EFC Conference 2014: Getting your voice heard: storytelling and social change


Maite Garcia-Lechner

Maite García Lechner

Maite García Lechner

Sara Llewellin from the Barrow Cadbury Trust, talks to Menno Weijs from the European Cultural Foundation (replacing Ruben Díaz López from Zemos 98, who due to the weather conditions got stuck in Vienna airport) and Annette Dorothea Weber from the Community Art Center in Mannheim. Unfortunately, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez from the Dreamers Movement who has an immigrant status in the US under the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival” initiative did not get the necessary clearance from the authorities there in time to travel to Sarajevo. So we start this session with the filmed interview of Carlos Saavedra from the Dreamers Movement, carried out by Paul Hamlyn Foundation in 2013, which is focusing on how the Dreamers Movement started. The movement is about gathering the stories of undocumented people all throughout the US so that they can hear each other’s stories, feel empowered, get connected to each other and be ’ready for the battle’. It is interesting to know that the Dreamers Movement bases their methodologies on the Gay Pride movement. To the Dreamers Movement, undocumented person also need to have their “coming out”.

Annette Dorothea Weber talked about how storytelling can help community building. As a theatre director, Annette specialized in the genre of ‘narrative theatre’. She is now artistic director of Community Arts Centre Mannheim (CAC), which has as an objective to break down prejudices within the community groups living in the area where the centre is located. Storytelling enables us to describe and tell our story – it’s an opportunity to share emotions, actions and thoughts. It’s also offering an opportunity to re-experience the story with a certain distance. Annette offers us some examples of storytelling in the CAC. Among others she highlights a documentary about displaced people; a story about a Kurdish Iraqi family ‘on the move’; and a play called “Heroes” which was created with young people on the subject of death in relation to the manifestation of faith in the different religions. Following discussions about angels, paradise, heaven (etc.), they wondered what it takes nowadays to be a hero. Annette finally focuses on a project called “Home” – a collaboration between Mannheim and Madrid. Central focus was on the sense of “rootlessness” that the many immigrants have living in the Madrid area of Lavapiés.

(Im)migration also plays a central role in the case presented by Menno Weijs from the European Cultural Foundation (ECF). He starts however by sharing his present feeling of awkwardness on the idea of having such a great group of philanthropic organizations currently gathering in Bosnia-Herzegovina while at the same time the country is over-flooding due to the heavy rainfall. He wonders what will be the stories of the people from the Western Balkans whose houses are over-flooded as this blog-post is being written? What do people who are usually not able to have their voices heard, actually have to say? This was also the starting point with which ECF’s Youth and Media Programme initiated the DocNext Network a few years ago. Together with Creative Initiatives ę from Poland, The British Film Institute from the UK, Mode Istanbul from Turkey and Zemos 98 from Spain a network of organizations was established with the ambition of showing the stories of all Europeans. And given the fact that migrants are one of the largest group of people living in Europe about whom much is said yet their own (individual) stories are often unheard, this became the focus point of DocNext. And so the project Re-Mapping Europe was created: audio-visually portraying Europe from the migrant perspective in a style of remix. During a series of remix-workshops a collection of films was created highlighting stories from all across (wider) Europe. Additionally, DocNext created the publication Remixing Europe – migrants, media, representation, imagery which is all about unveiling the imagery of migrants in Europe. Four media incidents taking place in Spain, the UK, Turkey and Poland about how mainstream media portrays migrants, serve as the starting point of the publication. These incidents are reflected on and (re)mixed with stories of collected through previous workshops organized by the various members of the DocNext Network. Additionally, an artistic performance has been created about the topic of crossing the border into the EU. This performance, called European Souvenirs, consists of a live cinema remix of archive material from all countries being part of the Doc Next Network. The next performance, called €uroVisions, will take place next week (May 20th) in the EYE Film museum in Amsterdam. After this Dutch performance, it will tour throughout Europe.

Following these presentations, the audience raised a few interesting questions such as the lexicon of migration vs. immigration; we should be mindful of the terminology because a migrant is someone passing through whereas an immigrant arrives somewhere with the ambition to stay. DocNext Network was very aware of these language matters so when they started, they created a shared lexicon (assisted by organizations from outside of the cultural sector) in order to avoid getting lost in translation. However, they realized soon that it’s a struggle to create the best possible definition as in different countries the meaning varies. The audience also wondered if it’s possible to measure the impact of both the CAC’s as well as the DocNext Network’s work. The CAC knows there are results, yet it’s challenging to prove it. One should be aware that in the Mannheim-area where the CAC operates, there are various communities living in parallel to each other and CAC observes how these different groups start dialoguing with each other. This already is a strong result of their work. For DocNext Network it’s hard to provide hard facts and figures because they are still in the middle of the process. However, like with CAC’s observation of an “unexpected” impact of cross-dialogue between different groups, the impact being part of the DocNext Network has had on the organizations involved in it, has had great positive effect. Staff of the various DocNext members learned to change their views and working trans-nationally with like-minded organizations has certainly been a valuable experience. Finally, someone asks how can we scale up the important work that CAC and DocNext are doing beyond the “in-crowd”. For ECF scaling-up is a crucial element to increase both the impact and sustainability. DocNext has had already some successes with bringing their work within mainstream media, such as the renown International Documentary Festival (IDFA). Furthermore it part of ECF’s strategy to connect policy and practice – bringing these very concrete cases of new European narratives also into the European policy discourse. It is not easy, but definitively worth the effort!

PS: shortly after taking part in this workshop I learned through the grapevine that this EFC’s Next Generation group, as well as some foundations, have taken the initiative to do something about the floods. They are gathering money, food and blankets and distributing these among others through Kriterion Sarajevo.

Maite Garcia-Lechner, Networked Programme at European Cultural Foundation.

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