It has been 5 years since the film was made, a lots of praises and admirations have been sent to the children and project team. Green Meadow continues to be a strong example of community film that won the heart of ordinary people, social workers and professional film makers.
I have decided to share the project report that I wrote for my MA. Theatre and Media for Development in the University of Winchester. The reason is because I hope many people can learn from my experience, and feel inspired by the determination that we took on.
I have also realized that many people now are finding different ways to work with community, be it through film, art, computer, games, or conventional methods.. and I hope what I have shared in this report will help you in some way, especially strengthening the trust for the people you are working with. My sole advice for anyone who starts working with community is: TRUST THE PROCESS, even if you have to throw away the predetermined goal. If every minute you and the community feel connected, trust worthy, honest, sincere, well deserved.. then you know that THERE IS NO WAY THIS CAN GO WRONG. So if you have to choose between going with the project deadline and donor’s pressure OR going with the good feeling, choose the good feeling!
This trust in the process is still my biggest secret in working successfully with various communities!
Feel free to distribute this document, please be kind enough to mention its source. Wish you all the best in your journey!
This document needs to be translated into Vietnamese, you are welcome to help me with the translation!
If you have further questions please contact me at email@example.com , now that I have founded Life Art, an Art for Development centre with workshops happening every week, do visit us at http://www.artfordevelopment.vn or http://www.lifeartvietnam.org, or simply come by 54 Nguyen Khuyen Hanoi.
You can watch the film here
Learn more about the project here
Phan Y Ly
MY LIFE MY VIEW PROJECT REPORT
(March – October 2007)
A. PROJECT BACKGROUND
After returning from Winchester, UK, with the inspiration from Karma’s film project with children, I wanted to do the first community film in Vietnam. In May 2006, My Life My View Project won 10,000 USD from The World Bank Innovation Day. This project focuses on working with children living on boats in the Red River, Ha Noi, Vietnam.
World Bank’s fund arrived in June 2006, but due to informal research on the community, work environment, legal requirement and technical equipments.. My Life My View commenced in March 2007.
My Life My View is implemented in “Bai giua Song Hong”, an island hamlet on the Red River in Gia Lam, Hanoi. In this environment of rubbish, sand, and infected water live nearly 30 migrant families who reside on boats and in ragged huts. Their daily activities, from cooking, drinking to washing and toiletry, are done on the river around their boats. These families have no legal status or vocational skills; their income is from garbage collecting or laboring work for the better off families by the bank.
Immediate: children of the hamlet
Broadly: local authority, NGOs in Vietnam who want to reach marginalized communities or try new models, wider society, other vulnerable and marginalized communities
B. PROJECT’S PROCESS
The main steps in project implementation are described here in the order they took place:
I. Establishing A Relationship with the community:
Prior to the training, we had several meetings with the head of the community and the whole “village”. The main purpose of these meetings was to share our plan and ask for direction to carry it out. The meetings were also to learn about and clear up any disagreements or concerns from the community regarding the project. This process of establishing the relationship with the community happened alongside the whole project with frequent meetings whenever there was an issue or a turning point. We made sure every project decision was the result of discussions with the community so that there was agreement from both sides. Such discussions can arise from different issues such as a child who drops out of class, moving on from practicing to actual filming, leaving the camera at the village, changing the location of class, meals, etc.
The community also actively took part in the project in various ways. With an allocated amount of funds from the project, each family decided to take turns each month to prepare tea-breaks and lunches for the children and the team. Everyday we would be informed by the family “Tea-break/ lunch is ready” and a communal meal would bring everybody close together. The project members had an opportunity to interact with the families and the children during meal and rest time. The sense of “taking care of each other” was built and I think this helped to strengthen the relationship.
The community also had a meeting to choose a boat that was big enough for the workshop to be held. So most of our workshops happened in the boat, surrounded by the river.
Since most of the project team members were inexperienced student volunteers, the project also issued a regulation to its members on how to manage a good relationship with the community, how to behave sensibly with children and not to be involved in financial or private relationships with community members.
II. Training and filming
3 full days a week, for 3 months I and my team would come to the children’s living area and conduct the workshop. The training focused on the following areas:
– Life skill
– Story telling technique
– Camera technique
– Group work
In the morning the children would go through different games and exercises that led them through different topics such as self-awareness, team work, trust, recognising power, reflection on their life, communication, life planning, etc. and in the afternoon they were taught and practiced camera work. The teaching of camera work employed games and easy-to-understand comparisons. The training on filming technique stressed the importance of simplicity and respecting the truth. The children often talked about other film crews who came to the community and filmed their lives in untruthful ways. For example a film director would ask them to wear dirty clothes and dig earth so that he can film, or another film crew gave sweet potatoes to the family and arranged a scene where they only had sweet potato for dinner, etc.. Analysing these examples, the children decided that their way of filming would respect reality and would exploit things that are not easily seen by outsiders, going beneath the poverty. Here is a more detailed outline of the process of training and filming:
1. Getting to know each other: One week was spent to play games, and to share wishes and expectations. This initial part was important to build trust and learn about each other, as well as establishing boundaries.
2. Introducing the camera (1 week): The camera was carefully and slowly introduced. The children went through exercises on understanding what makes something “valuable”, to understand the real meaning of taking care of their new “member” (the camera). The children humanized the camera as a 9 year old girl named Wendy, and discussed the importance of Wendy as a film companion. They also distinguished the difference in material values and mental values. This was a very important process to help the children develop their own responsibility to the camera as something that will help in realising their goals, rather than as an expensive object.
3. Team work and basic camera techniques (2 weeks): the children learned and practiced filming with the supervision of the trainer. Every afternoon each child in turn would take the camera and choose anything in his/her environment to film with the support of the trainer beside them. The rest of the afternoon was spent rev[Ly2] iewing the footage and analyse together what made good composition, etc. as well as how to deal with difficulties while filming.
4. Story telling and independent filming (1 week): the children learned to tell stories using different theatrical and visual methods. Often the stories were related to their personal experiences, and they were also given chances to discuss issues raised from these stories. For example a story about a dispute in the community among the adults led to a discussion of understanding each other, jealousy, anger, etc., or a story about them being bullied by the city kids led to a discussion about discrimination, power, self-esteem, etc. At the same time, the children were given time on their own to film independently without the presence of the trainer. This helped them to gain confidence and to take charge of the decision-making.
5. Handing over the camera and in-depth discussion about their lives (1.5 months): Prior to handing over the camera to the children to keep at the village, we had already discussed about possibilities, how to take care of the cameras, etc. with the children and the community. The children worked hard to show their responsibility and capability in looking after the camera 24 hours, 7 days a week. They also learned basic camera maintenance (cleaning) and what to do in emergencies (e.g. being chased/ threatened by someone while filming, etc.). For the first time the children were given an opportunity to prove they are trustworthy and responsible, even to the surprise of everyone in their village. The project leader also had individual meetings with each child’s family about this decision, and each parent was requested to support and respect the child’s “possession” of the camera. As the community fed back to me, the children were extremely mature about taking care of the camera and their “work” and they would not let any adult or anybody who was untrained to play with Wendy (the camera). In a way this was an extremely empowering experience for the children since they had total responsibility and knowledge over this matter and the adults had to respect that if they didn’t want to be scolded by the village’s head. Alongside the children’s independent filming, the workshop still continued 3 days/week. We carried out discussions around the film of the children, things they would like to communicate to the audience, the perception of outsiders towards their community, etc.. Every afternoon we reviewed footage and the children took turn to log the footage that they had captured the night before. When the camera was with the children, a project member (usually the trainer) would visit them on non-training days to give them fresh batteries and tapes. The children made a detailed schedule of who would hold the camera, from which time to which time, so that everyone had an equal opportunity to film independently.
6. Facilitation skills:
The last few weeks of training focused on the facilitation skills of the children. One child would take on the role of a facilitator and guide the group through discussion of issues such as the importance of education, how to balance between work and study, gender preference, discrimination, etc..
III. editing (2 MONTHS)
1. Discussion and shaping of the main theme of the film (2 weeks) and facilitation skill:
After having most of the footage, the children reviewed and discussed about how they wanted to use their footage. The children decided to have a film that speaks the “truth” about their lives in the river, i.e. full of hardship but is also lots of love. The children shared that most outsiders consider their community to be criminal and they face a lot of discrimination and through this documentary film they hope to change the view of the audience. The children therefore chose the name “Green Meadow” for the documentary, explaining that it reminds people that the place they are living in is as beautiful and peaceful as a meadow, as opposed to a rubbish land with a polluted river.
2. Collective writing of the commentary for the film: Through a list of questions given by the trainer, each child wrote her/ his own commentary for the movie. It is significant to mention that even though the children had previously had many writing exercises (letters to family member, letter to the camera…) during the training, writing a few pages of A4 paper in an afternoon was something amazing to achieve. The children themselves shared that at school they never had the opportunity or motivation to write anything longer than a few sentences. Each child’s writings were shared with the rest of the group, then combined by the trainer into one collective commentary. The children reviewed the final combination and “approved” the commentary for the film.
3. Audio recording:
The audio recording of the commentary was done in a home studio. Each child had a trial reading and all agreed to choose one girl to be the narrator. The children also chose themed songs for their movie and assigned one girl to sing these songs.
4. Technical Editing
Based on the theme and spirit agreed by the children and their own commentary, the footage was edited into a 40 minute documentary film.
1.Reviewing: The first version of the documentary film was presented to the children at their village for reviewing in August 2007. After having the comments from the children, the film was then revised and in September 2007, the first “premiere” was organized in the community for the whole village to view. It was a very touching event as this was the first time the adults in the village got to see the work of their children and see their lives through the eyes of their children. Many people shed tears and gave comments that they were touched by the film because of its truthful depiction of their lives. When asked if they are afraid of the authorities when the film on their lives is seen by many people, the community said they are not afraid because the film speaks the truth.
2.Permission paper: For the film to be screened, even for an invited audience, there needed to be a permission paper granted by the Ministry of Culture and Information. The film was submitted for the permission paper under Vimax Film Company and the permission was granted at last minute with the names of 7 children as film makers.
3.Pulblic premiere (2 nights): Green Meadow was publicly premiered on the 4th and 11th of October 2007. Aproximately 200 audience members attended these screenings. The first night consisted of the community, guests invited by the children, media and press, and sponsors. The audience for the second night was mainly artists, NGOs, UN, and students. In both screenings, there was a post screening discussion hosted by Phan Y Ly between the film makers (the children) and the audience.
1.Project Evaluation: The project team met every month to review and make an action plan for the following month. Besides, there were also frequent meetings with the community head and the parents of the children. We also held an end of project evaluation with the children and the parents.
2. Film evaluation: At each screening, we invited the audience to write feedback and their impression of the film. A laminated copy of the audience comments and encouragement was provided to each child.
3. Informal evaluation: After the project, we still keep in touch with the children and hear from them about the changes and opportunities brought by the project.
C. KEY ACHIEVEMENTS
1. Impact on the children who directly involved in the project: As a facilitator, I could see the improvement of the children’s belief in themselves, in their ability to aim high and to achieve high. During the training, when asked: “who doesn’t believe that you can make a film?”, most children raised their hands and said “me” because “a film is something very difficult to make” and because “the volunteers and other adults in the village told us it is impossible for us to make a film”. Later when the film was screened, when the audience asked the children during the discussion “what message do you want to convey through this film?”, one child replied: “I want the audience members, especially wealthy ones, to realize that even among the poor there can be talented people, like us”. The children’s confidence could be seen when they answered and even defended their opinions against other adults. For examples when a TV presenter said “I have seen the wonderful film you acted in…”, the children insisted that it is the film they made, not acted. When other people praised the children for ‘acting so well” in Green Meadow, the children again explained to them that “everything in this film is natural and nothing is acted”. When the audience asked “what was most difficult for you when filming this documentary?” the children replied “Everything was easy, because we were determined”.
Besides their parents and family, each child could invite 5 guests to attend their film premiere. Their initial ideas were “I will only invite the ones who have been kind to me…” but this later changed to “I will also invite those who are mean to me so that they change what they think of me”. For the first time the children had such “power” of “pointing out” the ones who matter to them. Through the documentary film, the children show their awareness of who they are and the dignity they deserve. This showed clearly during their interaction with the audience and during TV talk shows.
It is hard to give a measurement to the impact of the project on the children. One can only see through small examples and the way the children behave in different situations.
2. Impact on the community’s awareness and confidence about themselves: When interviewed, one of the children’s parents said that she is not afraid to show the documentary to wider society because the film displays the truth. And she wants people to know that her community is poor but not dangerous. “Many people thought that because I come from such a place, I must live among thieves and dangerous criminals, but from this documentary they will see we are only poor people doing hard work to survive”. The parents also said they are very proud of their children for having made a documentary film. “Even normal kids have difficulty in learning this, my child must be really special to be able to make a film..”. When we showed the film in the community, many men and women cried while watching the film. They said ‘We realized what a poor life we are living, but also how hard we are trying to survive…”. The impact on the children and their families can also be seen in terms of increased awareness and attention to their situation within the wider society, by authorities, etc. “Bai giua Song Hong” (middle bank of Red River) is now a popular name in Hanoi and all kinds of people from taxi drivers to officials, fruit sellers to students… know about the existence of such a community. Most importantly, they talk about this community with much more understanding about the difficult lives of the people living on the Red River. Small experiences can influence the community’s self-esteem, such as one lady from this community who works as a cleaner in an office who took the DVD to her workplace and showed other staffs and proudly introduced “this is the home I told you about..” while her “colleagues” were amazed by the circumstances she lived in. Now the community are proud to be recognized on the street and not ashamed about where they come from.
3. Impact on general awareness in Vietnam including authorities and international agencies about the situation of marginalized communities in Vietnam, including river communities, through showing the world through their eyes. Besides the project’s 2 screenings for the community of Red River, their guests, NGOs, donors, and press…, the film was also screened in 10 different universities in Hanoi, on UN Day for students of the United Nations International School, and for many different NGOs. Green Meadow was also invited by the UN to be the opening and closing film for the UN Film Festival on Urbanization in Vietnam with an invited audience including high level Vietnamese government officials as well as the heads of UN agencies, embassies and donor organisations.
Green Meadow was also published in the form of DVD with subtitles in 3 languages (Vietnamese, English, French) and is available for donation of 6USD/ copy in the North and South of Vietnam (Hanoi and HCM City) to raise funds for the children (the film makers). Many expatriates who are educators and NGO workers also bought the DVD to show in their home countries. Following the film’s premiere, there was coverage on many major TV talk shows and news articles in both Vietnamese and English covering the project and the film under titles like “Green Meadow – A film on the lives of children living in Red River”, “ Community Film – where the people’s voice is raised”, “ Children making movie – a worthy project”, “Marginalized kids taught to express themselves”, “Green Meadow gives children unique voice”, “Lives on water through the eyes of children”, “When slum children create film..”, “There is a green meadow in the Red River”.. etc..
In many forums, blogs, and private websites, people wrote about their experiences watching the film.
“Usually when I cross the bridge on Red River, looking down to the poor boats I think “those people are polluting the city’s river” but not realizing how hard their lives are. Usually when I saw street vendors I got upset “why do they block the road” but never thought how they are struggling to survive. Usually when I saw poor people I wanted to stay away from them, not knowing they also wish to have a clean and proper piece of clothing. Usually I stay in comfort thinking life is so simple.. But watching this film make me realize I am too shallow..”
“I hope that the government will be struck by this film and pay attention to poor communities instead of wasting their money on stupid and costly game shows..”
“It was very touching to see the lives of the children through their own eyes. Living among hardship, the children still have their purity and innocence. The project has brought the dream of a better life to the children, that’s the most important thing. Can the model of “Art and Development” be spread and applied with different communities?”
“The film was amazing and touching, it’s the 2nd time I watched but still admire the talents of the children. They have proved the capacity of the Red River kids!”
“Red River people” is now a popular term on newspaper. Last winter, the Youth Newspaper even made a special appeal for readers to contribute warm clothes for the “Red River Community” and organized trips for people to visit the community. The “Red River Community” is not invisible to the society any more.
More often than not the Red River Bank is only one of many stopping points in the lives and journeys of these families and children. There are also many more such families and habitants living across the country (whether remaining poor or now relatively “rich”) who once resided by the Red River Bank of Hanoi. The situation can be shared across time and geography.
4. A contribution to developing more creative and effective ways to engage in individual and community development in Vietnam, particularly with marginalized and vulnerable groups, using media and participatory approach. Being the first consultant on using Media for development, the project designer is hoping to not only create a successful model for development agencies in Vietnam but also to encourage the media sector to utilize their knowledge and opportunities towards a social cause. The term and concept of “Community Arts” or “Arts for Development” are now often mentioned in Vietnam society through many news articles and TV talk shows about this field. Green Meadow is used as a typical example in many conferences and meetings in Vietnam about community arts, or even referred to as a “new trend” of film making. Through formal and informal channels we know that many NGOs have discussed the possibility of having similar projects. In the formal education forum of the Ministry of Education, My Life My View is also mentioned as a good example in encouraging children’s learning. Vimax –a well known and high profile film production company has also expressed its wish to be involved in future projects of My Life My View. Screen writers, film makers, etc. have come to us and said they want to be involved or be guided on how to do community films.
It is also important to note that for the film to be screened in Vietnam, we had to get the permission from the Ministry of Culture and Information and Green Meadow had to go through the normal censorship process. The officers at first didn’t believe the documentary was filmed and written by the children and demanded us to change many details (commentary lines, colour of night shooting) in the film “so that it looks like the product of children”. The film was rated very high (8.5/ 10) but very nearly did not receive the permission paper for the public screening, until we received support from several well known documentary film makers in the country who urged for the permission paper to be issued. For the first time the permission paper to publish the film recognizes 7 children as writers and directors of a documentary film. Considering that many private documentary film makers are afraid to approach the official channel for permission to screen in public, it is a big achievement for a community film (with many sensitive lines) like Green Meadow to overcome this fear and receive the permission paper to screen and publish to all audiences, without being censored!
5. People involved directly and indirectly in the project:
Besides the direct involvement of 14 team members including students and a camera operator (to film the whole process of the project), the project also involved:
The World Bank
Mr. Aiden Pelly, a private donor
The help of 3 of Vietnam’s high profile documentary film-makers in influencing the government to issue the permission paper
Photographers, graphic designer
Vietnam Ministry of Culture and Information
Vimax Film Production Company
Various journalists who visited and wrote about the project
Cinemateque – A well-known private cinema
The UN Film Festival
Students of various universities
6. Domino effects of the project
Inspired by the project, many individuals, groups and organizations have invited the Red River children to come and interact, or organized activities with their school students in arts and fund raising. Koto (Know One Teach One– a high profile non-profit organization which excels in teaching vocational and life skills for poor children, whose graduate students secure jobs in 5 star hotels) organized a special tour for the Red River Community to learn about the opportunity to study in KOTO. This coming October, one of the 7 children will enter KOTO and begin a new chapter of her life.
From the support of an individual funder (Mr. Aidan Pelly), My Life My View could produce 300 DVDs for distribution by donation and for wider publication. Through this the project raised 21 million VND (1,500 usd) for the children. [Ly3] The fund was given to the children in two parts and went directly into the hands of the children. They had complete control over how to spend this money.
D. CHALLENGES AND OVERCOMING
Filming a poor and illegal community is not a welcome idea, especially if the film might be exposed to international audience. The fear of the authorities was about the “face” of Vietnam and questioning what is the “real intention” of the film. A common and important question from the authorities was “who are you working for?” and the concept of “I am a freelancer” is not quite understood in Vietnam, or shall I say it doesn’t exit because that means “nobody is responsible for me, and you cannot blame any institution for my action”. The community of the Red River was very worried about the police who were “looking after” them. To reassure them, we had to get permission from the police. With help from the village head, we could have a basic conversation with the police about the intention of the film. However due to its sensitivity (giving voice to the poor to talk about their lives), we had to come up with the term “vocational training for children in using the camera”. Some how we got that passed.
2. Dealing with doubts
From the team members: When recruiting team members, we spent significant time in sharing the ideas behind the project. Most team members were very young students who were excited by the simple fact of serving the poor, even when they didn’t quite believe in a thing called community film. To make sure we were on the same journey, we produced regulations and an agreement for volunteers to sign and held regular meetings with the whole project team to update them about the progress, problems, solutions, and upcoming plans.
From community: In the first meeting with the whole village in March 2007, some community members reacted very strongly about “another” film crew coming down to film their lives. Their worries included:
1. possible unfair money distribution to the community from the film crews, leading to jealousy and dispute within the community
2. even with good intention the past films often degraded them as most of the time they were asked by film crews to wear torn outfits, it was even arranged the whole family to eat sweet potato for dinner, etc. so that the film could portray how pathetic they are: “We are poor but still manage to have tofu in our dinner, you know!”
3. Fear of reaction from the local people and authorities. Some community members said that being illegal inhabitants they should just shut up and be happy with what they have, not making a big noise to create public attention and bring trouble to themselves.
4. The safety of the camera in the hands of children. “I can give birth to a baby, but not a camera”.
5. Besides the community’s doubts, other groups of volunteers outside our project team also took an active role in visiting the community and trying to convince the parents not to let the children participate in our project. Those volunteers even asked the community to choose between “learning how to read and write” or “learning to make film”. They also “analyzed” for the community why our project is untrustworthy, giving reasons such as “nobody will leave a 2,000 usd camera in the village for you to make film”, “it’s a false promise and there must be a reason behind this project”, ‘you’d better concentrate on our project…”. Those volunteers also scolded the children and let them know “you will never be able to make a film, you are not that capable anyway”.
We tried to solve this by involving the community in decision making as much as possible and asking for advice from the head of the village. We started this by asking the head of the village to help us to hold a meeting with the whole village, to inform them about what we were planning to do, why, and to ask for their advice about everything that concerns us.
We explained to them that the project’s intention wasn’t to give material support to the community, and that not one penny would be given out to anybody. The film would also be filmed entirely by the children and without any interference to the community’s lives. Prior to the film’s premiere the community would be the ones who preview and approve it. I promised them that I trust the children’s care towards the camera and its my job to make sure this happen, I only needed their supportive environment for the camera to be kept in the community safely: “of course we can’t guarantee the camera won’t get spoilt for unknown reason, but let’s hope that won’t happen and all I need to know is that you will all help protecting the children and the camera”. To this, the community guaranteed. The community also advised us to go with the village head to ask the permission from the local authority – the police department of Thuy Khue ward for this project to take place.
In short, throughout the project, by informing the community and letting them guide us through difficulties and doubts, we won the community’s companionship and this made a very good foundation for the learning of the children as well as for our project to develop.
3. The camera was spoilt
Midway through the project, the camera’s touch screen was spoilt. When one of the children returned the camera to the class, we realized it didn’t work anymore. This caused great distress to the children and they were very worried about the consequences. We examined the camera carefully and tried to look online for possible reasons of the failure. I also asked the children to try to remember if they could possibly have done something that might cause the mishap, like exposing the camera to water, forgetting the camera somewhere, giving it to a stranger, etc. However, at the same time I reassured the children that I believed they all took the best possible care of the camera, that no one wanted the camera to be spoilt, and that accidents can happen at any time. The children asked if the camera is expensive and I told them it is not the financial loss that matters, the important thing is the facility to make their film. Explaining that “even humans can become sick without knowing the reason, and also equipment can stop working just like that…” made them feel less burdened. We agreed not to tell this news to the adults so that no doubts or negative gossip could happen. We used the 2nd camera of the project and brought the other camera to Thailand to have the broken part replaced.
4. The humid weather, especially in a wet environment like Red River, was in fact a problem to the camera equipment. We supplied the children with a rechargeable de-humidifier device to keep in the camera bag and this helped.
5. Film screening permission paper: for a film to be screened in public, a permission paper must be obtained from the Ministry of Culture and Information. Despite that we submitted the film 3 weeks before the premiere date, one day before the screening we were informed that the permission paper was not ready. With the help from our friends who are reputable documentary film makers, we learned that the officers weren’t very aware and were simply lazy, causing the delay in giving the permission. However, to save face, they said that the permission paper couldn’t be released and the film premiere h4ad to be cancelled. The reasons were because the film’s night vision was too green, the commentary was too thoughtful (adult-like), and the ending was too long and it needed to be changed before the permission paper would be issued, and they couldn’t say when this would happen. We couldn’t afford to disappoint the community who were awaiting to see their own film and introducing it to the wider society, so we decided the film must be screened on the chosen date and the Ministry must give the permission paper. With a long negotiation and the influence of other documentary film makers, the permission paper was issued just few hours before the premiere and without the film being changed at all.
E. LESSONS LEARNT
1. Developing the training approach: Over time I could develop a child-friendly approach in teaching the children about different aspects of documentary filming techniques using down-to-earth facilities. For examples when teaching the importance of holding the camera still, the children practiced holding the “camera” using stones and played a game where when the “camera operator” shakes his/her camera, the “picture” (the people being filmed) will also shake accordingly. Or the children drew different pictures of a fish being “full-framed”, “portrait” or “close-up” and named these frames the way they liked. The children also named the concepts and different parts of the camera according to their own choice. For example, they call the camera’s battery “noodle bow” (because it’s camera’s food), the lens of the camera the “camera’s eye” (because it’s where the camera sees things and camera should see things (film) the way the human eyes see (not zoom in and out, etc..) and camera’s eye needs to be taken care of), etc. Teaching camera techniques using games and metaphors helped us to solve the problem of using slide-shows or complicated explanations, making the learning become exciting for children and also blending well with the life-skills exercises we used with the children.
2. Project set-up and management
Initiating and running a smooth project, paying attention not only to the technical but also in the management and logistic part – is an important lesson learned. My Life My View project has been very successful and smoothly operated due to the efficiency of the project human resources. Often a trainer (especially when working as a consultant) is used to having an already set up project where her role is only to attend to the training and do the evaluation. In an individual project one oftens take up so many roles and becomes distracted or finds it impossible to concentrate on their main expertise. A project consists of many different components and My Life My View had prepared well for these. The question here is whether the possible tasks were foreseen and if there was financial efficiency to hire staff to fill in these positions. For me it was very important to be aware of and list out important tasks besides training, and then find people to take care of these areas. In My Life My View the three most important positions were the project director and trainer (me) giving direction and technical training of the project, the project manager to co-ordinate people and logistics, and manage the budget, and the camera operator who filmed the process of the whole project. Other positions such as logistic assistants, class diary takers, designer, etc. were volunteers who were students. We also had a monthly work plan and cost estimation, and regular meetings with staff.
3. Trusting and allowing the process: This is of course a core principle to be kept at heart even before we start any project. In many cases one would feel worried and is tempted to interfere, violating the ownership of the participants in order to ensure a good product. As much as one tries to believe in the process, being able to let go, sit back and watch is still quite a different thing. However My Life My View once again proves that if the process is good, the result will follow. I think being relaxed on the project schedule and not under any pressure from the donors had given us an excellent opportunity to be sensible and follow the process as well as the participants’ own timing and experience. Sometimes it might not mean any significant changes in schedule or outcomes but the peace of mind has a positive influence on the facilitator and the participants.
4. Building a good relationship with the community: sharing the process and the planning, relying as much as possible on the community’s local resource and knowledge, etc. have been our “secret” for the success of the project. For example, instead of hiring a classroom somewhere to train the children, we asked the community for advice and were given a boat good enough to do the training on location. Instead of traveling 3 kms to buy lunch, we asked the mothers to help prepare food and tea-break for the whole team and 7 children with an acceptable amount of money. Instead of dealing directly and in private with other groups of volunteers who wanted to share the time table and training space, we asked the community for arrangement and were given a thorough support. It’s important to note that when we requested other groups of volunteers to bring the matter to the community, we were told that “the community knows nothing and should decide nothing”. Thus this attitude had made them “good-will colonizers” in the community’s eyes.
5. Getting the project heard
Most of the time, a social development project is only known within its own circumstances, With projects that are efficient financially, the popular way to get the project heard by the public is to organize a press conference where journalists are invited to come and hear a long report that become a brief article in the newspaper. With My Life My View, besides having the benefit of being the work of an already well-known person (Phan Y Ly), the project paid a lot of attention to preparing a web blog, recording documentation, creating film trailers, writing inside stories and creating a press kit in the form of a CD that includes essential information such as photos, project FAQs, trailers, project backgrounds..etc. to send the journalists.
6. Dealing with authorities:
Having no prior experience in dealing with the government or local authorities, we were very worried and had lots of fear over getting permission to work or to get the film screened. However as the project progressed, we realized a lot of the “difficulties” were just our own imagination and fear. In many cases we almost stopped ourselves from doing what we wanted, just based on rumors. For example, in the documentary there was a commentary from the children saying “The police come down to kick us out from where we are living..”, most people and artists were convinced that the film would have a hard time passing the censorship from the ministry for this very sensitive sentence. However, a journalist told us “be brave and don’t do self-censorship, if it has to be censored, let the decision come from the ministry, not yourself”. And surprisingly when the film was submitted for the permission paper, what we were afraid of wasn’t an issue at all. The lesson learned is to follow what we want and have a direct conversation with the authorities, based on the reality we could have a much clearer direction of what is possible and what is not. Mobilizing and not being afraid to ask for help from other influential acquaintance is also a good lesson learned. Lots of the time there were more people wanting to help / become involved in the project than we thought.
7. Authenticity vs Aesthetic Most of the time in community art projects, the facilitator only pays attention to ensuring the authenticity and sometimes they seem to believe that authenticity is good enough or even that it is impossible to have both authenticity and aesthetic from the community. When setting up this project, I made it a point to aim high and tried my best to help the community achieve both truthfulness and beauty and I would not convince myself that the “truth” is enough. The result is a very beautiful but honest film about the life of the community. It is true that aesthetic quality can be achieved without sacrificing the purity and the truth, and a good quality art work pays an important role in creating a good impact on the audience and people it wants to influence.
8. Documenting the project: “Promotion” and “Documentation” are often not considered adequately by social development projects, perhaps because it is considered “non-profit”? With My Life My View, we spent a considerable effort in documenting the project for future reference, sharing, promotion, and also for our own memories. Field minutes were taken every time we had a meeting with the community and in every training with the children. Besides having a written document, we also made audio and video records of all training sections and incidents relating to the project such as conflicts in the community, between different volunteers group, meetings, etc. We took thousands of photographs of the project activities and have hundreds of artistic photos that can be used for promotion or creating project profiles. From these documents, any one who wants to “relive” the project experience can surely have the best visual, audio, and written supports. We plan to use these documents in developing another documentary film and reference books to share our experience of My Life My View project.
F. FOLLOW UP
– After the completion of the project, the children and I are still keeping a close contact through various other meetings, film screenings and projects where the children are invited as guest participants. These meetings are informal follow-up to know how the children and the community are getting on with life after the project.
– In 2008 we are planning to edit and produce a 2hr documentary film (Vietnamese with English subtitles) from more than 100 hrs footage recorded by ourselves during the project. The aim of this documentary film is to share the process and experience of working in the community using an Arts for Development approach. It is also my ambition to have this film as the first of its kind in sharing professional point of view as well as personal feelings about the work. Hopefully this documentary film will give an honest and close-up view to other practitioners or anyone who is interested in this approach.
– It is still just an idea but there could be a Bilingual book sharing the approach.
 literally: the middle bank of the Red River