ListenIn Pictures: Who Gets to Tell the Stories?

Annie Escobar, co-founder of ListenIn Pictures, recently traveled to the West Bank for a month to lead a video storytelling training for activists. Here are her reflections from the trip, concerning the politics of representation and what she and her colleagues learned about participatory video. This post was originally published on ListenIn Pictures. It is the first in a series of regular contributions from the ListenIn Pictures team.

Why Do You Want to Create Videos?

This was the first question we asked our students during our first video workshop here at Bethlehem University in the occupied Palestinian territories.

"People always ask about our problems, but they don't understand anything of what our lives are like. They seem to think we are abnormal. I want to show people what our real lives are like," said Saneh.

"I want to show real stories. Occupation continues because the media doesn't show the real life. They tell a story to the world about who we are that is completely false. I want to create videos to show our point of view."

"Through video we can make people feel something, so they feel connected to what we have to go through every day."

"I've lived occupation every day of my life and the world needs to know what it's like. So I want to show that, but I also want people to know that occupation isn't our entire lives. Everyone in this room is just a normal university student too."

As soon as we heard their responses, we knew that what we are doing here is important.

The Uneasy Politics of Representation

As filmmakers, we've been telling stories about everyday people doing incredible things for the past four years.

But whenever we've traveled, I've felt a sense of discomfort around the ethics of what we are doing. We recognize our positions of privilege that allow us to travel around the world, which often the people we are creating videos about do not have.

We don't want to be the white people who just fly in, push our cameras in people's faces, and fly out.

Representing others puts us in a place of immense power. We choose what gets included in the frame and the story and what gets left out.

The same is true here- Israel, the dominant power, has the power to shape the story of the occupation. Through their narrative crafting, they have been able to convince the world that their brutal oppression of the Palestinian people is simply necessary security measures.

In order to change that narrative, new stories need to be told and heard.

Video Advocacy Workshop

In the past 3 weeks we've worked closely with 10 University students in Bethlehem and 15 activists in Ramallah. They've created comprehensive video strategies, learned the technical elements of how to capture beautiful footage, practiced conducting interviews, shot their own projects, created meaningful visual sequences, learned the basics of Adobe Premiere and next week will design campaign/distribution plans for their videos.

At certain moments, I've just sat back with a silly grin on my face, completely inspired by the participants' successes:

A beautifully composed interview.

A long interview where their subject spilled their heart.

A student coming back after shooting and saying, "We really need to use a tripod next time."

Editing on their own.

A lunchtime conversation about how to create a campaign strategy that will create a real impact.

And by the end of next week, completed videos to share with the world.

The Storytelling Will Continue...

I've never felt such urgency around storytelling as I feel here. And through these students' stories, people all over the world can start to understand the struggle, resistance and insistence on living that I've come to believe is what unites Palestinian's stories.

The First Story

Watch this incredibly moving video (which has already been seen 3,700 times today) created by one of the participants (with our editing guidance) which features the sister of Hana Shalabi, a woman who has been on hunger strike for the past 30 days in protest of administrative detention. She has been held in an Israeli prison without knowing why, without charges being pressed and without a trial.

About the Contributor:
ListenIn Pictures is a media production company on a mission to end bad non-profit video. We believe that powerful, emotional storytelling is the secret to saving non-profits from boring overview videos. We have created storytelling projects in Palestine, South Africa, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Ghana, Maryland, New Jersey and New York City and worked with KIPP, Achievement First, Human Rights Campaign, BRAC, Planned Parenthood, NYU Wagner and the Institute for Middle East Understanding.