Development Cooperation Handbook/The video resources linked to this handbook/The Documentary Story/The story of the story


The story of the story

It was the idea of Shachindra. "Make it first into a book!". "You know the story. You know how to write. First write it. Then I will able to collet all the footage and organize it as a story for the television. But now you write it. You will be free of the limitations of the videos. You will not be constricted to what we have shot. In writing you will be able to narrate it all. You will be able to express yourself. And once I will have understood what you really want to say, then I will be able to translate it in a documentary story. So first write it. Then I will edit it."

We were in Goa. It was summer. Not the time one usually goes to Goa. Being outside the tourist season, we got a very nice flat at a very good price. In fact the whole tourist resource was empty, except for us. We had all the swimming pool all for ourselves. A good setting for editing the documentary. Concentrated, silent, with a swimming pool to refresh when we have been too long on the computer. And still in Goa, where one can take the bike, have a nice drive, go to a nice restaurant ... and then be bak to work.

We were quite late with our project timelines (o wishful schedules!). More than a year had already passed since we had completed shooting on project locations. RAI had broadcast its version of the project six months before. The documentary had been aired on primary news time. Five TV7 and a Speciale TG1, all dedicated to our project and that was a good result in terms of reaching out to the Italian audience! But we were deeply disappointed with the human quality of the news reportage. RAI journalists had done a very conventional job. The subject matter was there: the work in progress for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. But the treatment was deprived of novelty and vision. Good collection of images, but, no life in the story. No blood. No courage. The broadcast reportages went unnoticed by any TV critic, any opinion maker. We had used the public money of programs against poverty with the scope of informing the public of the challenges of International Development Cooperation. But the product had not nourished the spirit of anyone, not challenged any injustice, and not even attempted to cured the indifference that affects so much of our TV public.

The good news was that once RAI had broadcast the videos, we were free to use all the footage in the way we wanted. In the contract it was agreed that RAI had the right to the first usage of the footage for a single broadcast. Then we were becoming the sole proprietors of the whole material and we could use it the way we wanted. RAI had aired their product and the job of the two journalists was over. And for us that was the time for a new start.

We decided to re-edit it all. And take full advantage of the Internet platform.

I had patiently collected and organized all the interviews to what we called “the pundits”, i.e. the experts. They had not been used by RAI. These interviews were revealing the inside story of international al cooperation, the real challenges of peace making, the difficulty of overcoming the barriers to dialogue.

I wanted to weave together the projects with the opinion of the experts. And I wanted to relate stories and testimonials to the online manual on development cooperation, so that we shared the knowledge resources on how to design, manage and evaluate projects.

I thought my work was done. I thought that I collected enough material and now I could pass the editing job over to Shachindra, a real guru in the business. He would have found a way of putting it all together and make a good documentary.

But Shachindra was unconvinced. He said that the editing style that I was proposing would have made the documentary more vital, more learned, more politically correct than what RAI had made; but it would have not made a big big difference. Basically it would have remained a collection of development cooperation stories, with additions of opinions and voiceovers. We would have probably made a product somehow better then the product of RAI. But we would have repeated the same lecture once again. What was the real novelty of our approach, he asked me?

"In a news scenario characterized by the greed for news of violence and mistrust, talking about peace and cooperation was indeed a challenge, and we took up that challenge in our project" I said. "We bypassed the news stereotypes. We have taken the journalists with us and made them talk of things no one knew about it before. And what we have not been able to say through the voices of the journalists, we can tell now in the edition we are going to make. We can make the story of the difficulties of talking of peace in the media. We documented the hindrances of the journalists, their fears, their submission to the standard expectations of the public. We can show that. We have it on camera. We have it all documented in our story."

"OK" - replied Shachindra. "Then that is the focus! That is the story. But I do not have a script based on such an approach. The script that you have given to me is all about the MDGs projects. I need a different script, where the challenge of narrating these projects to the public is the central pivot of narration. You have to prepare for me such a script. Otherwise how can I edit the way you want me to?"

O God! He was terribly right. At the beginning I did think that our own communication project was the pattern that could have allowed us to narrate all the projects. But then I the individual projects took the priority and I had made the script centered on them. I had collected separately the video footage about our won story and I had called it the “backstage”. I also had completed the manual where I had explained the challenges of development communication. But the focus of the script was different from what now I was telling Shachindra was the real communication challenge of our project.

He saw me a bit lost and overwhelmed with the task of writing again the script. After all I had been too much in the project, for now too long. "I suggest you one think" – said Shachindra. "Forget for a while the documentary script. Write the story of the project as it has to become a novel. Then, from that, we will prepare the new script."

And I who was thinking I had arrived at the final stage of my effort! And I was thinking that I had become free! Instead now another job adds to the lot: writing a novel also! God! I wanted to burst out on desperation and self pity! But also I know that Shachindra was right. I had searched for a short cut, and the project had taken me back to do what the was needed . And so, patiently, we had once again to follow the project adventure and trail along the path we had taken.

So I started writing the story of our documentary and the challenges of putting on media the work being done for peace building and international cooperation dialogue. And that is the story you are now reading right now. Which I hope it will become the script for a nice documentary.

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