Video: Surat Cinta Kepada Sang Prada (Love Letter a Soldier).
Implementing Organisation: EngageMedia
Love Letter to the Soldier is a 7-minute video that tells the story of Maria ‘Eti’ Goreti, who was still a school student in 2008 when she was courted by Samsul Bacharudin, an Indonesian soldier from Java who was stationed at her village in Bupul, near the border of West Papua and Papua New Guinea. Samsul left Bupul when Eti was five months pregnant and promised to return; but Eti never heard from him again, even after the birth of their daughter, Yani. This video was made by Wenda, a West Papuan activist who had made just one video prior to this.
The ‘Love Letter’ video was one of more than forty that was made as part of the Papuan Voices project, led by EngageMedia in partnership with Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. Papuan Voices is a video for change initiative that worked with Papuan activists for one year, starting in 2011, to support them to more effectively tell their stories to the world in order to raise awareness about the everyday realities for West Papuans who have endured decades of hostility and violence.
By the time ‘Love Letter’ was shot, narrated, edited and uploaded to EngageMedia.org late in 2011, EngageMedia had integrated open source collaborative subtitling into their website. ‘Love Letter’ is currently the most subtitled video on EngageMedia.org with nine languages currently available (English, Indonesian, French, Portuguese, Tagalog, Tetum, Thai, Malay, and Russian).
The film is also embedded within the Papuan Voices project website and it comes with a ‘Study Guide’ which summarizes the video and asks questions to the audience. The video has been screened all over the world, including in Indigenous communities in the US and Bolivia and at a number of film festivals. The video also won South to South Documentary Film Festival in Jakarta, which included prize-money of 7 million Rupiah (around US$720).
Indicators of impact
What we can see from this example is that impact can happen at a number of levels at the same time:
Change/impact at the personal level: The subject of the film, Eti, has reported to the filmmaker that the video helped her to be better understood in the community and that it enabled some community understanding and empathy. Eti was also given half the prize money that the film was awarded to support her family.
Change/impact at the community level: The other half of the prize money the film received was provided to start a cooperative Eti is part of; the cooperative used this money to help them start a small Indigenous medicine business. The impact of the attitudinal changes toward Eti as a single mother who was in a relationship with a TNI soldier is far more difficult to measure at the community level. These changes have not only come about because of the film; but also because of conversations and discussions that the film has encouraged. These have been reported on by the film-maker but are difficult to track and measure.
Change/impact on filmmaker (process): the film-maker learnt new skills, travelled to screenings and film festivals, won an award; these successes supported an increase in confidence and her profile as an activist and film-maker.
Change/impact on issues through other organisations activities (women’s rights and human rights): the video was used by some women’s organisations to talk about issues relating to women’s rights (In Indonesia and West Papua). Papuan organisations focused on human rights used the video in a range of contexts to talk about human rights and rights violations in West Papua and in one context it was presented to a UN Universal Periodic Review process to assess human rights in West Papua. Again, the impacts of these uses is difficult to quantify other than anecdotal reporting.
Change/impact in terms of awareness raising/outreach or amplification of voices at international level: Online viewership (which has reached a few thousand only) has not yet met EngageMedia’s aspirations; far more successful were regional screenings of the project videos (so far there have been around 30 screenings, including an Australian tour in May 2013). The video was also useful to local and regional organisations that have used it as a tool for discussion and education. However, there are currently no attempts being made to measure or quantify audience reactions and responses. The fact that the film has been subtitled through the EngageMedia platform into nine languages is also significant since it increases the capacity of the film to be used in different countries and contexts.
How was impact measured?
There was no specific methodology or model to measure impact. The project had a wiki and all achievements were documented on this wiki for later use. Translations and online views were monitored and discussed internally. This information was then used in reporting success to donors when it came to writing donor reports for the project. However, there was no process in place for reflecting on these impacts or for analysing them.
What can be learnt?
What’s useful about this case study is that we can see real diversity in terms of the range of impacts (at individual, community, process and outreach levels); but also we can see the challenge in making these impacts count and rendering them visible. For example, the fact that some women’s organizations were able to use the film to talk about the way soldiers are treating women and to talk about the hardships experienced by women is very important. But should EngageMedia spend lots of time calling and asking organizations if they’ve used the film in order to capture this impact? Would this be worthwhile given the organization’s limited resources? The same perhaps can be said for measuring impact on the subject of the film. The fact that Eti’s life improved in some tangible ways matters too. Should EngageMedia therefore set a time when they go back and visit the subject of videos to discuss impact with them? Certainly it should be important in a human rights context to know that harm was not done to those who appeared in the film to tell their story.
Right now the video’s impacts have been documented fairly informally and having had project partners who are closely involved in and connected to human rights in West Papua has made this more achievable; is this close and ongoing connection between EngageMedia and the video-maker and those working on the video’s subject matter worth measuring as markers of impact? This is after all about the importance of relationships, of a network, of certain ways of designing a project to ensure those who are at its heart of an issue are involved.
EngageMedia’s Executive Director, Andrew Lowenthal, is clear that ‘Love letter to a soldier’ did have impact and says it would be useful to have some kind of framework that could help EngageMedia to reflect on why and how so they might use this knowledge to enhance future projects. Measuring precisely why, where and how impact happened though is also not easy: “Our whole methodology is about can video can catalyze people to do something that they would not have done if they hadn’t watched or made the video…. In this case we know that in some ways what made it work so well was the ‘compelling-ness’ of the story and the way it was told and the relevance of the story to other people.” Whether the cause of this impact extends to process and the way the project was designed and implemented is less clear: “I think we’d need to ask the people who ran the workshops and implemented the project. We provided the resources to make the film, we did the distribution, we packaged it. It would be good to know what really mattered about design in terms of impact so we can use this for future projects”
Note: This case study was based on information provided in an interview with Andrew Lowenthal (12th April 2013) by Tanya Notley and on prior research carried out by Tanya Notley and Alexandra Crosby for a forthcoming paper: Notley, T., and Crosby, A. ‘Using video and online subtitling to communicate across languages from West Papua.’ In The Journal of Special edition of The Anthropology Journal of Australia (TAJA). Tanya Notley and Jonathan Marshall (Eds). [Due for publication Jan 2014].