This past March, I spent three weeks in Guangxi, attending and helping out with a community media training workshop. The program was collaboratively organized by a cultural heritage group based in Kunming that has extensive experience in rural video documentary and participatory media training, and a local Baiku Yao cultural heritage preservation group based in Lihu. It was my first time working directly with students and workshop participants, assisting them with the basics of field interviews and recording, documentary research, and editing on the fly. I was amazed at how dedicated all of the participants were and even more so by the fact that every group managed to complete a 20-30 minute long documentary in just 10 days.
This experience also gave me much greater insight into the values and politics of community media, especially when coupled with broader desires (and financial support) for cultural heritage preservation, rural development, and individual ambitions. There is a very active eco-museum, supported by the regional government, in this area too that has helped spur local recognition of the usefulness of digital media in cultural heritage work.
Recently I've been thinking a lot about the video footage I shot over the past (nearly ten) years, and I've decided it's time to revisit this material and to try to create something new out of this "old" stuff. As I review the footage, I realize that part of what is so important, and interesting, about archival material (even if it's an archive of my own material) is precisely that with the passing of time and the changing of lives, I am seeing and discovering new meanings to this footage. I'm now starting a new film project, currently titled These Days, These Homes, that will draw on existing footage and some new video I plan to shoot over the next year. This film will focus on the stories of two women who have become important interlocutors and friends, and I hope this film will be as much a presentation of research arguments as it is a representation of our personal relationships and my gratefulness to them. I recently discussed this work in progress at the conference, Poetics & Politics: A Documentary Research Symposium at UC Santa Cruz. There, the conversations between a mix of makers and scholars from a range of disciplines pushed me to think about my new film in different directions, both formally and also socially as a means of research engagement and collaboration.