In the city of Hebron, a standoff between a Palestinian woman and her Israeli neighbor is captured on video. “Whore!” the neighbor taunts through a fence, repeating the word again and again, clearly aiming to provoke the individual behind the lens. The recording of this incident – a fraught moment in a complicated interaction — raises questions about how to present and amplify citizen footage. With more citizens filming throughout the world than ever before – curation – or the process of compiling, contextualizing and sharing of raw human rights-related footage has never been more important (and WITNESS has a number of resources available on curation here).
Interactive documentary is an exciting way in which citizen footage can be presented and shared. One project that is utilizing an interactive documentary format to showcase citizen-shot video is POINTS OF VIEW, an ongoing interactive web documentary that uses video footage shot by Palestinians working as part of the Camera Distribution Project, an initiative organized by B’Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories). We had the opportunity to talk with the head of the project, Zohar Kfir.
WITNESS: What is POINTS OF VIEW?
Zohar Kfir: POINTS OF VIEW aims to curate videos from the B’Tselem archive and provide an intimate and contextualized look at life under the Israeli occupation while showcasing the work of the Camera Project. The Camera Distribution Project began in 2007 when B’Tselem started distributing cameras to Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza and organizing trainings on shooting and editing. The hope was that the resulting video would allow Palestinians to document the regular infringements of their rights, but also to present their the anger, pain, joy, and hope of their daily lives to Israelis and the international public.
Why did you decided on interactive web documentary as a medium for this project?
The B’Tselem archive contains footage of intense and highly charged incidents, including some violent content and graphic testimonies that can be difficult to watch. It is also the type of material that is frequently stripped of subtlety and dimension when it is inserted into media coverage. As a filmmaker, it was clear to me from the beginning that the footage was not appropriate for use in a project that was too artistic or traditional. Instead, I decided I wanted to create a web platform that could be widely distributed and shared. After considering a number of possible approaches, I settled on embedding the footage in a map-based interface.
How do viewers experience the interactive documentary?
The map format allows viewers the freedom to either browse the geo-located clips randomly or follow pre-determined video trails that are connected via events and tags. The video trails — which are a major part of the project’s design —offer viewers a way to learn more about particular events or areas, but also allow them to make their own connections, creating non-linear narratives that resist the fixed conclusions sometimes provoked in linear documentary filmmaking.
For example, one of the video trails features footage captured in Hebron in the West Bank that shows a number of different clashes between border police officers, settlers and Palestinians. Viewers can watch the videos in succession or choose only to watch one or two.
Other examples include the Gaza trail which is comprised of videos filmed following Operation Cast Lead (2009) by some communications students who were asked to document everyday life around them and present their personal take. This past summer B’Tselem volunteers also filmed during Operation Protective Edge and were able to publish some of these videos on the Camera Project website and YouTube. We are hoping to upload a video trail featuring these events in the coming months as the fallout from the conflict slows.
What is your goal for the project? Do you have any resources available for people who want to learn more about curating citizen video in this manner?
Overall, my wish was to create an interactive documentary that both situates the footage in its location and time of origin and creates new narrative threads of meaning from the stories that emerge over time. My hope is that in the future it will evolve into a curated archive of B’tselem’s content, an ever growing data-base of unique testimonies that cross-references events and locations in various points of time. The platform was designed to sustain hundreds of videos, so in 5 or 10 years I hope to see the map populated with dozens of videos, trails and tags. The project was developed as an open source project and the code library developed for the project is available for other media groups or activists to use or further modify the code to their own needs, share with others and create other video-for-change projects.
Want to learn more about curation of citizen video and video for change? Check out the Points of View Code Library, WITNESS’s Human Rights Channel and the WITNESS blog for more information. You can also find B’Tselem and Points of View on Twitter at @Btselem and @pointsofviewdoc.