“Film is a lousy medium to communicate information. It works best at the emotional level.”
Bruce Moir, one of Australia’s seniormost film professionals made this remark soon after I had presented TVE Asia Pacific’s Children of Tsunami experience to OUR Media 6 conference in Sydney last afternoon.
After more than 35 years in documentary and feature film production for both cinematic and broadcast industries, in different parts of the English speaking world, Bruce knows a thing or two about moving people with moving images.
I was delighted and privileged to have Bruce join my presentation. He’d come at my invitation to the conference happening in his city.
“We’ve got to remember that film appeals to people’s hearts more than their minds,” Bruce explained. “The way to people’s heads is through their hearts, from the chest upwards — and not the other way round.”
I hope this was an ‘Aha!’ moment to at least some in our audience. I’ve personally heard Bruce say this before, but it bears repetition – because many film professionals tend to overlook this. Especially those who are trying to ‘communicate messages’.
Even a few weeks ago, I quoted him in a review as saying: “Our fundamental job is to tell a story – one that holds an audience’s interest and moves their heart, regardless of language, cultural context or subject….I have always believed that film achieves its optimal impact by aiming to ‘get at the audience’s head via their heart’ rather than the other way around.”
Without Bruce’s involvement, Children of Tsunami would have turned out to be very different. He was our Supervising Producer for the entire effort, advising and guiding our national film production teams tracking the progress of Tsunami survivor families in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand for one year afer the Asian Tsunami.
As Bruce recalled, the four teams came with different backgrounds, skill levels and film-making traditions of their own – ranging from television news and current affairs to development film-making, the type usually commissioned by UN agencies. Bringing them to be ‘on the same page’ was no easy task.
Film-makers are not particularly known for their patience or people-skills. Many I know have a ‘just-get-on-with-it-never-mind-the-niceties’ attitude. Bruce is one of the most patient persons I know: he would spend days and weeks relating to our production teams – usually by email or phone – gently nudging them in certain directions.
For sure, there’s no one right way to make a film. But there are some tried and tested principles in good story telling, which is what Bruce excels in. And which he willingly shares with others.
The year-long, 4-country and 8-location Children of Tsunami project was the biggest logistical operation TVE Asia Pacific has mounted in its 11 years of existence. (We’re in no great hurry to top that one!). Our production teams – operating from Bangkok, Colombo, Ubud (Indonesia) and Chennai – related to our regional production team based in two cities: Colombo, where TVEAP office is currently anchored, and Sydney, where Bruce lives.
We only came together face to face just once, in Bangkok, early on in the process. That meeting agreed on styles and formats, and also helped build the human relationships.
The rest of the time it was all through communications technologies. As you can imagine, lots of tapes moved around, as did many Gigabytes of video over the web. (DHL should have become a sponsor – they had lots of business from us!)
As I explained in my talk, Children of Tsunami was not just a film project. We published a monthly video report online on each of the eight families we were tracking, plus maintained a dedicated website with growing volumes of text, images and links. The monthly videos were edited and post-produced in the countries of filming, by our production teams themselves. It was distributed film-making, even if everyone worked to a common format.
With all that frenzy now behind us, the products of Children of Tsunami continue to be distributed, showcased and discussed at film festivals and conferences like OUR Media.
As I said yesterday to my predominantly academic audience: we’ve got a story telling and journalistic practice, and we now need a theory for it.
Children of Tsunami: Documenting Asia’s longest year