“When there’s a will, there’s a way!”: Interrogating collective narrative production and participatory documentary making in Solo, Indonesia
By Ignacia Ossul Vermehren, on 29 April 2022
By Fildzah Husna Amalina, Kirana Putri Prastika, Ignacia Ossul-Vermehren
DPU’s partner NGO Kota Kita, reflects on the role of documentary making as part of the action-research project Re-Framed conducted in two low-income neighbourhoods in Solo, Indonesia and Lima, Perú. The project aims to advance collective narrative construction, and to develop an ethical and practical framework for working remotely on visual outputs.
Facilitators from both countries joined a series of trainings and webinars led by DPU, and then conducted participatory sessions in a low-income neighbourhood in their city. Participants – female ad male residents from a range of ages – scripted, directed and edited their own documentary.
Reframing community’s stories
The process started with questions: “Why tell a story?” and “what story to tell?”. In the beginning, we wanted to encourage more conversations on what stories mean and what role they play in the community—and reflect on what kind of stories residents wanted to tell that reflected their own experiences and reality.
Kampung Ngampon is a neighbourhood that is located in Mojosongo, Solo, known for its bamboo birdcage craft. Ngampon is a dense neighbourhood in an urbanised area of the city, with a total population of 700-800 inhabitants. Most of the residents are birdcage makers and rely on home-based craft businesses for their livelihood.
We asked the participants: “What comes to mind when you hear about Kampung Ngampon?” “What do you want to tell others about your neighbourhood?” As challenging stereotypes and reframing narratives was a key part of the project. Some participants felt that a story that could reflect on gotong royong – an Indonesian term translated to togetherness and mutual cooperation – would be a good angle when telling a story about their solidarity within the neighbourhood. They wanted to share a story that could be an example for the younger generation in the community and, at the same time, make more people interested in learning about their neighbourhood. This process then was not about finding a story only for the film. It also came as an important reflection of the values they appreciate—from their togetherness as a community to their image as a birdcage makers’ neighbourhood.
The facilitation process acknowledged that each individual might have their own vision of a good story—and to ‘choose’ one out of many ideas wouldn’t be an easy task. We divided the participants into two smaller groups so that everyone could have more space to share their thoughts and explore their creativity. The first group wanted to tell a story about the reality they faced through one young character; meanwhile, the other wanted to show their community’s collective solidarity and togetherness as part of their identity. When discussing again in the larger group, the participants didn’t compete to pick only a single story. From two different stories they had identified, we worked collectively to prioritise, compromise, and decide on a general plot. We combined and incorporated the main messages and made them into one.
Doing a narrative-driven process was helpful because it provided a room for imagination in seeing the situation around us. It was not only about the challenging circumstances, but also about the possibilities. Eventually, in Kampung Ngampon, the film’s ending reflects a more hopeful vision of the community; as Bagus, the main character, put it, “From my perspective, the main message of this film is (for everyone) to keep up a resilient spirit and not give up. When there’s a will, there’s a way!“
Exploring Creative Approaches for Community Facilitation in Kampung Ngampon
When it comes to facilitation with the community, it is not only the participants who learn and gain something from the process. In Ngampon, the initiative provided an opportunity for the team of facilitators of Kota Kita to reflect on some of our current practices and what we can explore more.
Storytelling and videography as tools of sharing thoughts and aspirations in a more meaningful way—beyond social media posts they were already familiar with—were new for the community of birdcage makers we had worked with during the project. The sense of newness and their curiosity about the tools brought up their spirit in engaging and contributing to the dynamics of the discussion. The more practical filmmaking skill set that we exchanged throughout the training was something that the participants found challenging but also exciting to learn—which then ‘bound’ the participants to the end. During the discussions, imagining the visual output, for instance, in the storyboarding workshop, also helped encourage more imaginative ideas and visual forms of aspiration, which would have been more unlikely to come up from conventional facilitation methods.
The power dynamics between facilitators and participants was something we reflected together through the training and filming process. The use of stories as facilitation tools meant that the participants had enough room to shape and direct the story they wanted to tell. As facilitators, we usually position ourselves in a place where we have the control to structure the discussion, but still allow people to feel comfortable to participate. Through the process, we compromised and intentionally gave up our control to allow the narrative to be owned by/and created organically by residents.
Beyond a Film
In a participatory initiative, it is important to produce a collective output that is able to incorporate collective messages. The participants decided and shaped the story together, came up with the dialogue that best portrayed their daily interaction naturally, acted in the film, decided the angle and shot the video footage, assisted the editing process—they are not only part of the film, but also the filmmakers. As facilitators, we noted that having one output that the community can claim as something they owned is important to redefine that participatory process is not always used only for conventional ‘data collection’ as part of a research whose the result may not be directly ‘rewarding’ for the community.
In the end, it is not only about the film. The overall process was also a learning opportunity. The discussions have enabled a space for reflection for the community about their own narrative and what they wanted to share with everyone else through the film. It was also a capacity-building experience not only in the sense of technical skills, but also a space to strengthen their collective awareness and agency—while, of course, having a lot of fun together in the process.
Re-Framed is an action research project led by DPU´s Dr. Rita Lambert, Dr. Ignacia Ossul-Vermehren and Alex Macfarlane. Its objective is to advance collective narrative construction through remote, participatory documentaries, and to develop an ethical and practical framework for working remotely on visual outputs produced by urban dwellers in low-income neighbourhoods. The implementing partners are NGO Kota Kita in in Solo, Indonesia and CENCA in Lima, Peru. The project received funding from DPU’s Internal post-COVID research initiative.
Fildzah Husna Amalina and Kirana Putri Prastika work at NGO Kota Kita, a non-profit organisation based in the Indonesian city of Solo with expertise in urban planning and citizen participation in the design and development of cities.