In a cross-province community filmmaking project, participants from 10 villages
and researchers and graduate students learn from each other, and serve their home villages.
In early 2021, the training venue at a village in Anning City, Yunnan Province, was bustling with activity. Villagers from more than ten different ethnic minority communities across Yunnan, Sichuan Provinces and Guangxi Autonomous Region joined visual anthropology scholars and filmmakers – all with a passion for film.
Each villager shared how they became interested in community filmmaking. Some wanted to collect oral histories, some planned to open a community cultural museum in their home village, some were veteran community development workers keen on local youth education… Their stories revealed their lived experiences, personal and collective memories, and their connections with their communities.
For more than a decade, the Centre for Indigenous Documentaries and Cultural Perspectives (the Centre) has been promoting rural community filmmaking. In this particular activity, the Centre was trying something new: collaborating with the School of Ethnology and Sociology of Yunnan University and gathering filmmakers from the 11 research areas of the School, and 14 graduate students. Such a rich exchange of ideas and experiences to an already diverse group!
Working in teams, they made films and explored the relationship between visual production and community development. With such varied experiences, participants reminded each other of the intentions of community filmmaking. The process and the outcome should be relevant and valuable to the community concerned. The filmmakers would be vehicles to record and present how community knowledge, culture, and ways of life have been changing. The films should prompt community members to rediscover traditional cultural values and act collectively to pass them on to the younger generations. While villagers pick up the camera and tell stories on their own terms, their films are finally a community narrative – an important counterbalance to accounts made by non-locals.
PCD has been supporting the Centre’s community filmmaking since 2017. Participating filmmakers now practise, learn and reflect with one another in a peer support network – a community facilitation approach. In the project’s second phase, since 2020, the Centre has been expanding the diversity of participants’ backgrounds, and fostering deeper relationships among participants through face-toface and online activities.
The Centre often reminds participants that the focus is not to produce a stunning documentary. Instead, the goal is to ensure that local people can offer their ideas and perspectives before their fellow villagers in a way that is unconstrained by language, and that stimulates community reflection and action. In the end, the ‘best’ community films spark discussion and broaden the imagination for a more sustainable and inclusive future.