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Learning Video Advocacy with EarthRights in Myanmar

In late August, one of the participants of Camp Chindwin, our Southeast Asia Video Camp, Jessie from EarthRights International invited EngageMedia to their workshop to run a session on effective video advocacy.

Finding serious flaws relating to land rights, resettlement and environmental protection in Myanmar, EarthRights set up two schools – EarthRights School Mekong and EarthRights School Myanmar. They did have a Land Rights training workshop this year and last year, but what I attended was second of 3 documentary filmmaking workshops they are holding this year to train young activists from Kayah, Shan, Mon, and Rakhine states, as well as Yangon Division.

This workshop covered an introduction to human and environmental rights, campaigns, and storytelling for advocacy and I facilitated a dialogue leading up to it, focusing on how to make advocacy videos and what the goals and impact of films can be.

After the participants and I played some games to warm up, we started screening a video from the Philippines, ‘Pangarap sa Buhay’. This film has a strong message delivered in a very simple way, and gives a example of a good advocacy video. We then discussed how advocacy videos provide a dynamic and inventive platform to tell your story and about your world.

I then shared tips on producing community video and we watched a series of community videos from the Southeast Asian region. After watching each video, we discussed them in groups based on three questions: What is the main message of the video? What is its target audience? How can we generate our own story ideas like this?

The participants pondered on the last question and shared different story ideas based on the Myanmar context. For example, when we screened ‘Masters of our Land’ from the Papuan Voices 2 collection, we talked about similar land grabbing issues in Myanmar and the results were amazing. They were inspired and came up with various story ideas to highlight land grabbing issues and we discussed how to develop those ideas step by step.

One of the participants asked during the discussions. “We often have to work on issues that are considered sensitive by the government, so how can we protect ourselves when working on such topics?”. A conclusion that we arrived at is to “find a balance in your film”.

I shared that I love being a filmmaker and my passion for fieldwork and the outdoors carries me through any hurdles I may face. But news of tragedies every year keep me asking, “How can this still be happening? What is the balance, and should there be a balance in what I present? How can I find joy in being a documentary filmmaker in Myanmar with all the challenges that filmmakers face from the state and public?” I continue struggling to find the answers to some of those questions.

The day ended with my presentation on mobile video production. Documentary film making is starting to become popular in Myanmar, and we can start producing short films even on mobile devices and disseminate them on social media platforms. I shared some examples of good films made on mobile devices and also shared mobile editing apps like Splice and StoryMaker.

Both video advocacy and community video are powerful methods through which filmmakers are able to more creatively express and share their ideas, which are essential components for learning and growth in Myanmar’s political climate. The best way to foster creativity is to show audiences how much the human mind is capable of imagining. That’s something I learned from the EarthRights workshop in Myanmar!