Since its beginning, EarthRights International has used strategic but creative ways to bring local voices to global audiences. As Co-Founders Katie Redford and Tyler Giannini dug through the laws to find one that could protect communities in Myanmar’s Karen State from human rights abuses caused by American oil and gas corporations, Co-Founder Ka Hsaw Wa went from village to village, documenting the experience of communities along the Unocal Pipeline through writing, audio recordings and photography. By sharing these materials, Ka Hsaw Wa was able to tell the stories of those living in the jungles of Myanmar with the rest of the world. It is in this same spirit that EarthRights Exposures was created.
Twenty years later the tools have changed a bit, but the goal remains the same: to bring to light the environmental and human rights abuses that would otherwise remain in the shadows, through the lens of those who are living it. Today, video has been embraced as a powerful tool for advocacy, and all over the world, people are watching countless videos each day. So now a new challenge arises: how to make videos that tell these stories that otherwise remain untold in a unique and compelling way so that audiences remain engaged.
With EarthRights Exposures, ERI is striving to achieve this by bringing skilled filmmakers together with young community members to provide them with the tools to create videos that are capable of inspiring change. The EarthRights Exposures workshop consisted of three trainings in Yangon where students learned the basics of video, sound recording, directing and building a story from the accomplished Yangon filmmakers Pe Maung Same and Nyi Zaw Htwe. They were introduced to earth rights concepts by ERI staff and approaches to video for advocacy by Engage Media . They broke into three teams to put the skills they had learned into practice by making these videos about the communities affected by the Thilawa Special Economic Zone.
Not long after this first workshop, EarthRights School Myanmar alumni Soe Moe Aung has already found some success in using video for campaigning and community mobilization. Read about his experience here.
After the second workshop, the participants returned to their communities to research their stories and shoot their productions under the mentorship of established filmmakers.
Finally, we reconvened in Yangon for an intensive editing session. The participants spent two weeks poring over their transcripts and paper edits, rearranging their rough cuts, and creating the final edits. And the final products far surpass all expectations.
The films share the stories of communities in Shan State who face the risk of negative impacts from the Mon Tong Dam, in Thilawa and Dawei (Burmese version)who struggle to find solutions for residents forcibly relocated for Special Economic Zones, and in Kayah State as they recover from the landslide disaster at the Mawchi Mine amidst poor relief management.
The films not only expose unknown situations, but they do so with an authenticity that is essential to connecting an outsider to these issues. I have had the privilege of shooting in some of these areas for ERI, and I have never come close to portraying these stories with the level of intimacy that is seen in these films. This is a testament not only to the skills the filmmakers acquired, but also to the necessity of a program like EarthRights Exposures and its potential to inspire change.