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Workshop day 1 – Introductions and Theory

The first class was an introduction of ourselves and the the main aims, objectives and intended outcomes of the project. This generated an interesting discussion centring on education, media representation and empowerment via knowledge transfer and developed into a productive first encounter.  The participants were excited, if a little worried about what we were proposing; that we would train them in filmmaking and editing and that by the end of the week they would have films ready to be screened online. Their main concerns were that they had never created short documentary-based films, or used the equipment we had brought with us. We also found that there were cultural considerations to take into account when interacting with the class. Within the Guatemalan Mayan community it is very rude to not let someone finish their story, even if these stories turn out to be irrelevant to the class. This especially applies to the elders, so whereas in an English classroom you may steer conversation more closely, we found that teaching can take slightly longer here.

Most of the participants were members of the local radio station, but some of the people had travelled from other locations in Guatemala where they ran similar radio stations, and most of them had a good base knowledge of communication.  The age range was from 13 years to 60 and the class was a good mixture of male and female.  The first issue we encountered was that we had 5 more participants wanting to attend the workshop. This was not a major issue, as we had purchased enough kit to be able to have 4 groups of 6 people. The next challenge was not having internet that worked at a fast speed and only 2 computers that could be used for editing the footage after the filming. Something we take for granted in the West, like the internet and computers, was a luxury for many of the participants and well outside of their means. 

The first session was a great success; we had the facility of an overhead projector and could visually portray the theoretical aspects of filming i.e. camera movements, zooms, pans etc and had examples to demonstrate why these techniques were used.  Central to how the workshops are structured are the step by step instruction guides that each member was provided with; these guides corresponded directly to the projected information and have sections within the guides for personal notation.  The presentation of techniques like a 'pan' (whereby the camera moves from left to right or vice versa) generated questions from the participants on a pans usage "what would an audience would gain from seeing this technique".  Also, some of the recommendation and tips we would use in the UK were different in Guatemala. For example, in the UK, if it was raining outside we would advise going into the interviewee’s house to do the interview. However, in Guatemala a lot of people live in houses with corrugated roofs so in fact it’s noisier in doors than out. It’s little elements like this that at first might not seem obvious that we have found must be taken into consideration when working in other climes.

Cultural perceptions of how we read media is also fascinating and we always find that media interpretation from differing cultures has to be acknowledged within preparation of these workshops, as one's own understanding of how to tell stories can be the polar opposite of a person from a differing cultural, social, political and in many location around the world, religious backgrounds. The main differences when running workshops on media use in countries like Guatemala is that the participants are usually from an impoverished background and culturally marginalised -  leading to the people being  quite politicised.     So a basic 'pan' from left to right to show the scale of a mountain, takes on a whole new dynamic, whereby , in this context, the mountain was perceived as a symbolic form of struggle and the 'pan' indicated the need to go up, over and down the mountain from left to right to reach ones target.  

Running these workshops provides the most stimulating environment for an educationalists as all preconceived ideas of how we train media are flipped on their head. These challenges range from the 3 way manner of communication via a translator to the need to be circumspect when communicating specific technical details of how the camera works, and more importantly the theory behind media and its interpretation by an audience.  This issue is minimised by having set-guides for all aspects of the class, these guides are translated into the respective language (in this case Spanish) so that a universal code is adhered to by teacher and translator thus giving the participants a concise platform to work from. The guides are a great way to empower the students in the class domain and then to be utilised afterwards when they are filming as a clear reference source.  They demonstrate step by step each technical aspect of the cameras, tripods and all their technical functions i.e. how to set up and use them, but also incorporate the more creative and theoretical reasons for using certain methods of filming.

Although it can be difficult working with a translator (both for teachers and participants) we find that there have also been benefits. Although we were very careful to have culture and country-specific examples, we found that by having a translator who lived in the country and had worked with the participants before, could give specific examples to aid their learning that they could truly identify with.

After a few days the participants were fully introduced to the differing methods of setting up defined shots i.e. wide, close etc, camera movements, framing and sound recording, the actual cameras and what all the facilities do, and how to use them, i.e. memory cards, recording settings etc and then the more esoteric language of film making. The sessions were long and the 3 way translation system worked, yet it was always a little frustrating for all, as it always stops that flow of spontaneous Q&A.

The day was long and the participants were being introduced to a new world of communication using cameras  to tell stories, the abiding feeling after each day's work, was the exceptional level that was being achieved by these rookies.  This competence was measured by the tasks which were set and the successful completion of each task towards independent practise.  The participants’ enthusiasm was contagious, our 1 hour lunch breaks became extensions of the class, with a myriad of questions not asked in class surfacing in their minds, and we had debates over amazing traditional Guatemalan food.  This sharing beyond the educational domain is a vital component of the classes when working in foreign cultures and provides space for a humanistic interaction centred around the universal occupation of eating and story-telling.  The participants and tutors have space to ask about each other’s family, ideologies and cultural differences; thus developing a mutual awareness and understanding. This helps people feel comfortable with each other and develops the ability for people to start to confer on topics that are normally perceived as inappropriate for a class domain, i.e. participants discussing personal problems due to financial restraints, political and ethnic prejudice etc. In many cases the aforementioned problems were the reasons that these people were attending the workshops, to find ways of expressing personal and social issues that affected their communities and themselves.  

This is an exciting and challenging form of education, whereby the actual teaching is empowering people to feel they can utilise the mediums and knowledge to benefit individually and culturally.  It is such a different dynamic from university teaching in England where primarily you empower individuals to develop a career, gain plaudits, recognition and awards and predominately the learner is undertaking media training as a source to gain the aforementioned. This of course is a complex issue and defined by many external factors i.e. social, economic, political etc. Yet the sense of achievement and satisfaction at being part of an educational experience that is developing people towards changing (or trying to) their lives and those of others via documentation that examines personal/social/political problems that are negatively affected them, endues differing levels of satisfaction for the tutors.  The teaching and empowering of this demographic of learners, alongside seeing the positive outcomes from the teaching, generates a deeper satisfaction than the corporate, more commercial outcomes of media teaching in the UK (though of course there are always a minority of learners in the UK too who have interest in the more social elements of filmmaking).


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