So I traveled last week to the ancient Mediterranean town of Akko to participate in a partnership-building conference exploring Inclusion of Minorities in Europe and the Mediterranean region. On the social and professional end, the conference was a truly affirming experience. The group was small and we bonded quickly as we began to learn about the different minority groups with whom we all worked and (at times) slammed our heads against the wall dealing with the complicated baggage that goes along with loaded terms like "minority", "inclusion", "subaltern" and even "equality." Needless to say it was an eye-opening experience. Also one of the coordinators kept thinking my name was Richard, hence the title. I had the additional pleasure and opportunity of being tasked with documenting the process on camera and creating a film with which to show what we did, where we went and how we progressed as a group. This was certainly a task I was happy to carry out (and getting paid for it certainly helped). The twist appeared when I was told that there would be some higher-ups from the conferences funding organization who would be attending the closing ceremony at the end of the week and the organizers wanted to have something to show the big wigs at the end of the week. For me, this translated into the need to view and sort the daily footage each night and have the final product not only finished but ready to distribute on flash drive mere hours after the activities finished. Now, normally I might go through the various challenges of executing this task and talk endlessly about the late nights in my hotel room hunched over my computer. But not now.
Instead, I want to talk about how the lens affects the process of documenting an experience. The unique vantage point of filming the conference in Akko is that all the participants were able to see the final video (which would be used for promotional purposes) while all the memories of that event were still fresh in their minds. All the participants were also aware that I was creating a video and surely had different expectations of what content would be included and how it would be displayed. When they saw the final product, it was interesting to talk to people about what events they felt had been fundamental to the character of the experience and what they would have chosen to include in a three-minute video designed to encapsulate a week's worth of time.
Filming also meant (and I realize that this is in no way a revolutionary concept) that I had to observe and experience everything through two "lenses." I was there to explore advocacy and human rights with my peers but I was also tasked with telling that story. I was expected to experience and reflect upon everything we saw, but I also had to think about what story was being told here and what kind of shots would best tell that story to others. On one level, it allowed me a certain level of freedom because I was "the filmmaker" and it allowed me to do things and go places for the sake of getting a good shot and I wasn't restricted to sitting and listening. At the same time, if there was some meaningful element of the conference that I didn't film or that couldn't be captured on film, I couldn't fully enjoy whatever had happened knowing that the meta-narrative of the film would not be able to include this experience.
In the end, however, after many late nights and an all-nighter on the last evening of the conference, I was relatively happy with the product and any doubts I had about the quality of the work were easily drowned out by the compliments and affirmations of those who entrusted me with the task. So without further rambling, I invite you to enjoy "Teaming Up" and the EuroMed Youth IV Training and Partnership Conference in Akko, Israel.