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Videochronic Launch & Discussion in Jakarta

by Enrico Aditjondro

EngageMedia launched the research publication Videochronic at one of its partner organisations, Ruang Rupa on March 24, 2010.

More than 50 people turned up for the Videochronic launch and discussion at the Ruang Rupa office in Tebet, South Jakarta, on March 24, 2010. The event was filled with video activism chats led by a panel of speakers that included filmmakers, researchers, a journalist and an academic. The audience was also a mix of filmmakers, activists, students, and visual artists. The room was spacious, hot, but the wall paints cooled off the audience.

The discussions tried to answer questions around how Indonesian video activists distribute their videos, the limitations, how people have succeeded and failed in using internet distribution methods, what the future will bring to internet video distribution and networking among video activists.

Ruang Rupa office in Jakarta, Indonesia
Ruang Rupa office in Jakarta, Indonesia
Hafiz Jati and Rico at the VideoChronic launch
Hafiz Jati and Rico at the VideoChronic launch

The speakers on that evening were the Videochronic writers and researchers Nuraini Juliastuti and Ferdiansyah Thajib of KUNCI Cultural Studies Center (Yogyakarta), longtime visual artist Hafiz, also the founders of Ruang Rupa and Forum Lenteng, journalist Raharja Waluya Jati of the Voice of Human Rights, film producer Vivian Indris of Kalayana Shira, and academic Irsyad Ridho of the State University of Jakarta (UNJ).

As a host, Hafiz, representing Ruang Rupa, commended the book which pictured the video activism scene in Indonesia since the ‘reformasi’ era more than a decade ago. He applauded the effort made by EngageMedia in putting forward the roles of various groups in the process of writing the book.

The Kunci duo kicked off the discussion. Ferdiansyah Thajib, or Ferdi as he is often called, told the story of meeting Andrew Lowenthal of EngageMedia in 2008 to chat about the development of video activism in Indonesia.

“Andrew wondered why online video distribution was still very limited in Indonesia, and we all realised that there hasn’t been much research on the subject of video activism production and decided KUNCI and EngageMedia should start such study,” said Ferdi.

The research process took around three months, and in doing so KUNCI interviewed a total of 23 related groups in Java and Bali. The research also led to the classification of the video activist groups – experimental, grassroots, and tactical. Ferdi said that while most video activists saw online distribution as a strategic method, it also carried various challenges, including internal human resources within groups, harmonisation among activists, and lack of technological facilities.

Vivian, Ferdi and Nuning at Videochronic launch
Vivian, Ferdi and Nuning at Videochronic launch

Ferdi’s writing and researching partner, Nuraini Juliastuti, or Nuning as she is called, recalled that during the Videochronic launch in Yogyakarta, November last year, there was a criticism made to KUNCI for its methodology in questioning sources whether “online video distribution is necessary or not”. The critic argued that such a question could not cover the base of the issue.“We found that there are still many activists who did not see the use of videos for media campaigns. We also found that there are also frictions among groups on the use of videos,” said Nuning. “Sometimes groups would upload similar videos for a common cause, but other times they are in opposition and competing. With that, the approach to get groups to work together should also vary.”

Full house at Videochronic launch

Nuning also saw vast differences between groups that focus on arts and culture, with those focusing on political issues. Nevertheless, online distribution can also act as a meeting point for those different groups, however, it can also create issues regarding licensing and the need for self-identities.

Nuning said some groups also saw some groups were careful in their approach to technology. She said they were not against it, but simply choosing what was required in making social changes.

“For further research, we need to answer what kind of changes have been made by video activism work, and how those impacts can be viewed from the audience level as well as the general public,” said Nuning.

Longtime EngageMedia friend Hafiz followed the discussion by commenting on the group classifications. He said most video activists were not aware of those. “Most community videos are reflections of their groups,” said Hafiz. “However online distribution is a big problem for those in remote areas with minimum technology. Of course, it’s a big difference with the urban groups where technical support is sufficient.”

“The good thing about the group classification is that groups can look at their characteristic and others to see similarities and patterns to build a network,” he said. Hafiz also found the government has developed a good appreciation of the new media by integrating video technology in several schools and educational institutions. He said technological awareness improved drastically since the reformed era. The Department of Education and Culture has also established the Documentation Division to support such purpose. Hafiz said the development should very well develop further and enrich the video activism world in the future.

Raharja Waluya Jati, or Jati, said he is more of a radio person than a video activist. He said although the book is very useful, it has not delved much about the community and bureaucracy aspects. He said if we want to reach a community we need to know what the community is interested in.

In the case of Voice of Human Rights which extensively use community radio network, Jati said the communities have all accepted the radio medium, and therefore their operations became much more useful and smoother.

“Community radio is already an integral part of the communities themselves,” said Jati.

He said although online distribution relies heavily on the internet, people should not use lack of connection as an excuse.

The crowd at Videochronic launch

There are ways to work together with other groups though networking, as long as people understand each other’s roles.

“We should approach groups with respect and humility. If we are too busy trying to be initiators, then we would be busy with our own internal conflicts all the time.”

Academic Irsyad Ridho agreed with the book’s conclusion that online distribution could not be defined as a dichotomy of offline. In a similar context, Irsyad compares it with on school and off school education. He most of video activism work in Indonesia is comparable to informal education.

“I want to bridge this formal and informal educational state,” said Irsyad. “We need to break the dichotomy. We need to make our classrooms a public space. The question is how social video activism can facilitate and mediate a subject, in this case, the teachers. When a teacher comes into a class, it is not an instrumentalist relation between human beings. Most teachers only care about the curriculum and rarely see the students in an educational process. Therefore videos should go in as curriculum also, as software for educational and social change.”

Vivian compared notes with Ferdi
Vivian compared notes with Ferdi

The last panellist was Vivian Idris. She is the Program Director for Kalyana Shira Foundation, a non-profit organisation that focuses on the empowerment of women, marginal groups, gay, lesbians and transgender, through the means of videos and films.

“Most of the problems we found with online distribution is related to the duration of our films,” she said. “The shortest Kalyana Shira films are 24 minutes. With the bad internet infrastructure in Indonesia, it often becomes expensive and problematic.”

Traditionally speaking, Vivian said people are more familiar with offline methods. Therefore Kalyana Shira prefers that for the initial approach so that they can record directly people’s response and appreciation. Vivian said she would see online distribution as a complementary for the offline distribution at this moment.

“One example we did is we would sell our “At Stake” DVDs and screen them in theatres for several months, then, later on, we put them online for wider and free viewing. All the “At Stake” films are now available for downloads on EngageMedia.”

All in all, the launch and discussion were well received. As the night closes, Fendry of the Independent Videomakers Network (JAVIN) still wondered out loud how video activists can work together. A hard task, but at least we were all in one room and talking about it – that’s a good start!