Over the past 9 months, since I received the RV micro-grant, many things have changed for IRAN INSIDE OUT. Mistakes have been made, lessons have been learned, and project evolved and changed. My time commitment to it also changed. At the start, I had high hopes and my goal was to establish a non-profit with a full team, which would raise money in the form of grants and I hoped that I could turn IRAN INSIDE OUT into a full-time venture. My hopes for this idea have not completely diminished, but I’ve realize that this might take a very long time, for reasons, which shall be highlighted below…
I hope that the following self-evaluation will be useful to other grantees and/or people who are in the process of starting a similar project whether it be in Iran or a country like Iran. Furthermore, I am using this as an exercise to reflect on myself and to organize my thoughts on what needs to be done in the future.
The original vision according to the proposal submitted to RV:
“Working with the film clubs in Iran, we seek to train young aspiring filmmakers from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities in Iran to create videoblogs that show a different side of Iran, unknown to most of the world. Our wish is to build a community of videobloggers in constant interaction with the global online world. We believe that this will give them an unprecedented chance to be apart of the new media space where they can share their stories and creative vision and receive feedback through interaction.
The two most important goals we hope to accomplish are 1) to introduce and inspire Iranian youth of underrepresented communities to engage in interaction with the global online community and especially the videoblogging community and 2) to educate and inspire tolerance of Iran through human stories.”
What was problematic with the above vision and what was the solution?
FILM CLUBS: Prior to submitting the RV proposal, I had spoken to the Documentary and Experimental Film Society casually and had also inquired with the Young Cinema Society, two organizations in Iran with large databases of young filmmakers that provide education and resources to make filmmaking possible for them. Their initial response was cooperative and positive. But when it came down to business many issues were raised, which led me to halt cooperation with them for the time being.
The main issue when working with the clubs is that it means giving up control of the content that comes in and hence freedom. Although they support controversial films from time to time, they are government based and hence self-censor any work that is associated with them. In working with them, I would have to ensure that the content on IIO meet their standards, so that their reputation is not jeopardized.
Of course, I do not plan to overstep the red lines for the sake of myself and the filmmakers I am working with—and I have been very careful and clear in the direction I give filmmakers regarding what kinds of stories are allowed and what is not. But I cant accept the added responsibility of having to meet others standards at least not for the time being. My relationship with them is still in tact and I am sure the right time for collaboration will arise.
Another problem is the issue of licenses. DEFC for example owns many of the rights of the short films that are made (because they help fund them) and they have expressed that it is a challenge for them to allow their films on IIO for free, while they are selling it to other distributors.
TRAINING: My original hope was to hold workshops in conjunction with the film clubs, but because of the concerns mentioned above this could no longer be possible. Instead we have had to do with two informal gatherings. Once more filmmakers get involved, I hope to hold another workshop. Another lesson learned is that filmmakers prefer more publicized workshops with opportunities to work with an international community. It is my hope to eventually get sponsorships or invite a few people from abroad for a workshop.
“DISADVANTAGED AND UNDERREPRESENTED COMMUNITIES”: In trying to meet the requirements of the RV micro-grants, I originally thought I would reach out to filmmakers outside of Tehran. But I soon realized that most young filmmakers in Iran are “underrepresented” and lack resources and a chance to be seen. Therefore there was no need to go so far…
“VIDEOBLOGGING”: A DANGEROUS TERM: This concept is problematic in Iran for the following reasons:
- Although Iran possesses the third largest blogging community, it is not really approved of my the government and some political bloggers have been arrested and punished.
- Many filmmakers don’t want to call their videos “blogs” even if they are personal and experimental in nature. And the problem with the few that do accept videoblogs as a creative form of video is that they care too much about the artistic quality and the form of the film to make a real videoblog.
For this reason, I have tried to transform IIO into a film initiative rather than a citizen journalism or “videoblogging” one. But in the following year, I am thinking of gradually bringing this back into the equation (see PART II)
CHALLENGES IN ATTRACTING FILMMAKERS:
- The lack of partnerships with film clubs has been a double-edged sword when it comes to attracting filmmakers. On the one hand, there are those filmmakers that rather go the independent route and are more cutting-edge and interested in grass roots projects. On the other hand, instead of having a large database and programmatic project, I have to rely on word of mouth to spread the word about IIO.
- Few filmmakers are willing to work without financial incentive, hence providing resources and/or other services is important.
- Showing a “different Iran” is rarely enough incentive for filmmakers to make videos.
- Because online video and film distribution is so new and foreign to the filmmakers, it is difficult to explain its importance and convince filmmakers of the benefits. This is something I am getting better at as I move forward.
SO THE MISSION WAS MODIFIED…
“About” section as seen on website:
“Iran Inside Out is the first initiative dedicated to promoting the development and distribution of online film and video in Iran. Our mission is to encourage and support independent filmmakers in Iran to share short films and videos about Iran with the rest of the world. Iran Inside Out videos focus on showing an inside view, beyond the mainstream news, about Iranian life, history, culture, and society as seen by the filmmakers making them.”
What we are to the filmmakers (farsi version given to filmmakers)
“Iran Inside Out wants to open doors for Iranian filmmakers to expose their films through new platforms of distribution on the worldwide web. Our goal is to 1) help create distribution opportunities for filmmakers on the Internet by providing knowledge about online video technology, tools and opportunities 2) promote filmmakers among partner organizations, companies and festivals and 3) we hope to represent the real Iran, without controversy and bias through new, untold stories.
We work closely with filmmakers to help them make videos and provide them with a comprehensive learning manual about how the online world works, the technology behind it and how to use it to promote their films and communicate with audiences, festivals and relevant organizations around the world. All film and videos presented to Iran Inside Out will be uploaded on multiple platforms across the web as well as on the web site. The website is open to all filmmakers no matter what level of experience.
Iran Inside Out videos focus on showing an inside view, beyond the mainstream news, about Iranian life, history, culture, and society as seen by the filmmakers making them. Videos can be of various genres such as short film, documentaries, video-blogs, experimental videos, re-cuts of longer projects, and even rough versions of future projects. They can be anywhere between 2 to 15 minutes long. Longer films will be accepted on occasion.”