2011 Media For Change Conference
2011 Media For Change Conference
I was fortunate enough to attend the 2011 Media for Change workshop in Santa Fe this past August nineteenth. After driving about eight hours from Mesa, Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico I had plenty of time to think about what the conference would expose me to. Content creators, educators and enthusiasts all converged at this gathering and it was especially interesting to observe how their needs and areas of interest could at times have such vast differences. The most obvious request or need presented by educators and programmers was more content. This need seems to be fueled and influenced by what appears to be easy access to media for the classroom that is available on many of the PBS websites, and sites of the flagship programs like Nove, Frontline and the nationally syndicated youth programs. The most common need expressed among the filmmakers/producers present was funding, and more of it to create that sorely needed media about Native people, community and culture. Without this media, it will be very difficult to incite, inspire and portray the change emphasized by our conference theme.
I am always an advocate for the independent content creators because I am one, and as a content creator I strive to work on projects that will pay wages I can live on, which translates into being able to feed, clothe and house my family, yet still have budget to create that media. Media creation that is of professional quality fit for broadcast distribution requires research, writing, travel, office supply, production, and wages to pay people to work those positions. However, most of the working content creators I know have to stretch what little funds they may receive to cover all those bases, this means sacrificing and cutting corners. When corners are cut, some areas of production always suffer. Why am I bringing this up you ask? It is because much of the afternoon presentation was focused on all the “free” content available online, and how we “content creators” could just submit our content to this list of free content. This open ended invitation to simply submit content for education seems to illustrate a disconnect or lack of understanding or respect granted to the content creators by those in need of content. As content creators, I think we want our productions to compete directly with other national programming in both story quality, and perceived production quality. To create media, we invest years into a single half hour or hour program because of the uncertain cycle of funding for independent producers/directors. Again, the notion of “Free Content” makes the idea of submitting media without compensation very unappealing to the working content creator, because good media costs money that is very difficult to come by for most filmmakers/producers.
To help alleviate this need for funding, was a presentation by Working Films. The presentation provided helpful information and examples of how other films have partnered with outside entities that might help in finding areas of shared interests, and how these shared interests can lead to sharing the promotion and community engagement for the film. Vanishing of the Bees, was the documentary film example given for this model of partnering and sharing film promotion, campaigning through the potential partnerships with organizations that have shared interests and goals that align with your film. The film has a global interest and was able to harness resources from many organizations and companies that all benefit from the continuing existence of bees. Organizations and companies ranging from pesticide education, lip balm manufacturers, culinary institutions, vegetarian groups and many more were all harnessed with great effectivness that provided the film many catapults that helped it reach a vast national community. Having a celebrity narrator with a handful of successful hit films couldn’t have hurt either. All in all, a great model of rethinking how a native film might fit in with outside entities that share similar missions in order to utilize the similarities to move the film forward was very effective and thought provoking, for myself and the project I currently have in development.
As always it is very enjoyable and beneficial to meet other native filmmakers and producers who are working at all the various stages of production on a wide variety of films pertaining to Native America. I really like to put faces to the names we read about in the Vision Maker Media updates, and seeing fellow producers and filmmakers unified under the Vision Maker Media banner is always inspiring because it is a poignant reminder that we are not alone. What we share with one another are our continuing struggles and efforts to create much needed content that is relevant to our native communities yet also educational to the national public television audience. This duality of content purpose and use for audiences close to our communities and far removed is the single most significant challenge we face as Native Filmmakers. Those of us that are Native, many times come from small rural communities that have been systematically marginalized socially and politically throughout American history to the present day. This fact leaves many of us in the position of constantly having to explain to outsiders why our stories matter, why they should be funded and why we are the ones that must create this content.
To me this poses the biggest challenge in finding partnerships with outside entities, though not to the extent that I will not try. What I learned from the attendants at the conference who were producers or filmmakers working on projects, was that their subject matter very well may have never found a space to exist were it not for the insight and interest of the content creators who found or identified the subjects and work very hard to breathe life into these stories that might seem nominal to those outside our communities and cultures. In my experience as a filmmaker, attempting to make films for native community and the public audience is similar to the old saying, “two birds with one stone”.
I think there is a fine line we traverse in this effort at creating engaging content for a national audience, and many of us fight to stay on the side that best represents the smallest audience watching Public Television, the Native Audience. It’s an uphill battle to make the stories that pertain to us, but a battle I think many of us share with conviction.