Strangers at Home reaches an international audience

Strangers at Home reaches an international audience

Shayna Plaut, a Research Manager at the Global Reporting Centre, recently screened our crowd-sourced documentary on the rise of right in Europe, Strangers at Home, in Budapest, Geneva, and New York. The current version of the project is the pilot phase, with user-generated shorts (between 60-90 seconds) on different perspectives on the issue. The GRC is now developing the project into a portmanteau documentary film, in collaboration with artists, filmmakers and storytellers throughout the continent.

Shayna shared some of her thoughts on the public’s reaction to the project.

Can you tell us a bit about the presentations you attended?

I was originally invited to participate in an expert’s roundtable, Countering Xenophobia and Encouraging Tolerance, hosted by the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. The one-day meeting brought together 35 journalists, documentary filmmakers, policy makers, as well as academics from throughout the world that are looking at the role that media can play in addressing and countering xenophobia. I screened three of the films there: Exceptionally GreekFascist Logic, and Hate Poetry, and gave some of the context.

I was also invited to screened the films at NYU, for a class that is looking at the notions of social change and leadership. In that class I screened Teaching Racism, Exceptionally Greek, Fascist Logic and Hate Poetry and then engaged in a 45 minute conversation with them about both the content of the films and the use of media and storytelling to make change. Lastly, when I was in Budapest I met with the Human Rights Education program officer for the Council of Europe. She had been made aware of the project, had watched all the films, and asked if The Council of Europe could use the films for their forthcoming Youth Summit and for their campaigns against xenophobia.

How did people react?

Incredibly supportive. They were both impressed with the content, as well as the method and the format used. They were particularly taken with the diversity of voices, and the diversity of perspectives. The different audiences also appreciated that the films were so short – they thought that format would work really well for workshops and also increased the chances that they would be picked up by the mainstream media. In addition, everyone mentioned the benefit that the content is freely available online, that it is so accessible world-wide.

What questions did people have?

Mostly people wanted to know about the next steps. I explained that we wanted to make a feature-length film out of the different stories – a film that could go on the “festival circuit” but that we were also committed to maintaining and growing the web presence. The story is not over – it continues to grow and change – and we want to make sure that our material grows and changes as well. People liked that. Some people had questions in terms of how did we get the storytellers.

How did you get the storytellers?

We got the storytellers in two ways. Certain people were asked participate – but we also held an open call right after the Charlie Hebdo attacks- we reached out far and wide and asked people to pitch their story ideas: “If you had fifteen minutes, what story would you tell about what’s happening in your country?”

For all but two of the films, the storytellers did all of the filming and editing themselves. That’s why they each have very different feels.

What did you hope people would take away from your presentations?

In the US and in Canada, I just want people to know what’s happening in Europe. But I also really want people to understand that you can’t just paint it as this broad stroke of “Europe.”

The way I usually explain it is that we have nine storytellers, from nine different countries, in nine different formats, talking about the rise of the right in their country, how it’s manifesting and why. The richness is in the disjuncture.

There are different contexts, different problems, and there are different possibilities. In order to really understand that, you have to learn to listen.

And that, I think, is what this project really offers. It offers an ability to solicit different stories, and empowering people to become storytellers. You could have all of the stories in the world, but you can’t be a storyteller if no one’s listening.

And too often what happens is that international journalism is actually a very colonial practice. You have people from the “Global North,” going to a place “over there,” extracting the story, packaging it and reselling it back to your audience in the “Global North” – in your own perspective and for your own benefit, too.

What I hope that people walk away with is that there’s another way to be able to do journalism. But, at the same time, this isn’t the same as citizen journalism. We still want it very much to be of the quality of professional journalism. That’s where you have the partnership with the Global Reporting Centre, in that you have high quality, very experienced journalists who can offer the technical expertise, the equipment if needed, the editing if needed, just the experience, in order for people to be able to tell their story. And that’s a different way of doing journalism. It’s not traditional journalism, it’s not citizen journalism. It’s partnership journalism.