Women behind the lens
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO, 22 February 2006
Nine skilled information and communication technologies (ICT) trainers from five different women’s media organisations met in Mexico City in February of 2006. They came together to learn about a medium they never imagined they would one day have access to: video.
Maureen Grant and Susana Vargas, both involved with social movement communications through their university in Montreal, Quebec, had developed a proposal in concert with APC member LaNeta to train Mexico-based women in basic video production: “Media Mujeres Mexico”. The project brought the two women to Mexico, equipped with a miniDV camera and a boom pole (microphone), to offer a basic training in video theory and practice for women.
“The training was an opportunity,” commented Yamina López, a trainer in LaNeta’s MUJEMTIC (Women Empowered by ICTs) workshops. “I could never have had access to something like this on my own. How many spaces are there for women to make video? It’s not just about learning how to do it, but also all the infrastructure involved – the camera, audio, computer, lighting – video gear is really expensive.”
Participants split into teams to storyboard, collect images and conduct interviews, as well as edit their footage. By the end of the week’s training the teams were expected to produce a short video, which will eventually be uploaded to one of Canada’s National Film Board sites (http://citizen.nfb.ca/onf/info) for public viewing. Apart from supporting the web-based dissemination of the short film on its Citizen Shift participatory portal, the National Film Board (NFB) also loaned the camera equipment used in the workshop. 
1 CitizenShift, as stated on their website, is “is a web magazine that integrates written, audio and visual media and provides a space where filmmakers and citizens can share knowledge, be entertained and most importantly debate social issues. They add that it is « inspired by Challenge for Change, an experimental NFB initiative during the 1960s that encouraged communities to take part in the process of documentary filmmaking. Forty years later, CitizenShift offers a unique online platform that gives users a forum to talk about social issues and encourage social change.
Workshop participants noted that many of the films on CitizenShift had a Creative Commons license rather than a traditional copyright, and talked about the possibility of using it for their own clips. For a better understanding of what Creative Commons (CC) licenses imply, please visit the CC website. 
2 As described on Wikipedia, “The Creative Commons website enables copyright holders to grant some of their rights to the public while retaining others through a variety of licensing and contract schemes including dedication to the public domain or open content licensing terms. The intention is to avoid the problems current copyright laws create for the sharing of information.
From trained to trainers
“Our team originally planned a 10-minute video,” said one participant while laughing out loud, “we were glad to adjust to the 2-minute video proposal by Maureen when we saw how much work was entailed!” One project focussed on “LaNeta” – a slang term in Mexico which means “the truth” and a name adopted by the Mexican internet service provider (ISP) at the beginning of the 1990s, as it strived to provide an alternative and transparent communication channel for civil society. The video plays on the slang term and also explains the “Neta” about “LaNeta”.
Another project examined the way women relate to computers, asking GNU/Linux users, science students, and women in cibercafes to “Tell us about your first time…”. This video project aimed to look at inter-generational differences between women’s experiences with technology, how everyday women versus “geeks” first became acquainted with computers, and how the free/libre and open source software (FOSS) philosophy was experienced in solidarity with other women. “It was way too ambitious, but we’re excited about finishing it together as a team –we had too much footage and too little access to the computer to be able to finish it this week,” stated a team member.
The recommended editing programme, Final Cut Pro, works on Macintosh, while PC’s are much more common in Mexico. Only one Mac was available for the workshop. Several team members explored free software solutions for video editing, and would prefer to do future video work on an operating system that is more accessible in Mexico, despite the user-friendly interface of Final Cut Pro. “Access” comes in many shapes and sizes.
Women training women
“The best part was doing it together – planning the film, all of us with a different role for each interview, and bringing all our ideas together, then editing, and everyone was motivated…” said Sylvia Baringer, a German cooperant working at a Mexican feminist organisation. “It wouldn’t have been the same if it had been a mixed group. Frequently men tend to…well…impose. It was important that we were all women. We made consensus decisions, made sure that everyone had access to the camera and to the editing programme.”
“It’s true,” added Yamina. “We saw that imposition even in the interviews out on the street. We directed questions at women and men answered. I think there’s a different atmosphere when it’s an all women’s group; there was a lot of solidarity –some of us know more about photography, others about edition, and we all helped each other out.”
Participants had a range of ideas of how they’d apply their learning. As trainers themselves, the first thought was to incorporate video into their own trainings. Norma Alegre from Modemmujer shared how she had used the animation and authoring technology Flash on an interactive CD to teach rural women how to use a computer, turn it on, use a mouse, use the keyboard, open a browser. “With video, it will be so much easier to follow, and having a visual component will make theory easier to get across, even if a trainer can’t be physically present.”
“The workshop unified a group of women trainers in ICT – we are all in Mexico and know each other, and have been working in this field, but this was the first opportunity to do something together that deepened our training skills – and in an area that was new to all of us.” concluded Olinca Marino, LaNeta’s coordinator.