Making WAVEs with video-blogging

IN Media Practice | 16/12/2011
A unique project has transformed the lives of a group of women who were trained and encouraged to voice their perspective on issues that matter to them.
PAROMITA PAIN describes a digital initiative. Pix: WAVE~s women videobloggers

Cinema has transformative power believes transgender activist Kalki Subramaniam. She proved it by training six transgender women in the art of filmmaking. Armed with cameras these women set out to tell tales of their lives and, in the process, highlight through everyday images and familiar sounds, the cruelties society callously subjects them to. These filmmakers, who live in slums and eke out a living either begging or doing odd jobs, now have new purpose in life.  For Kalki it’s all in a day’s work. “I am just passing on the amazing training I received at WAVE,” she says.

WAVE (Women Aloud: Video blogging for Empowerment ) came about when Angana Jhaveri, Sapna Shahani,  and Madhusudan Agarwal, director of Mam Movies in Bombay, decided to collaborate and propose a videoblogging project to the Digital Media and Learning competition, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC. It describes itself as “digital platform for young Indian women to voice their perspectives on issues that matter through video blogs.” Later the Point of View organisation served as the NGO -partner for the actual administration of the WAVE Project.

“At first we called the project Women Aloud as we wanted to encourage young women in India to speak up as our culture seems to groom women not speak out, think independently, or even know more about realities around us. Later, when we lined up the words Women Aloud Videoblogging for Empowerment, one of our grant officials in the US saw that its initials spelt WAVE. We liked that,” says Angana. 

 Sapna had already worked in Community Media in Berkeley and Angana had lived for many years in a spiritual organisation as part of the in-house video crew serving the needs of the community. “Also Sapna and I found we had both been associated at different times with the activist media outfit Deep Dish TV in NY,” says Angana. 

Angana and Sapna were keen to work with women of a slightly older age group who could be mentored as citizen journalist videobloggers, because they felt that the college-graduate age woman in India would be able to consider this profession as a part-time livelihood and craft more articulate stories about community development. 

“I had also recently become acquainted with some prominent videobloggers whom I had invited to handle a workshop at Berkeley Community Media, a public access TV station, where I worked,” says Sapna. “They showed me the power of videoblogging.”

Their first 11-day training had almost 50 women from around India. The sessions included an overview of videoblogging, ideating, scripting, camerawork, editing, animation, and other programme- based and creative workshops. After the program concluded, 30 women representing their States, who make videos regularly, got mentored by Sapna and Angana for a nine-month term.  The participants were selected mostly based on commitment level, media background, community involvement and income level. Low income women were given preferance. Participants were provided video equipment, intensive training and monthly stipends. Their target age group was 18-25 but many were outside that bracket as well.

“We also dwell on the art of storytelling and the different genres such as animation and finally bring the training to a close with a discussion on sustainability,” says Angana.

This focus on storytelling proved to be a turning point for participant Usha Dewani from Guwahati. “I started with nothing, practically. The experience I gained has helped me make films for Project Survival Media, ( focused on finding solutions for living with climate change.”

The topics the new videobloggers explore are diverse. Bhoomika works at the Centre for Governance and Accountability in Delhi and she uses the power of video to explain how women can help in the movement to make government budgets sensitive to women's needs. A print journalist, Moushumi Basu, shot a video about people in a village attempting to murder a family accused of witchcraft. She says it is among her most powerful productions yet.  Sulochana from Goa, who works on health awareness for an NGO, made a video about cultural perspectives to menstruation which she uses in her awareness programmes.

Some of the participants do struggle with technology and the cameras. “This”, says Sapna, “is mostly because of lack of accessible training.”  They have created a video production guide, which they call a 'toolkit', available for free download on the website.

Kalki says it taught her more about the importance of community journalism. “Coming from the very marginalised and stigmatised transgender community, community media is an excellent platform for voicing and fighting for the social, political and economic rights of the transgender people,” she explains. Kalki’s student, Kanchana, says people view her differently now that she knows how to use a camera. “All they thought I could do was beg”, Kanchana says. Kalki’s ultimate aim is to ensure that these women get employment as journalists or photographers. “That will help them break the cycle of poverty.”

Some of the videobloggers from the WAVE workshops have been offered jobs to produce videos. Moushumi says the training has helped her get an international audience for her stories. “With its mentoring, I have written several articles that have appeared in the web section of Radio Netherlands, highlighting the cause of women and underprivileged.”

For Sapna and Angana, mentoring has meant guiding the women representing the many States and facets of India. But the project has changed their lives in many ways as well. Their best moments include meeting women who have broken stereotypes and emerged unique, confident, intelligent, and passionate career-women from every town in India.

“I always gave a lot of importance to work, but since WAVE is the first project I am managing that I helped conceive, I now work round the clock. Besides this, I have learned much more about India than ever before, and have a greater understanding of the grassroots community problems around the country,” says Angana.

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