I caught up via Skype with Martin Potter who is currently in Cambodia working on an online community doco project with the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center. The ‘White Building’ is a rundown space with significant culture and history and the site of massive urban renewal. Following a filmmaker-meets-community collaborative format he has been exploring in projects over the last 5-10 years, Martin is working closely with local artists and residents to map the divergent stories of the community.
Martin has a diverse background working across documentary, television and online spaces and is inspired by the work of oral historian Studs Terkel and others who are using art and culture in really unique and inspiring ways… He’s also worked within institutions like the MRC (Media Resource Centre, Adelaide) and has recently won awards for his involvement in ‘Big Stories, Small Towns’ including the interactive community award at SXSW 2012. Martin likes to develop sustainable media-making by framing projects around the needs expressed by community, balanced with the objectives outlined by other stakeholders, for example funding agencies. He acknowledges that it’s hard to assure sustainability but in cases where projects are owned and embraced by the community and the overarching narrative of the initiative is compelling, they tend to bubble along way beyond the impetus provided by the original facilitators. He also acknowledges the pragmatic significance of ‘mapping institutional mindsets’ and a professional final product or glossy quantitative report on outcomes!
I asked Martin for his definition of ‘co-creative practice’ and after lots of discussion we ended up with a broad summary – ‘bringing new voices to screen-based narratives’. Martin pointed out that the field of products resulting from co-creative practice is also diverse, ranging across time frames from two minutes to hours; utilising moving images or purely text; in linear and non-linear formats; made in workshops by individuals and/or by groups over extended time-frames. Martin considered audiences for these participatory media projects are equally diverse – stories can be ‘narrowcast’ for family or a specific friend or alternately everyone in the world. He sees that new tools, technologies and models are excellent at facilitating personal connections through media. Martin draws on Paulo Freire, Ivan Ilich and Donella Meadows to highlight the underpinning intentions of dialogic engagement and convivial tools used to communicate within a complex system (like ‘the internet’). He’s particularly interested in systems and ecosytems in which participatory initiatives thrive. He ascribes to a theory that the goals (or incentives), the rules (or traits), and the feedback (punishments and rewards) that support or sustain the system arise from a particular mindset or paradigm. For those of you reading between the lines it might also be apparent that Martin is in the process of producing a PhD out of his reflections on participatory media!
We moved from this somewhat academic discussion to a refreshing evaluation of who owns the system in co-creative media production. Martin believes that someone has to ‘own’ the frame or context (although it can be co-owned) and acknowledge their authorial influence – a transparent acceptance that everything that is positioned within this frame is shaped accordingly. Beyond these acknowledgements, Martin also points out that any ecosystem has to be evolving and stay relevant in order to maintain audience engagement. He’s excited by the fact that online distribution of user-generated content means that mainstream broadcast is no longer the only means for circulating stories in the world…