to the FOSS movement and its ideals.
Ly seamlessly connected the sessions together and moved the group on to the next session on FOSS compression softwares, and their relation to video and audio codecs. Visual aids helped participants get a plain and simple view of what codecs are and how they work. Examples of the various video compression and conversion software available Although this session took slightly longer than expected to absorb due to its technical nature, the patience of the facilitator and input of participants in-the-know helped to make sure that everyone left with an honest understanding of the essentials of video codecs and compression.
While the participants left their videos converting, Reza led the final session of the workshop with a more detailed explanation on the purpose and function of Engagemedia and its website utility. The participants were shown how to register and use the website, and provided step-by-step instructions on how to upload and manage their content.
There was enthusiasm to view and learn from the vast collection of videos from all around the region which was already available on the website, and to contribute to it. After everyone’s user registration, two videos were uploaded successfully on-the-spot, and follow-up action was taken to remind the rest of participants to upload their videos onto the site within the following week.
After a round-up of everything that was learnt during the two days, the workshop concluded with reflections on the expectations posted on the walls, and an assessment by the participants and facilitators on the usefulness, effectiveness and ease-of-understanding of the workshop.
All the participants shared their appreciation at the facilitators for their patience and guidance during the course of both days, and thanked Engagemedia through Enrico Aditjondro for providing them with the enlightening experience. The 2-day workshop was a rare opportunity for Singaporean independent filmmakers and activists to gather and learn the various aspects of video distribution, especially online.
As Singapore becomes a more and more closed society with the enactment of more repressive laws restricting the availability of critical information and avenues for social justice, online video distribution is one of the last bastions of hope for citizen journalism, alternative media, NGO and activist initiatives.
The Engagemedia workshop has contributed greatly to helping local critical video producers gain a renewed sense of solidarity, a wealth of practical and technical knowledge, and a constructive plan of action to move ahead for the freedom of information in Singapore.
After the successful Engagemedia workshop, over 10 new Singaporean videos have been uploaded onto our video site.