Ugo Vallauri currently undertakes training in participatory video production with Infonet-Biovision’s information officers in Machakos (Kenya). In this interview he outlines the project which is part of the field research for his PhD.
How would you define the concept of participatory video production?
Participatory video revolves around communities progressively taking ownership and control of filming equipment and of the process of creating a film, thus creating much different movies about themselves compared to what a filmmaker external to the community would be able to come up with. In the context of the project I”m working on with Infonet-Biovision”s information officers at Kari Katumani (Machakos), it might be more appropriate to talk of “semi-participatory” video making. First of all, the participation happens at the level of the information officers, who work together in creating films about the farmers” groups they work with. At times, these are groups the information officers are part of, but in most cases they have long-lasting relationships. As a result, the movies attempt to portray the perspective of the groups filmed using Kikamba, the local language, even when they are produced by the information officers alone.
How do you teach the information officers in Machakos?
The project was inspired by the results of the evaluation of the Infonet-Biovision programme I conducted in autumn 2010. At the time, information officers – and particularly those from Katumani – had expressed an interest in using visual communication, and therefore video, in their work. As a result, the focus is on learning, more than on me teaching. I share what I know about video shooting with small camcorders and editing with free and open source software (OpenShot on Ubuntu Linux). Officers are enthusiastic about learning, and literally couldn”t wait to make films about agriculture and about their communities. Therefore, I came up with a online casino flexible learning-by-doing approach. Information officers bring back to their information hub the clips they recorded, then proceed to edit them on a timeline. Every time they work on a new project, they learn new features: adding an additional audio track, improving on storytelling, applying a transition between two clips, etc.
How can you benefit for your PhD research?
This project is at the heart of the field research for my PhD. It is structured as a participatory research, where I am involved in two ways. As a practitioner, I share my skills in media production. As a researcher, by observing the ways in which information officers use video and the reactions to video for the farmers” groups they work with, I can analyse the role of video in rural agricultural settings, as well as contextualize ICT divides within other rural divides, such as access to water, land or capital. The participatory element of the work is key in all phases: for example, my understanding of the realities of farming communities in rural Kenya is greatly enhanced by my close collaboration with the information officers at Katumani. Additionally, the screening of videos during interviews and focus group discussions facilitates more participatory discussions and exchanges afterwards, whether on the topics covered by the videos screened, or on the overall challenges and opportunities for the groups involved.