Video Volunteers had a great moment a couple weeks ago – we got our first celebrity ambassador for the organization, a very popular Indian film actor named Abhay Deol, who has acted in some of the best “art” films of the last few years. We organized a screening in one of the bastis (slums) in Mumbai where two of our Community Video Units in our Knight-funded project have been working for the last few years. Slum residents from all over the area turned up, as well as all the major Bombay TV stations and of course our community producers. They were so proud to have a star they all admired there singing their praises! We showed a selection of films from the different Community Video Units, and then Stalin, my partner, spoke a bit about VV and community media. At the end, the producers and Abhay felicitated the CVU volunteers from the area and gave them a VV flier with an autographed photo of Abhay. This was given to the volunteers who’ve provided electricity, organized special screenings, and helped the community producers in their stories.
Having a celebrity ambassador will be helpful for a lot of reasons. One, he is going to help us in our outreach to TV news networks whom we are approaching to air content produced by communities. His name will mean a lot there. Also, he can help us popularize community media amongst his fans and his peers in the Bollywood film industry. This is important because we don’t want community media to always be seen as alternative and unusual. The poor represent the majority of humanity and so their media representatives needn’t always be seen as “special” and alternative. He and his friend Imtiyaz Ali, a director of some of the best Indian films of the last few years, stood on the stage and told the Producers at the screening that their videos were better than some of what was coming out in Bollywood.
As young people get more into making their own media – mash ups, facebook, cell phone videos, etc.) and seeking it out proactively from hundreds of sources- a massively beneficial side effect is that they learn to critique the media. Though we may not have seen it yet, I think in the next few years we’ll see people turning more towards documentaries instead of TV. As these kids teach themselves to make media and express themselves on what they are passionate about, won’t they naturally be drawn to the media form – documentary – that is most driven by someone’s personal passion and concern for an issue? So in that sense, when a big star wants to tell his own audience to see the connections between the alternative and the mainstream media, I think he is tapping into something bigger.
I had met Abhay Deol earlier at TED India, where I was one of the TED Fellows. He was one of the speakers, talking about storytelling and how he works to get his passion projects taken up. So many of the issues he cared about – issues with Muslims, Tribals and other disadvantaged groups -were issues we work on so it felt like a real affinity. His latest film is essentially an Indian “Cinema Paradiso.” He plays a guy who travels around India with a projector showing films in villages… very similar to what we do! We talked about VV’s work and he was excited, and so agreed to come on as an ambassador for us. We have a few more ideas for press events with him, like having him do trainings with the community producers and inviting some key magazines for that, and this weekend he’s the guest editor for one of the major Indian papers and will be interviewing us. I’ve always thought that people from Hollywood would be natural endorsers or supporters of new media projects but never knew how to reach out to them. So we’re excited this has happened.
Here’s what he’s said, which has been quoted directly in some of the articles:
“They need financial support and have over 100 trained producers. They are also willing to provide new content to TV channels thus making reporters out of local people who make short films on community issues like infra- structure, domestic violence, child marriage, clean water. Anybody who is interested in filming can join. They teach editing and computers too.“ Abhay feels, “This is the potential of the digital revolution, the poor in India can finally make their voices heard to the mainstream media and to government,” says Deol. “And in a place like India, with high levels of illiteracy, video and film are a perfect medium. Giving people the tools to make their own media is a great way to enable more people to participate in our democracy.”