I was invited to be on the jury for the Matter Documentary Award at the Branchage Jersey International Film Festival this past weekend. (That’s the Jersey that is a British Crown Dependency off the coast of Normandy, France – not New Jersey in the U.S.) The Matter Award goes to the “best socially conscious” documentary film in the fest. It includes £2000 to the filmmaker, plus £1,000 to a charity of the winner’s choice.
The nominees were quite extraordinary, including Burma VJ, The End of the Line, Only When I Dance, Rough Aunties, and The Yes Men Fix the World. The jury felt one film – Burma VJ – reflected a unique moment in time for film and activism, and named it the winner. The “citizen” and professional Burmese journalists in the film risked their lives to fight back against an oppressive and repressive regime, sending their stories of street-to-street resistance to audiences outside their borders with the use of new technologies – including handycams and in some cases cell phone connectivity.
The filmmaking team has built a campaign around this film, including primary partners Amnesty International UK and the Burma Campaign, supported by the Cooperative. Together they have built an audience engagement strategy that will take this film to thousands of audiences members, giving them relevant and urgent direct actions of response when the lights come up and the film’s credits roll. Built into the campaign are new connections to viewers through social media tools and networks, including Twitter and Facebook.
And as important as the subjects of this film, the individual struggles and reports that brought new attention to a criminal regime in Burma, is the model they offer us. With video cameras embedded in most cell phones, stories from the frontline will now have a reach and immediacy never before possible. It is increasingly clear that activists now have a tool for spotlighting and pushing back against oppression while building global coalitions for resistance – no matter how isolated the place from which they are reporting. The immediacy of their message will now be measured in seconds. I am confident that future struggles for human rights are strengthened by our interconnected paths and new routes of truly mass communication; we saw it first in Burma VJ.