Self-Evaluation & Future Planning by IIO Project Leader (PART I)

December 6th, 2008 by shaghayegh azimi

Over the past 9 months, since I received the RV micro-grant, many things have changed for IRAN INSIDE OUT. Mistakes have been made, lessons have been learned, and project evolved and changed. My time commitment to it also changed. At the start, I had high hopes and my goal was to establish a non-profit with a full team, which would raise money in the form of grants and I hoped that I could turn IRAN INSIDE OUT into a full-time venture. My hopes for this idea have not completely diminished, but I’ve realize that this might take a very long time, for reasons, which shall be highlighted below…

I hope that the following self-evaluation will be useful to other grantees and/or people who are in the process of starting a similar project whether it be in Iran or a country like Iran. Furthermore, I am using this as an exercise to reflect on myself and to organize my thoughts on what needs to be done in the future.

The original vision according to the proposal submitted to RV:

“Working with the film clubs in Iran, we seek to train young aspiring filmmakers from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities in Iran to create videoblogs that show a different side of Iran, unknown to most of the world. Our wish is to build a community of videobloggers in constant interaction with the global online world. We believe that this will give them an unprecedented chance to be apart of the new media space where they can share their stories and creative vision and receive feedback through interaction.

The two most important goals we hope to accomplish are 1) to introduce and inspire Iranian youth of underrepresented communities to engage in interaction with the global online community and especially the videoblogging community and 2) to educate and inspire tolerance of Iran through human stories.”

What was problematic with the above vision and what was the solution?

FILM CLUBS: Prior to submitting the RV proposal, I had spoken to the Documentary and Experimental Film Society casually and had also inquired with the Young Cinema Society, two organizations in Iran with large databases of young filmmakers that provide education and resources to make filmmaking possible for them. Their initial response was cooperative and positive. But when it came down to business many issues were raised, which led me to halt cooperation with them for the time being.

The main issue when working with the clubs is that it means giving up control of the content that comes in and hence freedom. Although they support controversial films from time to time, they are government based and hence self-censor any work that is associated with them. In working with them, I would have to ensure that the content on IIO meet their standards, so that their reputation is not jeopardized.

Of course, I do not plan to overstep the red lines for the sake of myself and the filmmakers I am working with—and I have been very careful and clear in the direction I give filmmakers regarding what kinds of stories are allowed and what is not. But I cant accept the added responsibility of having to meet others standards at least not for the time being. My relationship with them is still in tact and I am sure the right time for collaboration will arise.

Another problem is the issue of licenses. DEFC for example owns many of the rights of the short films that are made (because they help fund them) and they have expressed that it is a challenge for them to allow their films on IIO for free, while they are selling it to other distributors.

TRAINING: My original hope was to hold workshops in conjunction with the film clubs, but because of the concerns mentioned above this could no longer be possible. Instead we have had to do with two informal gatherings. Once more filmmakers get involved, I hope to hold another workshop. Another lesson learned is that filmmakers prefer more publicized workshops with opportunities to work with an international community. It is my hope to eventually get sponsorships or invite a few people from abroad for a workshop.

“DISADVANTAGED AND UNDERREPRESENTED COMMUNITIES”: In trying to meet the requirements of the RV micro-grants, I originally thought I would reach out to filmmakers outside of Tehran. But I soon realized that most young filmmakers in Iran are “underrepresented” and lack resources and a chance to be seen. Therefore there was no need to go so far…

“VIDEOBLOGGING”: A DANGEROUS TERM: This concept is problematic in Iran for the following reasons:

  • Although Iran possesses the third largest blogging community, it is not really approved of my the government and some political bloggers have been arrested and punished.
  • Many filmmakers don’t want to call their videos “blogs” even if they are personal and experimental in nature. And the problem with the few that do accept videoblogs as a creative form of video is that they care too much about the artistic quality and the form of the film to make a real videoblog.

For this reason, I have tried to transform IIO into a film initiative rather than a citizen journalism or “videoblogging” one. But in the following year, I am thinking of gradually bringing this back into the equation (see PART II)

CHALLENGES IN ATTRACTING FILMMAKERS:

  • The lack of partnerships with film clubs has been a double-edged sword when it comes to attracting filmmakers. On the one hand, there are those filmmakers that rather go the independent route and are more cutting-edge and interested in grass roots projects. On the other hand, instead of having a large database and programmatic project, I have to rely on word of mouth to spread the word about IIO.
  • Few filmmakers are willing to work without financial incentive, hence providing resources and/or other services is important.
  • Showing a “different Iran” is rarely enough incentive for filmmakers to make videos.
  • Because online video and film distribution is so new and foreign to the filmmakers, it is difficult to explain its importance and convince filmmakers of the benefits. This is something I am getting better at as I move forward.

SO THE MISSION WAS MODIFIED…

“About” section as seen on website:

“Iran Inside Out is the first initiative dedicated to promoting the development and distribution of online film and video in Iran. Our mission is to encourage and support independent filmmakers in Iran to share short films and videos about Iran with the rest of the world. Iran Inside Out videos focus on showing an inside view, beyond the mainstream news, about Iranian life, history, culture, and society as seen by the filmmakers making them.”

What we are to the filmmakers (farsi version given to filmmakers)

“Iran Inside Out wants to open doors for Iranian filmmakers to expose their films through new platforms of distribution on the worldwide web. Our goal is to 1) help create distribution opportunities for filmmakers on the Internet by providing knowledge about online video technology, tools and opportunities 2) promote filmmakers among partner organizations, companies and festivals and 3) we hope to represent the real Iran, without controversy and bias through new, untold stories.

We work closely with filmmakers to help them make videos and provide them with a comprehensive learning manual about how the online world works, the technology behind it and how to use it to promote their films and communicate with audiences, festivals and relevant organizations around the world. All film and videos presented to Iran Inside Out will be uploaded on multiple platforms across the web as well as on the web site. The website is open to all filmmakers no matter what level of experience.

Iran Inside Out videos focus on showing an inside view, beyond the mainstream news, about Iranian life, history, culture, and society as seen by the filmmakers making them. Videos can be of various genres such as short film, documentaries, video-blogs, experimental videos, re-cuts of longer projects, and even rough versions of future projects. They can be anywhere between 2 to 15 minutes long. Longer films will be accepted on occasion.”

Self-Evaluation and Future Planning (PART II)

December 6th, 2008 by shaghayegh azimi

Over the past 9 months since getting the RV micro-grant, I’ve been able to experiment with many aspects of the project. One of the most important realizations that I have made is that the success of the project depends on how well I am able to provide incentive for the filmmakers and how important they find IRAN INSIDE OUT to their goals and future. I believe the need is significant, only that it is a new phenomenon that will take some time to catch on.

The Need:

  • Young Iranians, filmmakers included desire connection to the world
  • Filmmakers want recognition and the chance for their films to be seen by many
  • Distribution opportunities for short filmmakers in Iran is almost non-existent, but the Internet can change that
  • Bettering Iran’s image is important to most filmmakers (however it is a problem sometimes for those who do not care about this)

With this in mind, it is important to create and advertise the needs effectively such that bloggers and filmmakers understand the opportunities that lie behind online video and see the advantages it has for them personally—and also that they realize the contribution they can make to their country.

Accomplishments to date

  • Functioning website created
  • Informal workshop conducted with 10 filmmakers
  • Developed relationships with filmmakers and am working with three of them who understand the potential of IIO and wish to be apart of it into the future
  • Two videos made for IIO. One on its way soon.
  • Obtaining a collection of re-cuts of other short films and original cuts of short films
  • Hired a coordinator and trained him to assist with uploading and collection of films
  • IIO educational filmmaker handbook drafted and waiting to be translated
  • Attracted attention of online film festival “Culture UnPlugged” who wants to show the two videos in their festival (a great reward for the IIO filmmakers)
  • Other relationships formed and being nurtured for the future

Main Weaknesses and Obstacles

  • Not enough money and inability to rely on on American grants because of political and legal issues
  • Me being remote and also having many other projects on my plate
  • Lack of a solid team (Most significant problem)
  • People coming in and then leaving the project (I have had people for example make promises to be coordinator or to make films and they later canceled their commitment)
  • Political situation in Iran makes everything feel like walking on glass. Filmmakers are always concerned with the intentions of my project and that it is on the Internet. And I myself have to be careful what kind of films are made and how IIO is perceived at all times. This is while the “red lines” are always changing and are very vague. Thereofore one never knows what is really “right” or “wrong”.

Goal for next 6 months

  • Finalize handbook in Farsi and make available as a free resource on website and other websites relevant to film
  • Growing knowledge and awareness of IIO among filmmakers as well as in the Internet world
  • Promoting works and getting recognition for filmmakers in order to create further incentive and motivation
  • Providing a framework (like a newsletter or blog) for filmmakers to get news on online festivals and opportunities such as competitions, etc.
  • Getting more films in
  • Supporting more filmmakers through giving them equipment for filming and developing ideas for videos with them

After 6 months

  • A re-evaluation of the project, based on website activity and amount of films submitted
  • If I see that films are not being submitted, I will have to move beyond the grassroots level and join forces with a local partner which means that money will have to be raised and spent

WORKING WITH UNIVERSITIES: One idea is to begin working through universities and, such as alongside programs in international communication, journalism, and film schools. There are many benefits to this sucha as the fact that we wont have to deal with the issue of lisences which is the case with DEFC and Young Cinema Society. It might also be a good time for this since certain programs are starting to teach about new media.

Please don’t forget to visit the site, tell your friends about it, and leave comments for the filmmakers! http://iraninsideout.com

Steps Ahead

May 20th, 2008 by shaghayegh azimi

Since I have been a silent blogger and will admit feel a bit behind of other RV grantees who have impressed me with their dedication and great work–I am now taking some time to catch up and report a little on what is going on with the Iran Inside Out project.

One update is that two videos have been made, subtitled and ready to be uploaded and embedded on to the site which I hope will be launched very soon. One of the obstacles in getting the videos up has been that the filmmakers have encountered many problems when trying to compress their files and then upload or email them. The main issue is that they all use different editing software and that a standard mechanism needs to be created and made accessible for the participants to make it smooth and straight-forward. This will encourage more videos to be made and more time spent on the creative side.

I have not been in the country for 6 months now and have been running much of the project remotely. But the good news is that I will be in Iran in one month and am spending a good portion of the summer on solving this problem and making other advances in the project.

What would be useful before then is for me to have a framework prepared and information gathered on various technical issues concerning compression on various editing software, quality control of videos, and upload/email issues using medium to low internet speeds. This is something I am working and if there are any links or relevant material you suggest I read, then please do let me know. Id be glad to learn from your experiences…

Stay tuned for the launch of the site and the presentation of the two videos…

Thank you for your comments

May 20th, 2008 by shaghayegh azimi

Dear all RV bloggers,

I am delighted to have gotten your feedback since the last post I wrote and have taken note of your interests. Hip hop in Iran, the lives of children, these are all very interesting topics, which I hope the participants will find interesting and accessible to make videos about.

In the next few weeks the Iran Inside Out site will be up where videos will begin to be uploaded. I hope that you will continue to give your valubale feedback then so that the filmmakers will remain inspired and in interaction.

Thanks for your encouraging words and time put in to write comments!

Shaghayegh

Q: What do you want to know about Iran?

April 12th, 2008 by shaghayegh azimi

Iran Inside Out is preparing the launch of its website in the next coming weeks. The aim of this blog post is to 1) share some of our milestones and obstacles 2) ask you what you expect to see and what kinds of stories interest you?

Since the fall, Iran Inside Out has reached out and built relationships with organizations and networks of filmmakers in Iran, which are increasingly becoming involved in the new media space and are eager to share their stories through the new mediums offered online.  For them the most important motivation is the chance to be seen and recognized by an international audience and to receive feedback on their works.

Since our first workshops in the fall, many filmmakers have approached us asking to learn more about the online video space and the different ways they can be apart of it. We hope to have the resources to educate and help them to make films for Iran Inside Out and for other platforms and purposes. Our next workshop is scheduled for July and we aim to have between 5 and 10 more films up by the end of the summer.

In the next two weeks we are launching our site with two short videos by young up-and-coming documentary filmmakers.  The two films were produced exclusively for the Iran Inside Out website. One is a snapshot of the underground heavy metal scene in Iran and the other is a personal reflection on the looming idea of a US-Iran war.  While we are really excited to show these videos, we believe that the real merit of these stories lies in the eye of the beholder and how the audience reacts to these films and whether their understanding of Iran is enhanced, or at least their curiosity aroused.

Film and video have a great potential to break barriers between people and are a great medium for sharing emotions and information.  But dialogue requires an EXCHANGE of ideas and in this case YOUR feedback.

On the other side, we are working on creating an effective way for filmmakers to respond to comments online and to share their experiences making videos for the web.  Our main obstacle in implementing this component is the language problem, which we are hoping to resolve by acquiring a site translator/facilitator.

Hence I dedicate this post to a question for the readers:

What do you want to know about Iran? What stories interest you? What suggestions do you have for our filmmakers? Do you think Iran is misunderstood? What issues need better explanation?

Cant wait to hear your ideas!