ReFRAMED: Remote Documentaries and Collective Narrative Construction

Surakarta (Solo)

Within the ongoing rapid urbanization, cities are becoming more digital. The uptake of digital communication technologies has significantly increased these past years, especially as the role of social media is getting more significant. Social movements, as well as grassroots and marginalized communities, have started to use digital tools to communicate and amplify their voices. At the same time, as more videos and pictures are being shared, there is a need to involve actively in the conversation and use the tools to harness the power of narratives for strategic ends for those communities.

In 2021, in collaboration with DPU UCL and Cenca, Kota Kita worked on an action research initiative and asked an important question of how the power of narratives could be used for transformative change. The initiative wanted to explore ways of documenting community praxis through participatory visual narratives, foster creativity to tell stories, understand the ethical implications of visual tools, and at the same time also build capacity within organizations and community members.

Before going deeper into the practical sense of narrative building, participants and facilitators explored and learned about the ethical reflection of filmmaking and its impact from documentary experts and social movements media practitioners. The process was followed by facilitating a hands-on series of training sessions where participants could engage in a participatory storytelling process and make their own film.
In the training phase, the project used participatory video to facilitate collective narrative construction with the community members as a space for sharing thoughts and aspirations more meaningfully. The initiative hoped to build the community’s storytelling and video production skills through the training sessions. In the first sessions, participants identified and prioritized stories that best portrayed their experiences and aspirations and reflected the importance of those stories. The participants also had the opportunity to learn practical video-making skills, such as storyboarding, shooting, and editing. The community members finally produced their own film as the final output, where they directed, shot, and acted in the film. As a team of facilitators in the project, Kota Kita’s role was to co-develop the training guideline with the UCL research team, organize and facilitate the sessions, and work with the community to consolidate the findings and the final film.

At the end of the engagement, we screened the final film in the neighborhood’s public space where other residents, not only the participants, could also watch and reflect on the story and the film itself. Building their narrative and making their experiences and reality part of a bigger conversation can lead to a stronger sense of agency and ownership of the aspirations conveyed through the story, which is important for strengthening collective solidarity within and beyond the community.