Hong Kong: Party Town

A perfect mix of traditional and modern, Hong Kong is a city that celebrates ancient Chinese festivals in its own style. This article that I wrote for Asian Geographic Passport magazine includes some of the things that go on around this time of year in the metropolis.

Reconstructing Beauty: ‘Saving Face’ in Pakistan

Battery acid doesn’t leave much of a face behind apart from two holes for a nose, and if they’re lucky the sight in one eye might be saved.

This is the harsh reality for the many people, mostly women, who suffer acid attacks in Pakistan. There were 150 attacks counted in 2011, which was nearly double the number in the previous year.

Academy award-winning documentary ‘Saving Face’ takes a brave look at the women who have lived through the trauma of acid attacks and the uphill struggle to bring their attackers to justice.

The story follows the courageous British-Pakistani plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad as he travels to Pakistan to try and reconstruct some of the acid attack victims’ faces. He helps them to treat the pain, heal their wounds and gain enough confidence to step into the world again.

Acid Attacks

Throwing battery acid or setting alight to acid have become common methods of attack in Pakistan and other South Asian countries, where the acid is cheap and readily available for farming purposes. Cases are also increasing in Thailand, Cambodia, Uganda and Colombia.

The number of people who actually die from the attacks are very low, but the victims are scarred for life and forced to hide from society.

Those who carry out the acid attacks, who are often husbands or other family members, try to pin the blame on the victims for bringing dishonour to the family in some way.

One particularly sad case saw a 15 year-old girl killed by acid by her parents, claiming that she looked too much like a boy.

Honour-based crimes, that happen predominantly in South Asian and Middle Eastern countries, have been the cause of forced marriages, honour-killings and increasingly acid attacks.

Though Pakistan passed laws making violence against women illegal, the full Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act is still in draft form.

Bangladesh, which used to be infamous for its high acid attack numbers, has managed to dramatically reduce incidents. In 2002, it tightened acid storage, use and sale regulations. The attackers’ punishments can be around 40 years in prison without bail, and since the law was passed, acid attacks have reduced by 15% per year.

Behind the Scenes

Daniel Junge at the Frontline Club showing of 'Saving Face' in London.

Daniel Junge at the Frontline Club showing of ‘Saving Face’ in London.

The film ‘Saving Face’ is directed by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who bravely tackles this controversial topic despite being at risk throughout the making of the film.

During the documentary, Sharmeen visits one of the husbands who threw acid over his wife in prison. As the prison guards and other men surround her in a threatening manner, she continues to bombard him with questions.

In a discussion after the London showing of ‘Saving Face’ at the Frontline Club, the two directors asked the room of journalists what they thought about the duty of a documentary-maker to advocate for those in their film. They expressed that filming a documentary that makes a change is different from making a documentary and advocating for change.

A number of charities exist in order to raise awareness of acid attacks and to support the victims. The Katie Piper Foundation and the Acid Survivors’ Trust International are some of the UK based ones.

The full documentary is being shown on Wednesday 16th January 2013 on Channel 4 at 22:00. This film begs to be seen.

Three conversations, three epic stories

Mobile media technology master Ilicco Elia, entrepreneurial journalist Don Omope and Mediastorm’s Brian Storm have agreed to talk to us about how and why their respective fields are changing, and their roles in that process.

Video journalist David Dunkley-Gyimah, our lecturer at the University of Westminster, has managed to pull some strings in the media world once again. After our chance to talk to the inspiring and award-winning director Eliot Rausch on Skype a couple of weeks back, this is our chance to broaden our horizons even further. The rapid growth of technological capability was resonant throughout all three our conversations, affecting the abilities of storytellers, journalists and even ordinary netizens.

Mobile technology

During his 20 years working for Thomson Reuters, Ilicco Elia was able to pioneer mobile services for the international news agency. He explains to us, while intermittently checking one of his six mobile phones, that mobile technology is no longer about how fast the internet or device is, but rather about how the consumer feels when using it. For the first time, smartphones such as the iPhone enable us to communicate with each other in ways that didn’t seem possible even as recent as 5 years ago. He smiles at the prospect of what mobile technology will evolve into in the coming 5 years.

Mobile technology has had a great impact on the practices of journalists too. Ilicco is reminisces of the first time he had encouraged a dis-believing colleague at Reuters, photographer Finbarr O’Reilly, to take a mobile phone with him into the field. But as the photographer and his camera equipment were battered by rebels in Chad, the mobile phone he had taken as backup suddenly became more useful than he had previously thought. Not only did the mobile phone provide the last resort backup, but it’s GPS function allowed him to be rescued.

For reporters, the mobile phone can facilitate a different kind of interview than a camera can. Many interviewees feel less intimidated by a mobile phone, and open up more in front of it. On top of this, as Ilicco elaborates, mobile phones allow journalists to film or photograph something, and send it directly back to the agency. Mobile technology therefore, doesn’t attempt to take away the role of the journalist, but to allow them more flexibility.

Taking control

Creative “Jack of all trades” Donald Omope has been making giant steps in the field of Entrepreneurial Journalism. Being able to photograph, shoot video, report, write and communicate well is impressive enough as it is. But knowing how to talk and interact with news agencies and broadcasting companies in way that they realise your worth, sets Don aside from the rest of us. He advises us that there are two ways to get to the top as a journalist. “You can start at the bottom of a company and slowly work your way up,” he says, “or you can build yourself up independently so that companies sought after you.” And that’s the approach he has taken.

And every step of the way, he has retained complete control over his life by making choices only for the benefit of his passions. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Westminster, he worked, saved up his student loan and even invested in stocks and shares in order to pay for his camera equipment.

During the 2011 riots in London, Don photographed the action in Tottenham. Don describes, that after arriving at the scene, it didn’t take him long as a local to suss out who was going to be the easier party to focus on, rioters or police. But it wasn’t that easy. At one point, he found a police baton crashing down on his head and camera, after repeated harassment to stop photographing them. But he knew his rights as a journalist. Later, as he spoke live to the BBC, he began to read out the badge number of the police officer who had attacked him, as he watched the colour disappear from the officer’s face.

“If you don’t have an idea, then you’ve got no hope (in this industry),” he exlains to us. It is important to look for your own niche, in which there is currently something missing. Then when you have your idea, you must use all the skills you have to make that idea materialise.

The days when one could get by with one skill are long gone, and Don has shown that being self-sufficient financially and journalistically can bring you closer to your dreams. With his passion in Film and seeing a gap in the market for it, he set up a website called African Screens, the only online magazine focusing on the African Film Industry.

Storytelling that counts

Brian Storm emphasises that storytelling itself has not changed over time, but changes in technology now mean that it is possible for anyone to tell a story and make it global. “It transcends all platforms, all devices…it’s still about telling stories.” The aim of award-winning multimedia production studio Mediastorm has been to tell stories that every human being can relate to, that get us thinking about what binds us as a people.

He takes us back to 1994 when  he was at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He had been working for a newspaper in Missouri as a stills photographer. But troubled by only being allowed 2 photos per story, he decided to create a platform that didn’t limit how a story is told – Mediastorm.

Besides its impressively high quality productions, what sets Mediastorm apart is most definitely its attitude. “Journalists go around pretending that they can be objective, but that’s impossible,” he says, “you can be fair to your subject, but you can’t be objective.” Preferring to call themselves storytellers, as opposed to journalists, the staff at Mediastorm, “don’t fit a traditional model, we fit what we care about.”

Some productions such as Walter Astrada’s ‘Undesired’, bringing light to the suffering of many Indian women as a consequence of gender inequality, have been criticised for being unbalanced. But Brian strongly upholds that their aim is to raise public awareness of these issues, and by provoking the emotions that it does, more people want to watch it.

He has a similar attitude to the Kony 2012 video, which has come under heavy fire recently. He applauds director Jason Russell for being able to get 30 billion people thinking about a topic they didn’t previously know about. Brian also surmises that critics of the video are simply envious that they weren’t able to do something with as much impact.

Three conclusions

After the day of talking to such inspirational characters, we walk away with many ideas buzzing around in our minds. Don empowers us by telling us that if we wish, we are able to control our own careers and stay close to our passions. Ilicco, by his example alone, shows us how much technology can develop in such a short space of time, making the lives of journalists incredibly flexible. And Brian Storm reminds us that although technology may be changing, the fundamental things that make us human remain the same.

The wisdom of Eliot Rausch

Thanks to today’s technology, lecturer David Dunkley Gyimah, my class and I, were able to Skype with award winning editor, director and storyteller Eliot Rausch about what goes behind his intimate and humanistic style of documentary-making.

Eliot Rausch’s documentaries, including ‘Last minutes with Oden’ and ‘Pass the bucket’, are able to touch hearts, inspire and empower. His style of film-making has been described as raw, and tends to focus on people who would otherwise be ignored. He is addicted to trying to capture the human spirit, which comes alive in times of suffering.

Though he began his career in Graphic Design, and later taught himself to use Final Cut Pro and After Effects. He then entered the world of advertising and also began making music videos. The atmosphere of success that surrounded him led him into drug addiction. Throughout his struggle to get clean, Eliot was accompanied by Jason Wood, or Woody, who featured in Elior’s first masterpiece outside the commercial world – ‘Last minutes with Oden.’

Touching documentaries

‘Last minutes with Oden’ is a short documentary portraying the end of a beautiful relationship between Eliot’s friend Woody and his loyal dog Oden. The loss of such a loving creature was even too much for the crew, as their tears welled up while filming. After tens of thousands of views and likes, the piece ended up winning the 2010 Vimeo Awards for Best Video and Best Documentary, some of the greatest accomplishments in the online film community. But he explained how he was filled with an odd emotion afterwards, as if he had exploited a dear friend’s weak moment.

In terms of the creativity in his documentaries, he found many of the choices of shot, frame and subject instinctual. When initially brainstorming how to shoot Amy Purdy, a double-leg amputee, in an episode of ‘Pass the Bucket‘, someone had suggested showing her snowboarding. But Eliot found more beauty in the simplicity of showing Amy in her home environment, adjusting her prosthetic leg as a part of her daily routine. “Simplicity is more profound,” he says. The entire series of ‘Pass the Bucket’ focuses on the human aspects of top sport personalities’ and artists’ lives.

The key to a human story

When asked about the challenges he has faced, he told us how important it is to keep your initial aims and intentions alive. He had started off in the industry with a pure heart and the intention to create change in the world. And admitted that the spotlight of winning awards and earning a fair amount of money had caused him to temporarily sway away from that purity. “I don’t want to die with trophies in my hand, I want to go out knowing that really tried to make change,” he said in this video about his life.

He went on to emphasize how the key to documentaries like his own, is to be close to the people you are filming. Building a rapport or a relationship with them, will allow you to “get so close to their reality that it’s uncomfortable.” As a good listener, and trusting in his own footage and pre-visualisation enough to take a step back, Eliot is able to let his subjects breath. This is something needed in the kind of touching, human stories that he tells. “I am immersed in culture and relationships,” he says, “and when I’m connected with a story, the camera is secondary.”

Eliot used the money won in the Vimeo Awards to facilitate a project about the lives of three illegal immigrants in the US. He gave them each a camera, and asked them to document their own lives. Eliot’s edit of their footage can be seen in the film ‘Limbo, launching this June.

Thanks to Eliot Rausch for giving us a glimpse into the mind of such an honest and talented storyteller.

Racism issues at the forefront of British Media

Racism is becoming a part of everyday dialogue in Britain. The stories that have made the headlines are making us aware of the problems at hand, but are racial relations getting better in the UK?

Britain is a multicultural country, a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. But economic hardship, a majorly biased Media, and general ignorance cause relations that were already tense to be strained even further.

The 23-year old Indian student Anuj Bidve, who was shot dead in Salford, is the most recent victim of racial discrimination in the UK. And 18 years after Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death just for being black, his racist killers have finally been sentenced. Debate continues over the Metropolitan Police’s disproportionate number of stop and searches of black youths, which may have led to London’s violence in the summer of 2011.

The issue of race has even become a serious topic in the world of Sports. The Commons culture committee, made up of MPs, is set to start its inquiry into racism in Sport following the increasing number of racism allegations against key sports figures. England captain John Terry is currently still being investigated for allegedly shouting racist remarks at Anton Ferdinand.

A recent survey carried out by thinktank British Future and the Observer newspaper found that people living in Britain who were not born there identify as strongly with Britain as those who are British-born. But the YouTube sensation ‘racist tram lady’, from South London, whose racist ranting has split opinion among Brits online, has renewed the bigoted idea that non-white people can’t be British. The most disturbing thing is that some people agree with what she said on the tram.

The Daily Mail and the Sun continue feed the general public with anti-Immigration propaganda, giving the impression that it is foreigners who are ‘stealing our jobs.’ The previously mentioned Observer survey also found that British people feel that people born outside of the UK, who reside in Britain, are having negative influences on crime levels, the availability of housing and jobs and the National Health Service. Yet, they did admit that those born outside Britain were having a positive influence on the Food Industry. Not surprising considering that most Brits see curry as their national dish.

As unemployment, funding cuts and a threatening recession strain the country further, and the Olympics just around the corner, the coming summer could prove a difficult and tense time for Britain. 2011 saw the Student protests, the London riots and the ‘Occupy’ movement. The last thing London needs during its year in the light of the Olympic torch is a repeat of last year’s civil disobedience and a discontented citizenry. Changes need to be made.

Article also published here:

Serving Pironi and Prosecco to the Mail on Sunday

Just a normal day in class, and a normal day at work. Well so I thought. Until I found myself having a B52 shot at the expense of one of the newspapers I loathe the most, the Mail of Sunday. After yesterday’s blogpost ranting about the Daily Mail, I ironically turned up at work to find Bob from the Mail on Sunday was hosting a party at our restaurant.

Standing behind the bar eavesdropping on people’s conversations, I didn’t hear anything more exciting than men moaning about the stress of having a wife and kids.

I did expect a bunch of bigots ranting about the state of Britain and immigrants stealing jobs, but I guess they save all that for their newspaper.

Funnily enough, it seems like Daily Mail staff have a certain look about them, which I’m not able to describe. All I know is, I will know a Daily Mail journalist if he walks into the room!

I overheard that the Telegraph’s party was on tonight too. Again my bad luck rears its ugliness…why couldn’t the Telegraph hold their party at ours!

When the food came out, some of the chicken seemed undercooked. One of them came to me and said jokingly, “We’d best send these back, unless you’re trying to send our entire department down with food poisoning?” And I had a little giggle to myself.

Not everyone at the party worked for the Daily Mail, there were some delightful people.

Bob, though I didn’t catch his last name, was very talkative. Well…at least to my white work colleagues.

When I asked everyone if they needed us to call taxis for them, he turned to everyone and said “does anyone need taxis? This………..(long pause)….woman is asking.” “Go on! Call me something racist, I dare you!” I was thinking in my head.

There seemed to be a consensus among my work colleagues and I, that the Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday is not a very nice newspaper. And my boss couldn’t seem to understand why, “I love them ‘cos they’re Fascists”, he said giggling.

Before anyone asks, no of course I did not get any contacts! I have a conscience you know!

The Daily Mail proves its ignorance once again

How on earth is the Daily Mail allowed to publish what it does, calling it Journalism?!

This week’s evidence of the Daily Mail’s ignorance and laziness was written on the 3rd December entitled: “Alarming rise of Muslim ‘honour attacks’ in the UK as police reveal thousands were carried out last year.”

My first bone to pick is that there was no evidence in the information released by the police that the majority, or any, of the victims or attackers were Muslims. In fact, Religion wasn’t included at all.

Though the common conception is that honour-killing is a Muslim phenomenon, there are actually high numbers of these crimes in some Sikh and Hindu communities too.

But of course, the Daily Mail has to play on the Islamophobia which is now in the public’s conscience, which was planted there by irresponsible press like the Daily Mail in the first place.

“Culprits hailed ‘heroes’ in the community for carrying out the attacks” it says. Again, not true. This sentence is meant to be assumed to be a fact, as it is featured in a bulleted list, giving it importance. It also seems like the Daily Mail is trying to imply that the whole Muslim community agrees that honour-killing is right, which we all know isn’t true.

Besides its outrageously biased writing style and basing fact on opinion, it also has quite shocking discussion section, asking crass questions like: “Are white children becoming the minority in British schools?” The kind of question designed to provoke bigots and BNP-supporters to rant about foreigners.

Hardly surprising that an online newspaper, whose entire front page is celebrity-ridden, doesn’t know how to write news.

Giving the ‘Unreported World’ a voice

Reporters from the Channel 4 documentary series ‘Unreported World’ tell us the difficulties and challenges they faced whilst filming for this season’s episodes.

The talk began with showings of clips from the 2011 series of Unreported World, including ‘Nigeria’s Millionaire Preachers’, ‘Uganda’s Miracle Babies’, ‘Undercover Syria’ and ‘Russia: Vlad’s Army’, some of which have not been shown on Channel 4 yet.

The newbee of the series Krishnan Guru-Murthy joined Oliver Steeds, Jenny Kleeman, Peter Oborne, Ramita Navai, Seyi Rhodes and Evan Williams, to enlighten the audience on the world of journalism and documentary-making.

Reporting for Unreported World poses many risks and challenges for crew and reporter. Seyi Rhodes said that there were physical and cultural challenges to filming in Nigeria. Floods prevented the ease of movement and certain churches were wary of being interviewed.

Jenny Kleeman said that the surgeon featured in one of her documentaries was so camera-shy, that it was difficult to film him. There were also language barriers, as it was hard to find an interpreter who spoke all the different languages of the interviewees.

Some of the Aboriginal people who were interviewed in Australia were hesitant as they feared being misrepresented, says Oliver Steeds. They had been filmed by Western film crews before, and commented ‘no-one ever asks us what we think.’

Ramita Navai commented on how emotional filming ‘Undercover Syria’ was for her. She had been in Iran during the revolution, and could relate to the people who wanted change.

The reporters encouraged anyone who has the same ambition as them, to get out there and start filming. They reminded them to stay objective. Jenny Kleeman advised one viewer to watch documentaries and analyse them, “even watching a bad documentary is useful because you can work out why its bad.”

Changes that new technology has made to journalism was highlighted by a member of the audience. The reporters responded by saying that now the people they interview can also see the end product. This pushes them to be more responsible.

The aim of the documentaries, according to Oliver Steeds, is to “give them (people) a voice.”