Films on social and environmental issues can be powerful in creating social change, but the production process can also come with risks for both the filmmakers and the communities they cover. Last July, EngageMedia held a co-creation lab to discuss how video practitioners can identify and mitigate risks during the course of their work. The workshop, held in Quezon City, Philippines, was attended by 14 independent documentary filmmakers, producers, and media collectives.
The co-creation lab aimed to gather feedback from filmmakers based on their experiences on the ground, and embed their insights and recommendations in the forthcoming Risk Mitigation Assessor, a resource that will help filmmakers anticipate, assess, and respond to potential risks. Developed by EngageMedia, the Risk Mitigation Assessor is based on the Safe + Secure Handbook by Doc Society and the Video for Change Impact Toolkit, a guide for video practitioners to design and evaluate social impact.
During the co-creation lab, EngageMedia explained how the Risk Mitigation Assessor will help filmmakers know what risks to anticipate during film production and how to evaluate possible mitigation strategies. Participants also assessed a working draft of the resource to discuss how it can be further improved.
“I think we are already practising risk assessment and mitigation, but the hand-out is helpful for first-time filmmakers like us, especially [since] we are not fully aware and we don’t know who to ask about different areas of risks,” film producer Gladys Llanes said.
Assessing the psychological risks
During the workshop, participants recommended a key addition to the Risk Manager Assessor: taking the psychological risks of a video project into account. Participants stressed the need to consider how sensitive topics and interviewing vulnerable community members can take a toll on the mental health of both filmmakers and the subject of their films.
Aside from the psychological threats, physical threats – such as harassment, destruction of property, and stalking, among others – remain a concern especially when covering controversial issues. However, based on the experiences of the participants, many of their film subjects were still adamant about sharing their experiences despite the risks, all so they could help push their cause and advocacy further.
Film director Aly Suico shared her experience documenting a workers’ strike against contractualisation, and how the situation posed a dilemma for her.
“You can think about it in many ways. One way is to hesitate to push through with the filming, thinking about the safety of your protagonists”, she said. “But at the same time, they are also so brave and confident to express their anger, and they are already aware of the risks. They wanted it to be documented as a way of telling the truth”.
Building trust and expanding access to resources
One way for filmmakers to gauge and mitigate risks is to build connections with the community they cover. For documentary filmmakers, it may take weeks or months of immersion before they gain the trust of their protagonists, but the effort pays off.
“It’s very nice to learn from a lot of people. I always stress, ‘Who can we ask?’ It’s really hard when you don’t know who to ask about shooting concerns and the risks involved,” Llanes said.
Aside from relying on local knowledge to help assess risks and guide filmmakers’ mitigation responses, participants also emphasised the importance of having access to additional safety resources tailored to local contexts. Most safety resources are Western-oriented and speak to that context. The safety tips, guidelines, and even scenarios discussed in such guides may not always be applicable in Asia-Pacific contexts. Having more resources that are adapted to specific contexts will go a long way in helping filmmakers better plan for and mitigate potential risks.
A living toolkit
The Risk Mitigation Assessor adds to the growing number of resources included in the Impact Toolkit, developed by EngageMedia together with the Video4Change Network to guide the effective use of film and video for social change.
Earlier this year, the Impact Campaign Builder was added to the Toolkit, providing a step-by-step guide for video practitioners to identify opportunities for creating impact and setting realistic impact goals.
The Impact Toolkit is designed to be a living resource, constantly evolving to better respond to the needs of video practitioners and adapt to changes in contexts. EngageMedia will continue to grow and expand this valuable guide, and convene co-creation labs and spaces for feedback and discussion which are vital for the continued improvement of these resources.