by Jamie Starboisky, Festival Director of the Queer Media Festival
My first introduction to mobile filmmaking was the summer of 2014 when I had completed my first year at the University of Salford studying broadcast journalism, and our course leader Sarah Jones offered us the opportunity to come and learn about filming on your mobile phone as extra training. I was keen to learn more as someone having only just bought their first smartphone a few months before at the beginning of the university year, and was getting to grips with receiving lecture notes via Twitter. I then watched YouTube videos following the first Mojocon – the international mobile journalism conference in Dublin and following their advice bought my first mobile filmmaking kit. There must be a better way I thought than enduring the need to carrying the heavy camera and tripod, and once I had assembled my new kit I soon started to realise there was.
The University of Salford organises the annual Salford International Media Festival which describes itself as “a vibrant forum for media stakeholders to debate the current climate and play an influential role in shaping the future of the sector”. So after attending a short course on how to create an arts workshop, I pitched the idea to them in 2015 of producing a segment on mobile journalism which is called mojo by those who practise it. I gathered Mark Egan, BBC video journalist trainer, Imran Azam a mobile filmmaker, and Nick Garnett a mobile journalist from BBC 5 live who had been one of the inspiring speakers at Mojocon 1 to take part in a panel discussion.
The morning session was an examination of the use of the technology by Mark and Imran facilitated by Salford University lecturer Andrew Fletcher, with the afternoon a chance for the students to learn the basics to mobile filmmaking from Mark. Nick was called away at the last minute to cover the terrorist attacks in the Bataclan area of Paris, and so set us a back this video below to explain why he had been called a way and about how he was utilising his mobile phone to report the news there.
I attended Mojocon 2 in Dublin in 2016 and was able to hear first hand from speakers like Nick just how much mobile journalism was revolutionising the way they and other reporters were covering stories. Linking in with the themes of the Queer Media Festival which I had started in 2013 which aims to inspire new LGBTQ stories to be created, I decided to create an LGBTQ version of MobDoc and hold it as a workshop in the lead up to the festival that year. The aim would be to challenge people with lots of passion but no filmmaking experience, to use their mobile phone to tell an LGBTQ themed story and make a film lasting no more than 60 seconds. The idea was inspired by the journalism training conference CIRCOM and their mojo challenge and Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival’s 60 film challenge, to focus people’s ideas into making the micro short film. The winning film that was created that won the Nelson Sullivan Award for short form filmmaking on a phone was by transgender theatre maker and performer Kate O’Donnell. Watch her short documentary film One Percent below which was screened at the Queer Media Festival.
I created MobDoc three years ago and it has now evolved into a one day workshop that aims to teach the local community how to tell a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer story using their mobile phone. Often the LGBTQ community have stories told about them, not BY them! In the democratising world of mojo we don’t only want to see stories which focus on hate and attacks. There is no shying away from the need for news reports such as the persecution of gay men in Chechnya. But we also need balance and some oxygen from positive stories as the suicide rate in the LGBTQ community is very high.
MobDoc exists to encourage the next generation of LGBTQ storytellers much like Sean Baker and his feature film Tangerine, that was shot completely on mobile, to document our own stories. From that our aim is to create a mojo community of grassroots content creators. Previously our mojo tutors have been the Dutch journalist Geertje Algera and BBC video journalist trainer Mark Egan, and we spend the morning of the workshop teaching the participants the basics of mobile filmmaking, from how to hold a phone whilst filming, to the five shot sequences.
In the afternoon people are challenged to use their new skills to create a micro short film of around 40 seconds, these are all then edited into one single film which is then shown on the big screen at the end of the workshop. So then all participants have the full experience from A to Z of creating a film on their phone and gives them that sense of collective achievement. Afterwards all participants are added to a private Facebook group where they can keep in touch, ask for advice, and upload the next mojo film that they make.
2017 is fifty years since England and Wales partially decriminalised homosexuality and to commemorate that anniversary this year we incorporated archives and historical figures in an exercise for the MobDoc participants to do, to give the workshop an LGBTQ themed structure. I used archives to find photos of LGBTQ people and their supportive allies, researched their biography, and found a quote they said, by people who were alive in 1967 and would have been affected by the legislation. Bear in mind that this film below was made by people with no mojo experience after only a morning of training.
I am so proud of the film that they made and it is wonderful to look back and see how creative they were with their shots. With MobDoc being aimed at people with no experience in journalism or filmmaking we did discover there were some blockades to the workshop’s success. Firstly is the cost of attending a mojo course. To my mind mojo is essentially elitist! You need money to go on mojo courses and money to buy a phone. iPhones are expensive which is prohibitive to marginalised communities who often have low income and can’t afford an iPhone. So we held MobDoc at the weekend and made it free to make it more accessible, and taught people to use just their native camera.
Second was the participants were overwhelmed and even after teaching they had no idea how to put it into practise – what to film or how to get started – so I created the exercise to give them some structure and an LGBTQ theme to focus on. Thirdly the bystander effect is very prevalent at MobDoc as it is a community workshop and no one has to take part – it is not part of their job based training. Some people came simply because it was an LGBTQ event. So to reduce the bystander effect they worked in pairs during the exercise, so at least everyone gets some practise shooting and working together.
Last barrier to success was the participants feeling silly or stupid as they weren’t used to filming sequences and felt silly reading the quote and creating the shots at the People’s History Museum, which is where we held MobDoc. To them it felt like acting! So for the next MobDoc we instead will invite participants to bring an object that links with their LGBTQ past so then the exercise is about them being filmed, recalling a memory about a favourite object, rather than reading someone’s quote, and would be something that they would have more confidence talking about. By simplifying the story we aim for results with creativity and ownership.
Once participants have attended MobDoc they are encouraged then to progress on to creating a film in their own time of 60 seconds. But again the question is raised what should I film? What should I document? We encourage people to be creative with films and to tell untold stories. So at MobDoc I devised the LGBT visibility in films Iceberg – to really make them think we asked our participants to use post-it notes to write down what LGBTQ stories get represented all the time in films and what stories they never see on screen. So there are plenty above the water line as you can see from the photo but many are below.
At Mojocon this year Nick Garnett said something I totally agree with and that is that mojo is a mindset. And it is recognising this and the pioneers of this mantra and my love of history that connected me to an LGBTQ filmmaker who pioneered this ethos in the 1970s and 80s. Like many in the early 1980s, Nelson recognised an unlimited potential in the advent of the new inexpensive handheld video cameras then coming on the market. Using first a VHS-loading camera and later upgrading to an 8mm video camera, he shot over 1,900 hours of tape over a period of seven years being one of the very few to extensively document the LGBTQ community during this time. His films are now archived in Fales Library, New York. There is an amusing video on the 5 ninth avenue project YouTube page which illustrates how mojo-minded he was as he films on the sidewalk, interviews passers by, and talks to the camera vlogging style, as the BBC try to fix their cumbersome equipment in order to interview him. So to honour him I created an award for the best 60 second LGBTQ mojo film.
This year we will expand MobDoc beyond Manchester and tour the workshop across the UK to continue to teach people how to make a LGBTQ film on their phone. Supported by the Queer Film Network we will be hitting seven cities partnering with local venues and LGBTQ cultural event organisers. Long term aims are to take the MobDoc model and teach it internationally in Russia and Iraq. Having met Russian LGBTQ activists and having spent ten days in Erbil, Iraq earlier this year meeting members of the gay community we have connections to make this dream possible. Plus we will also be having a float at Manchester’s gay pride parade which will feature a 360 camera on it. Anyone who would like to sponsor our endeavours please see us afterwards.
The Queer Media Festival will return this November at Manchester’s brand new combined arts centre HOME for its fourth year – expect panel discussions, workshops, performances and the MobDoc reunion where we will screen the 60 second mobile film entries and announce the next winner of the Nelson Sullivan Award. I’m going to end with a quote from the author Joanne Harris who inspired me to create the Queer Media Festival. She said;
“We are all made of stories and they are all magic.”
So be Radical! Think of the Iceberg and tell diverse stories! Because one story at a time, you are, we are, changing the world.