A couple of weeks ago I caught up in a coffee shop with Jennifer Lyons-Reid (Creative Director) and Carl Kuddell (Executive Producer) to chat about their company Change Media and their approach to co-creative media making. With wide-ranging combined experience in activism and documentary, Change Media operates as a small team, working with a variety of communities nationally and internationally, unfolding from the premise that if you ‘teach a community to film… they can show the whole world how to fish…’
Jen and Carl noted that ‘co-creative media’ is a term that is becoming increasingly popular, and is starting to replace other terms like ‘collaboration’. They prefer it in some ways because it reflects an active acknowledgment of the facilitation process, rather than the prevailing tendency to make facilitation invisible and insignificant. For some time they have been documenting ‘behind the scenes’ processes as a means of reflecting the involvement of the communities they’re working with. However, all too often, they found that auspicing institutions (often third party funders) would assume that the particular community in question was ‘exceptional’ and that other presumably less exceptional communities would not be as adept, expert, capable of producing a ‘professional’ end product etc. As a means of re-dressing this Jen and Carl are now looking for new ways to represent with transparency the process behind any product thereby re-inserting themselves into the end product.
I asked Jen and Carl what examples of best and worst practice in co-creative production came to mind – they spoke at length about the increasing level of ‘story theft’ that they see in many so-called ‘do-gooder’ initiatives. They had heard many anecdotes about filmmakers flying; working briefly with the community to deliver an end product that adequately fulfills the funding criteria but is not what the community actual wants. Often, after the event, the community feels even more disenfranchised, actually ‘ripped off’. Jen and Carl have written an opinion piece for the Australia Council called ‘Get off my Back’ that explores some of these ideas further. You can read it here.
In terms of facilitation process, Jen and Carl aspire to active listening that often involves ‘naming the elephant in the room’, discussing the power lines laid down between funders, facilitators, community and individuals etc… they see themselves as triggers or ‘pilot fish’ for ‘innovative disruption’. In any development process they believe it is important to ask ‘where is the centre?’ just as much as ‘what are our objectives?’ and ‘what are the deliverables?’. They see this as a means of going further than just dealing with lack of technical agency; they attempt to address personal agency by walking into a room believing that every single participant is capable of great art… and working with people through a process of actively negotiating facilitation, creation, production, distribution etc. They believe communities should first decide why they want to share their stories and with whom. In this way they see themselves as ‘agent provocateurs’ who inspire leadership skills rather than ‘offering’ empowerment.
Meeting with Jen and Carl was an inspiration… you can meet them and hear them speak at the forthcoming ‘Co-Creative Communities Forum’ at ACMI in Melbourne. Read more about their projects and process at their comprehensive website http://www.changemedia.net.au/