Ratomate’s best cup of tea

In another post earlier today, I quoted a doctor turned film-maker in India saying people affected by HIV are dying more from the social stigma attached to the disease than by the disease itself.

Social stigma is a wide-spread problem that confronts people living with HIV in all parts of the world.

But occasionally, we hear some good news: how community has overcome its prejudices and accepted those infected with HIV with affection and care. Usually, it happens after going through the knee-jerk reactions.

It would be very worthwhile for some research to be done on how and when community attitude changes: what are the triggers? what is the tipping point?

Five years ago, we had first hand experience of this through a film that we at TVE Asia Pacific commissioned under our Truth Talking documentary series.

The film, titled Love for a Longer Life (26 mins, 2002) was directed by leading Nepali documentary film-maker Dhurba Basnet.

The best cup of tea in the Ratomate village, in central Nepal, is made by a woman called Laxmi Lama. She works in a tea shop owned by her father. “People tell me my father does not know how to make good tea,” she says. “They want me to make tea. The men like their tea strong. When I give my customers strong tea they say one cup is enough for the whole day.”

This is nothing unusual – except that Laxmi is living with HIV. A few years ago, no one in her village would have come near her, let along clamour for a cup of tea she makes.

Born into a very poor family, Laxmi was sold off to a Bombay brothel at the age of 14, and worked as a commercial sex worker for nearly three years before returning to Nepal. She married a man from her village and had settled down to a peaceful routine when a health worker tested her blood and found her positive for HIV. That changed everything dramatically: her husband fled, never to return, and everybody shunned her. The pregnant woman sought refuge in her parents’ house.

That was the fate of most Nepalis living with HIV – abandoned by friends, ostracised by community and left to their own devices. But thanks to the perseverance of a few courageous people – many HIV positive themselves – community attitudes have changed slowly, and have come almost full circle: being reassured that HIV does not spread through casual physical contact, they have accepted her back into their fold.

lakshmi-lama.JPG The moment of truth is when she makes Ratomate’s favourite cups of tea with her bare hands, and men and women flock to taste it. Such a major transformation of community attitudes captured in such a simple, elegant sequence.

Laxmi’s neighbour Kumari Shrestha sums it all up: “We have to give her love. If we do that, she will live longer.”

It would be wonderful if we can discern how and when this change happens. So that it can be induced in thousands of other villages and communites where persons living with HIV are currently battling the virus within, and stigma without.

View a clip from the film here.
Order the film from TVEAP e-shop

HIV: Stigma a bigger killer than the virus?

A doctor turned film-maker in India says people affected by HIV are dying more from the social stigma attached to the disease than by the disease itself.

Dr Jorge Guillermo Caravotta’s AIDS documentary Second Life was released recently. Goa-based journalist Fred Noronha’s story about this film has appeared on several websites.

An extract from the article:

India has 5.1 million HIV positive people, second only to South Africa. However, the stigma and discrimination associated with this disease are the real enemies, said Mumbai-based Caravotta, an Italian doctor of Argentine origin.

“My source of inspiration was Kamal, the first PLHA (person living with HIV/AIDS) to be my colleague,” he said.

Kamal discovered her HIV/AIDS status six months into marriage. After her husband’s death and daughter’s birth, she completed her medical studies to “live for positive people like her”, says Caravotta’s film.

“I never thought of making a documentary film about HIV/AIDS before. But after listening to her during a trip to Delhi, I found in her story a lot of courage to empower PLHAs,” Caravotta told IANS.

“India acted as an alarm clock for my film-making creativity, boosting my potential,” he added. “I would like the message of the documentary film spread all over this country with the same velocity as the virus.”

Read full article here: Doctor’s AIDS Documentary Focus on Stigma and Discrimination

You got films on YouTube?

Earlier this year, we at TVE Asia Pacific decided to place all our short video films on YouTube.

We are always willing to try out new ways of reaching out to the various – and increasingly fragmented – publics. Any new media format or platform that comes into the public domain is to be explored and exploited to peddle our content.

With this in mind, we launched the TVEAPFilms channel on YouTube in February 2007. We have so far placed three distinctive TV series on this channel:

Digits4Change, which explores how information and communications technologies (ICTs) are changing lives and livelihoods across Asia (6 x 5 min stories)

The Greenbelt Reports, where we revisited tsunami-affected countries in South and Southeast Asia, investigating how communities co-exist with coastal greenbelts of coral reefs, mangroves and sand dunes (12 x 5 min stories)

Living Labs, our latest series which was released this month, which profiles global action research efforts to grow more food with less water (8 x 5 min stories)

Since then, attending film festivals in Singapore and Washington DC, I realised that many documentary film-makers aren’t yet convinced about this new outlet.

‘You got your films on YouTube?’ one film-maker asked me somewhat incredulously. ‘How can you be sure someone will not download and manipulate it?’

Well, we can’t be sure. But that doesn’t prevent us from engaging this new platform. We’re willing to take these risks.

Another colleague asked: ‘But isn’t that a place for all those ameteurs?’ Perhaps. But in this digital age, the division between so-called amateurs and professionals is blurring.

Some film-makers have started placing trailers for their longer films on YouTube. Since we produce a fair number of short, self-contained films — all of which come under the YouTube’s upper limit of 10 mins — we are able to place our entire films online.

And unlike broadcast television and even passive webcasts, YouTube allows our online viewers to comment on films, and if they feel so moved, even to rank them.

At TVE Asia Pacific, we want our moving images to move people…so they join the conversation. In that sense, YouTube is a good platform to be on, and a good community to be part of.

Do visit TVEAPFilms channel on YouTube. Tell us what you think – whatever you think.

Thanking a supportive public…

At the end of his public talk at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington DC, Canadian naturalist and TV host David Suzuki autographed copies of his life’s story in print, simply titled: David Suzuki: The Autobiography.

Naturally, I lined up. He inscribed it as: “To Nalaka: For Mother Earth”.

Suzuki has been one of my heroes from the time I first listened to him in May 1991, at an environmental youth conference in his home town of Vancouver. That was a memorable meeting, thanks largely to the presence of David Suzuki and Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop and an equally passionate campaigner for social justice and environmental causes.

The Autobiography The dedication of his autobiography is moving as it is fitting a man of public science who has done much to critically communicate science, technology and environment issues through radio, television and print media:

With deepest gratitude,
I thank and dedicate this book to the general public,
who made my life’s work possible.

You watched and listened to my programs;
You read, thought about, and responded to
ideas I expressed in writing.

You support added weight and
visibility to my efforts and carried me past
numerous road blocks and detractors.

That support has been a great honour, privilege,
and responsibility, which I have tried in my fallible, human
way to live up to.

In his acknowledgements, Suzuki goes on to thank many and varied people in his life including his parents, wife, children, grandchildren — as well as ‘the dozens of CBC radio and television staff, freelance researchers, writers and media professionals whose efforts have made me look good, a job that Jim Murray (his first producer on The Nature of Things) reminded me was not easy’.

I’m reading the book that is full of fascinating insights. There can’t be too many scientists who stripped down to a fig leaf and allowed public photography — all in the name of science (see photo).
almost nothing to hide from his audiences....

If he harboured any doubts whether his life held anything of interest or value to others, he need not have worried. David Suzuki is one of Canada’s greatest living treasures.

And his audiences know it.

For more information on the autobiography, go to Amazon.com

For David Suzuki Foundation

The Nature of David Suzuki

One of my highlights in the recent week I spent in Washington DC, attending the DC Environmental Film Festival, was listening to a talk by the Canadian naturalist and television personality David Suzuki.

In a 90-minute presentation at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, Suzuki talked about his childhood, early influences, academic career and public life. He kept his packed audience – over 600 people – spell-bound, entertained and inspired. It reminded me of the first time I listened to this charismatic geneticist: in the summer of 1991, on my first visit to his home city of Vancouver.

If anything, he had got better with age but, I was happy to note, hasn’t mellowed. He still has the same passion that has made him not just a highly successful science communicator, but an ardent activist for the environmental cause and the rights of indigenous people, or First Nations.

David Suzuki

Introducing their well-known host, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) says:
“Dr. Suzuki is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. His television appearances, explaining the complexities of the natural sciences in a compelling, easily understood way, have consistently received high acclaim for over 30 years. He is the only network television science host who was actually a practising scientist.”

In his Smithsonian talk, Suzuki reminded us that his show – The Nature of Things with David Suzuki – is the only regular science programme that is broadcast on prime-time TV in North America on a mainstream public access channel. This might partly explain, he suggested, why Canadians are better informed about science and environmental issues that affect their daily lives. (In contrast, programmes like Nova go out on niche channels.)

The Museum of Broadcasting has this to say about the programme:
“One of the longest-running television shows in Canadian history, The Nature of Things has aired continuously since 6 November 1960. An hour-long general science program, the show began as a half-hour series–an attempt, as the first press release phrased it, ‘to put weekly science shows back on North American television schedules.’

Suzuki has been presenting the show without a break since 1979, and it is now branded by his name. When The Nature of Things with David Suzuki turned 30 years in l990, Suzuki wrote in The Toronto Star that in the gimmicky world of television-land, where only the new is exciting, “the longevity of a TV series is just like the persistence of a plant or animal species — it reflects the survival of the fittest.”

CBC’s official webpage for the show

Read a brief history of The Nature of Things

CBC profile of David Suzuki, and selected extracts and interview clips

Living Labs searching for solutions

Today, March 22, is World Water Day. TVE Asia Pacific’s latest TV series, Living Labs, was released in Colombo and Washington DC last week in time for this day of significance in the development calendar.

The series — filmed in nine countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America last year — looks at how researchers, farmers and local communities in different parts of the world are trying to grow more food with less water.

This year’s theme for World Water Day is ‘Coping with Water Scarcity’, which resonates fully with the content of Living Labs.

Between 70 and 90 per cent of all freshwater drawn in the developing world is used for growing crops. But this has to change fast: with water scarcity emerging as a global concern, agriculture cannot afford to remain so hooked on water.

Today’s crowded world needs to produce more food using both less water and land. This calls for smarter, thriftier methods of increasing water’s productivity in agriculture. And it must be achieved without damaging the environment, or threatening people’s food security, health and jobs.

Living Labs looks profiles a major global effort looking for solutions through action research: the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF).

Read TVEAP news item on Living Labs

See all 8 short films in Living Labs series on TVEAP’s channel at YouTube.

A girl named Nan Nan…

Nan Nan is a young girl living in Guo Zhuang Village, in China’s Anhui province. Her parents died of AIDS sometime ago, and she now lives with an older sister — and HIV.

After her parents’ death, the two girls were shunned by relatives and left to live without adult care. “Little Flower,” Nan Nan’s teenage sister, is about to get married. She vows not to tell the groom about her sibling’s disease.

Nan Nan is one China’s estimated 75,000 (and growing) AIDS orphans. She is one of several children whose depressing story is captured in a documentary film, The Blood of the Yingzhou District (China/USA, 40 mins, 2006).

I watched this film last afternoon at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC as part of the DC Environmental Film Festival. For me, it was one of the highlights of the festival. After all, this film won the Oscar award for Best Documentary, Short Subjects (while Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth won the Oscar for best documentary feature).

Notwithstanding the giggly woman moderator provided by the host institution, and even in the absence of any representative from the film’s producers – China AIDS Media Project — the audience managed to have fairly good discussion with a representative from Family Health International who was panelist to discuss the issue of AIDS orphans.

Accoring to FHI, some 15 million children worldwide have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS — and the numbers continue to grow as the pandemic consumes men and women of child-bearing age.

But the millions and billions don’t make much sense to most people. It’s hard to visualise more than a few thousand, let alone millions. This is something that UN agencies – all claiming to be serving the poor and disadvantaged – often forget: they dabble in the abstract, theoretical and statistical matters far removed from real people, real issues.

In that sense, films like The Blood of the Yingzhou District take us close to the unfolding human tragedies behind big numbers.

This is just what we tried to do in our own Children of Tsunami media project, in which producing a documentary film was one of many outputs across different media platforms and formats.

A question was asked how the film has been received in China. The giggly moderator informed us that it is allowed to be screened in China, which is encouraging. But the Chinese response to the film has been mixed, as can be expected. See this interesting exchange online.

What impressed me the most was the film’s subtle yet powerful use of soundtrack – a good mix of music, natural sounds and spoken voices. Some featured children did seem a bit like acting at times, but that didn’t detract the film’s value too much, at least for me.

Truly a moving image creation that moves people!

See trailer on YouTube.