Filmmakers discuss community-driven media
Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 10:07
For filmmakers Elaine McMillion and Jigar Mehta, interactive documentaries are more than just films; they’re living histories.
McMillion and Mehta visited West Virginia University Thursday to speak about their own documentary projects, the similarities between the two, and the importance of interactive media.
Jigar Mehta, co-creator of "18 Days in Egypt," recently spoke at the WVU Festival of Ideas. "18 Days in Egypt," which began in 2011, is a documentary project about the Egyptian revolution that uses media generated by those directly involved in the events on the ground.
"The best stories are experienced and told together," said Mehta.
In "18 Days in Egypt," citizens involved in the ongoing revolution in Egypt can post videos and tell their stories on the website. Mehta also said there are more than 30 people who have been a part of the project at an intimate level, such as the "fellows," who are young journalists and activists who contribute to the project, and a creative team that helps design the website to make it more interactive.
"There are so many ways to tell stories through interactive media," said Mehta.
In the discussion, many different new interactive and technological ideas were discussed, such as video format and interactive maps, which can capture a series of events on a personal level. Students and faculty in the audience also shared ideas by talking about their own interactive projects.
Elaine McMillion, award-winning documentary storyteller and graduate of the WVU School of Journalism, is the creator of an interactive documentary on rural life in McDowell County, W.Va., entitled "Hollow." McMillion believes West Virginia often has a negative reputation, especially the rural southern areas, so her goal is to redefine this perspective.
"There are really genuine people there who have stories that need to be told," said McMillion. "I think it’s the first time McDowell has had a chance to tell their own story, and it’s about time they reclaim it."
Similar to Mehta’s "18 Days in Egypt," McMillion is giving citizens of McDowell County the chance to tell their own story by allowing them to create videos and images they wish to share.
"It’s their story, not mine," said McMillion. "I think it’s important that the people who know the story best are the ones telling it, not an outsider telling their story."
McMillion and her team host workshops to teach the citizens how to operate the cameras and capture great stories. Children as young as three have used the cameras to tell their stories, and according to McMillion there’s no pressure on anyone about how they capture footage. Children and adults alike are using Go-Pro cameras to capture moments in their life and help combat the negative stereotypes because, according to McMillion, their viewpoint of their community is the one that needs to come forward in this project.
McMillion said that allowing people to tell their own story takes a lot of trust with the citizens. Cameras did not come out for the first few weeks so the community would learn to trust the crew. Like "18 Days in Egypt," "Hollow" uses a vast amount of interactive media such as mapping narratives, balloon mapping, aerial footage, along with videos and pictures.
"Interactive media is great because there’s no hierarchy, and it gives people the opportunity to personalize media in a way that’s meaningful to them," McMillion said. According to McMillion, the community has the free will to choose what stories they tell.
"I hope after seeing ‘Hollow,’ people gain a new perspective of West Virginia beyond the typical media portrayals of the negative issues and see a more full picture of the people and the place, and in that regard, be interested in it and want to take action," she said.
McMillion also offered some advice to those who may want to start projects such as these in the future.
"Make your own opportunities. Everything I’m doing and everything I’ve done is because I’ve had the initiative to start something on my own and haven’t waited on someone else to create an opportunity for me," said McMillion. "If you have an idea, get the ball rolling, find people to help you get the idea off of the ground and get started. Be passionate about what you love and what you do, and you’ll go far."
In closing, Mehta and McMillion discussed the similarities in the two documentary projects and the importance of allowing communities to tell their own stories.
"Whether it’s ‘Hollow’ or ‘18 Days,’ I want to hear a story from someone who was there and who is as close to the story as possible rather than it being filtered through other people because the source is the storyteller," Mehta said. "There are so many parallels between ‘Hollow’ and ‘18 Days in Egypt,’ such as building trust and making it authentic. These are not just singular films; they become movements."