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Reflection on participatory approach
By Amelia Hapsari

Many have asked whether the filmmaker would do the video differently in a traditional documentary, where she had the sole authority to decide the story. It was hard to answer the question, because traditional documentary was not even considered at the initial stage of project development. The purpose of the video was to facilitate the people in Balobaloang in representing their problems to the authority who lived too far away from them.

Documentary approach to this issue would take a very different set of procedures. To do a documentary in such a remote area, a filmmaker would normally hire a fixer, or an assistant that would research the situation and informed the filmmaker on potential stories and characters. The filmmaker would then decide a storyline or an angle, which described how the situation should be perceived by the audience. Based on the angle, the filmmaker might list certain scenes, interviews, or events that could be captured on camera to illustrate the angle. The fixer, who was most likely someone from the area, had to arrange the interviews and events that were required by the filmmaker.

Although not everything could be plotted, but in most traditional documentaries, most of the events and information captured on the camera worked only to serve the storyline or the angle decided by the filmmaker. The angle could be obtained after an extensive amount of research and could well be influenced by the other people, but it was the way the filmmaker presents the problem.

This was the underlying difference between a traditional documentary and a participatory one. In "Sharing Paradise" the filmmaker had an opinion on the subject matter, and on the events, but it was the producers, or the community members of Balobaloang that decide whether they would execute an idea or not. The community held the access to information as well as the way to treat the information in the video.

It was clear that the people in Balobaloang would like to convey that destructive fishing practices were corroding their coral reef and their livelihood, but they did not want to expose the people who did dynamite fishing. The filmmaker had to respect this. The community just intended to utilize the video to tell the Regent and the police about what they experienced in daily basis.

For TV audience who sat far away from the problem, exposing the identity of blast fishing, or exposing the members of dynamite crew who were crippled by blast accidents, would probably tell the story in a more convincing way. But this was not the goal of a participatory video.

Traditional documentary might work better for television or screenings that had a limited viewing time. The filmmaker also had more freedom to select the scenes and to craft an idea with the visuals that she/he had. It could be more convincing and more time efficient.

What traditional documentary does not emphasize but becomes the focus of participatory video was the potential of the production process to bring a community together, to exercise how to negotiate interests and power within the community, and to help a community imagining new ways to solve a problem. Although a participatory video could not be the solution for the problem, it could be used as a tool to recognize the problems and to put a discussion around it. That was why Shirley White, the author of "Participatory Video" said, participatory video was not about the outcome, but the process.  

In this section :
The making of Sharing Paradise
The making of Sharing Paradise: An anthropologistís footnote

What is a participatory video?

Getting the fishermen involved
Sharing Paradise: Living in a tangled web of relationships

Ethnic and religious dimensions:
America, the evil empire
Chinese, the emperor of the market

Patron-client relationships and the participatory process

Language dimension




Sharing Paradise
Sharing Paradise Study Guide