The stories we tell

As filmmakers it is our craft and our passion to tell stories. Storytelling can be used as a powerful expression of experience that reconciles differences and orchestrates conversation and change, however, it can also be mis-used and present false realities which can cause harm to people and situations. There is a constant conflict of power in storytelling, as with every story that gets heard, other untold stories remain hidden or suppressed. Often it is these hidden stories that films for development are concerned with telling. Here we speak further on the politics of storytelling and the responsibility that we as filmmakers must acknowledge when creating films that tell the important stories of others.

Storytelling is an essential way of keeping a sense of agency when we are confronted with disempowering situations; it gives us a voice. When we transform events or experiences into stories, we restructure reality into narratives that give us a sense of power that we have some control over the events that befall us in life. In the case of making films on development and humanitarian subjects, the concept of giving people the ability to feel powerful is extremely important given the crisis situations that are the topic for many development films. Often the only action available in such situations is to tell the story of what is happening with the hope that bringing awareness will facilitate a physical action towards positive change. For example, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing tells the previously untold story of the genocide in Indonesia in during the 1950’s and 60’s. As a result of the story being told and heard by so many, the genocide is now being investigated to bring some justice to the victims of the atrocities committed.

‘Storytelling is a vital human strategy for sustaining a sense of agency in the face of disempowering circumstances’

— Michael Jackson

Stories shape the world around us

Stories hold immense power over the way we view the world, in particular the way we view ‘otherness’; situations and people outside of our usual spheres. When making films for development we’re tasked with communicating the stories of ‘others’, often to an audience whose lives and experiences are in stark contrast to those whose story we’re telling. The story told will either confirm that ‘others’ do not relate to our realities and validate prejudices, or it will break down these boundaries that keep us divided between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Our aim when making films for development is to bridge the divide by telling stories in a way that connects people emotionally and supports the positive progression of ideas that will motivate change.

‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live’

— Joan Didion

Everyone can be a storyteller

The effect that a story has on the way we view a person, a community or a situation is greatly affected by who is telling the story and how it is being told. When making films for development we want to allow the people whose experiences have formed the story to be a storyteller themselves. For example, in our practice we don’t speak about or for people, we simply facilitate them being able to speak for themselves. In our short film series we made with UNICEF Burkina Faso, all of the films are narrated by the contributors themselves. Alongside supporting the authentic representation of characters, hearing people speak about their experiences in their own words serves as an effective method to connect the audience to the issue being presented.

When used effectively, storytelling through film can motivate real and lasting change in the world by engaging with people on issues that matter.

Latest journals