Liveblogging, Part 2 — Storytelling 2.0

Posted on May 12, 2010

ITVS Staff writer Eric Martin posted to 'Beyond the Box' live from the Newseum during the day's proceedings: CPB president and CEO Patricia Harrison set up the second panel, “Storytelling 2.0”, observing that “Mutual understanding and respect begins with someone else’s story.”  The challenge in this 21st century media world of audiences turned media makers, she said, lies not only telling those stories but in the fact that “you have to shut up long enough to listen to someone else’s story.”  Public media is tackling these issues across radio, new media, and television, including documentaries like Project Kashmir, the ITVS-funded documentary that premieres May 18 on the PBS series Independent Lens.

After clips from the film were screened for the audience, moderator Jamie Tarabay asked how can films like Project Kashmir and their filmmaker promote this understanding and respect?   “When you’ve reached people and they’re moved by it” said Orlando Bagwell, director of Ford Foundation’s Freedom of Expression Program, "and they want to do something—what do you do with this moment?”   New media tools combined with storytelling open up new possibilities to engage audiences and get them to act—whether it’s giving money for Haiti relief or volunteering in their communities. “You need time to get to know the person behind the story,” added Harrison, along with a “firewall of independence” where storytellers can speak their mind and be seen as credible and authentic.  Even then, how do you compete in the marketplace?  “We need to create material that feeds the beast,” said Project Kashmir director Geeta Patel, not simply tell stories to people who watch documentaries.  That means bringing more humor, plugging into popular formats like love stories and action movies to reach audiences who “might not read the newspaper but they watch the Terminator.”

That’s hard but it can be done, said Mir Ibrahim Rahman, CEO of Geo TV Network Pakistan, recounting the story of a film about two brothers and their experience with radical Islam that surprisingly went on to huge box office success.  The key is to find the sweet spot where you can surprise audiences, promote more understanding, and survive financially.  Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities, shared her experiences with Hollywood players who also search for that sweet spot, citing the grave challenge that face even movie stars “with a huge appetite for trying to figure out how to use their powers for good.”  Another strategy, she said, were efforts to make mass media Hollywood stories that are already being told more accurate, such as better representation of Muslims in the last few seasons of 24. The panel wrestled with the concept of authenticity, credibility and the brutal demands of the marketplace before adjourning for lunch.

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