Now that MONUSCO has a new mandate for 2018, I have created a new project with Congolese director Horeb Bulembo Shindano to tell the story of the UN in Congo. The film will be a reflexive documentary told from Horeb's perspective, and will have a three act structure: 1. Civilian Protection; 2, Soft Power; 3. The End Game,
Here is the new demo: ( Password: Dzigavertov1
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Sunday, March 5, 2017
March 1, 2017
World Cinema Fund Africa
Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin
107 85 BERLIN
Re: CONGO: A MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?
Dear Friends at the WCF/Africa Fund,
First of all, I would like to express my sincere thanks for your allowing me to submit
CONGO: A MISSION IMPOSSIBLE? to WCF Africa this year. I believe you have made
correct decision, for the following reasons:
1. After a century of suffering starting with the genocide of King Leopold II and culminating in Africa’s World War, Congo has made major strides towards recovery over the past two decades/ Now that recovery is threatened by the refusal of President Joseph Kabila to obey the Congolese constitution and step down after two terms as president. The Congolese people do not want another Mobutu. Unfortunately, the new American administration does not seem concerned with rule of law and human rights, and there has even been talk of removing American regulations on conflict minerals such as coltan. I believe it is essential to focus the international spotlight on Congo now – before it is too late.
2. On a personal note, I have spent 4 decades making films about the developing world, and I have been constantly searching for new ways to give people a voice. Prior to the digital revolution, the economic obstacles were insurmountable, but my experience in Timor Leste in 2000 was a revelation. Unhappy with what I felt was a cover-up of the massive Indonesian human rights violations , I quit the UN to make my own documentary, EAST TIMOR: BETRAYAL AND RESURRECTION, which won a few prizes, and is now being distributed around the world by the East Timorese themselves. It is my goal to do the same for Congo, where I had a team of talented video professionals for 5 years, and also found a brilliant Congolese video journalist – Horeb Bulambo – who is now the director of CONGO: A MISSION IMPOSSIBLE? This will be the first time a filmmaker has been able to depict the work of a UN mission in his own country, and that alone will be a significant cinematic and cultural event – as well as an interesting film.
Many thanks again for your kind consideration,
A luta continua,
Friday, February 10, 2017
1.2 Producer’s Statement By Ted Folke:
In 2007, I received an offer from the United Nations Mission to the Democratic Republic in the Congo (MONUC) to become Chief of their Video Unit. I immediately accepted, and found a very talented international staff of 10, equipped with the latest Sony HD cameras and several state-of-art editing suites. The job was a dream come true, and I found the Congo a fascinating and very complex subject.
Over the next 5 years, we produced over 200 weekly video magazines with a Congolese cast shown on all major domestic television networks, with Congolese television journalist Horeb Bulambo as our main attraction. It seems only natural now that we should be working together again with members of the MONUC Video Unit team, with Horeb as the director of CONGO: A MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?
One of the buzzwords in developmental planning circles in the past decade has been capacity building; this means passing on technological skills to developing countries so they can become self-reliant and independent. In the world of communications media, as noted previously, the cost of using analog film, audio and television technology has been a major stumbling block. Now, thanks to digital technology, this stumbling block has disappeared – a development I witnessed first hand in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where I saw the phenomenon of Radio Okapi, which is easily the most successful example of developmental communications capacity building in the world.
The result of a joint effort by the United Nations and the Swiss foundation Fondation Hirondelle, Radio Okapi was created in 2002 to provide a reliable source of national information in a country devastated by war. Today, with a staff of C. 200 reporting from around the DRC, Radio Okapi reaches over 50% of the population, and is the most popular and trusted radio station in the country; personally, I would have liked to emulate the Okapi capacity building model in digital video production, but this activity lay outside our mission mandate, and probably would have been blocked by our partners in the Congolese government, who already had periodic conflicts with Radio Okapi reporting on sensitive issues. Freedom of expression comes at a price in the DRC; three different Radio Okapi journalists have been murdered under very suspicious circumstances.
During my five years as Chief of the Video Unit, I was blessed with a superb team, and the star performers are my current partners – Director Horeb Bulambo, Cinematographer Albert Liesegang, Cinematographer/Editor Alan Brain and Editor/Graphic Designer Meriton Ahmeti. Together, we made a decision to look for good stories and to produce them in our own cinema verite style; we hated standard UN “ Voice of God” narration, and wanted to let our subjects tell their own stories whenever possible.
While we come from different backgrounds, the five of us share a dedication to the art and craft of cinema, and we are forever seeking to push the creative envelope to find new horizons to explore. Unfortunately, with its obsession with the printed word, the UN has never been able to understand visual media, with sadly predictable results.
Indeed, since 1976, I have had something of a love-hate relationship with the organization, and have left several times after creative disputes, vowing to never return. In 2000, for example, fed up with what I considered a cover up of massive Indonesian human rights violations in Timor Leste, I left UNTAET to make my own independent documentary feature about East Timor. The result, produced on a shoestring budget, EAST TIMOR: BETRAYAL AND RESURRECTION, was technically rough, but it won the prestigious UN Correspondents’ Association’s Ricardo Ortega Award for Excellence in Electronic Journalism in 2004. This film also was extremely popular with the East Timorese, who are now producing a Portuguese version for distribution to the Lusaphonic countries of the world. ( For this film, please see: https://youtu.be/j_s46-5R4OE )
In Congo, my dream has been to pick up where that documentary left off, and to produce a feature documentary showing both the existential challenges confronting UN Peacekeepers in the field, and the hopes and dreams of the people of the host nation from their perspective. CONGO:A MISSION IMPOSSIBLE? is the realization of that dream.
Our Sample Demo on Human Rights, which is Part 4 in CONGO: THE AFRICAN SPRING offers a good illustration of our cinematic style and approach. While we are telling the story of the late Fernando Castanon on one level, we have several narrative threads unfolding simultaneously to give a feeling of the unending wave of human rights violations that required investigation – with most of these cases never being brought to a satisfactory conclusion. ( For the link to our Human Rights Sample Demo, please click here: https://vimeo.com/154673345
Our talented Director Horeb Bulambo, now on location in Congo, will deliver a personal and poetic introduction to each chapter from Congo. Our editor Meriton Ahmeti is a highly skilled graphic designer with a full arsenal of fonts and animated techniques, as well as a talented composer. Along with using original Congolese music, Meriton will be creating a score for CONGO: A MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?
We are looking forward to producing a feature documentary that will be aesthetically bold, dynamic and as emotionally gripping and powerful as Congo itself. We were there four years longer than Josef Conrad, so we have a creative obligation to provide a contemporary update on his century-old vision.
For The Samba Project, LLC demo reel, please click on this link:
https://vimeo.com/140320502 (no password needed!)
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
2.4: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MONUSCO VIDEO UNIT:
These items are based on written recommendations developed with my MDP coach after the MDP IN 2011. I submitted most of them to former Director PID George Ola-Davies, and they were all ignored. However, I am convinced that they all remain viable and relevant.
- KENNEDY SOP FOR VIDEO UNIT REGION EAST SHOULD BE RE-INSTITUTED
- DIRECTOR PID SHOULD HAVE MONTHLY EDITORIAL MEETINGS WITH CHIEF, VIDEO
- SHARING OF REPORTERS WITH RADIO OKAPI SHOULD BE ENABLED
- FUNDS FOR A DEDICATED LINE FOR FTP SHOULD BE RELEASED BY PID
- VIDEO CHIEF SHOULD BE IN LOOP FOR ALL VIDEO RECRUITMENT
2.5 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR DPKO/DFS AND OTHER MISSIONS:
THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE :
While most pundits and media experts recognize we live in a Digital Age, and are in the midst of a Digital Revolution which is changing our lives in more ways than we can be aware of, the United Nations remains mired in the Age of Print, almost a century behind the modern world.
Since the UN is, as noted elsewhere, a political organization, this emphasis on print and words is understandable. After all, nations have gone to war over differing interpretations of words in treaties. However, this focus on words makes the UN often blind to the power of images, and keeps the UN way behind the curve when it comes to contemporary multimedia communications. In DPKO missions I am familiar with , the Spokesperson sometimes doubles as Director. P.I.D. and this has resulted in a PID stunted by a regressive emphasis on what I call the UN damage-control school of Public Information. The main tenet of the damage-control school is that all criticisms , no matter how inane, must be rebutted,; corollary #2 is that the worst thing one can do is to make a mistake, and that, therefore, all texts need to be thoroughly vetted and revised, as often as needed.
In terms of video, this means the safest way to deal with any subject is to: a) Have a thoroughly vetted narration; or b): to show a VIP soundbite, since the VIP can then take the blame if something goes wrong – and he or she will be happy to be seen on camera, which is money in the bank for the Director, P.I.D.
However, regardless of political leanings, successful professional practitioners of propaganda and mass marketing from Josef Goebbels to Gene Lakoff are in complete agreement that images are far more powerful than words, and the billions upon billions of dollars spent on corporate branding and political campaigns are tangible proof: a picture is worth a thousand words, and that therefore images, not words, are the way to people’s hearts, and that, above all, one should never be boring.
In direct contrast, the deadly secret of the UN damage -control school of Public Information is that being boring is not necessarily such a bad thing, just so long as the boss is happy. Indeed, if the program is boring, fewer people will watch it and there is less of a chance something can go wrong. And, as I experienced first hand working with SG Kurt Waldheim, who is going to tell the boss he is boring? \
People who understand communications are first and foremost good listeners and good managers, ready to understand their intended audience and to seek ways to touch their hearts.
Directors of P.I.D, first and foremost, need to be acquainted with modern communications theory.
It also helps if they have some knowledge of media production management, as well as experience in managing the creative talent actually doing the work on the ground.
Since good spokespersons are primarily performers who can deftly articulate the party Line, they are rarely also good listeners or innovative managers. Accordingly, the Spokesperson and the Director PID should be different people, if at all possible, since there are very few individuals possessing both the ability to be a good performer and a good listener.
PART III: PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS
Personally, as a film and video producer with several decades of international experience both inside and outside the United Nations system, I found my experience as Chief, Video Unit to be both rewarding and fulfilling. To be sure, there were challenges, but this is normal in every professional situation. What was most meaningful to me was that I was given the opportunity to do some quality work – work that I am proud of, and that should be useful to my colleagues in future peacekeeping missions.
In this regard, the genesis of our signature program, MONUC REALITES, is a good example. When we created MONUC REALITES in 2008, we were under intense indirect pressure from Kevin Kennedy to create something modern and up-to-date that would promote the mission mandate to the Congolese population. We knew that we had to produce something radically different from LA SEMAINE EN BREF, but we had to navigate our way through a series of false starts before we got it right.
For example, SRSG Doss was in love with speed, and wanted everything to be as real-time as possible.
He was oblivious to the fact that we were in a country where everything ran late, and where the technical infrastructure was a few decades behind the Western world. For example, shortly after he arrived, he demanded a live telecast of his first Town Hall meeting broadcast to all the sectors – an order so far-fetched that we could only shake our heads in amazement. Eventually, CITS , afraid to tell him that what he was asking was completely impossible, foolishly tried to compromise with a live audio transmission to the sectors that was a complete disaster . The feedback from the speakers was so loud that every word was unintelligible across the country, the sole exception being our Video audio feed coming from our
ace sound engineer Georges Dominique’s lapel microphone.
So, when it came to our new program, SRSG Doss initially wanted a daily video response to some item in the DRC news that had irked him, and, incredibly enough, he wanted that response embedded in the local DRC news shows. This proved to be a non-starter when the Congolese TV stations simply refused to allow it. This was a blessing, because we longed to do a real program, rather knee-jerk reactions. It was also my feeling that many of the wild accusations about us in the DRC media were best ignored, and the dignifying them with a response would give them more credibility than they deserved
Both my senior video producer Carlo Ontal and I agreed that a pro-active approach showing Congolese inter-acting with MONUC staff in the field would be far more interesting television, and far more effective.
Fortunately, Kevin Kennedy had the same mind-set, though he also wanted a news segment with up-to-date MONUC news from the weekly press conference and other sources.
After several demos, we managed to create a video magazine format that combined both a news segment and a feature story – with the news story the lead, but a vignette intro at the top as a tease for the feature story. The thinking behind this was simple. We expected the audience to be intrigued by the feature story, but we also wanted them to watch the news items, so they had to see the news before they could see the feature story.
I first learned this trick years ago when I was in India studying the Indian film industry. The Films Divison of the Indian government was the world’s largest producer of informational films at the time, and they forced all commercial movie theatres to show (and pay for!) their films as shorts prior to the main feature.
The Indian Institute of Mass Communications did studies on the Films Division products, and, much to their dismay, they found that it was difficult indeed to get people to watch the films unless they were sandwiched between popular commercial features.
We then had to find a way to generate feature stories on a regular basis so we would never run dry.
The newly created Video Unit Region East ,led by producer Carlo Ontal, and editor Titus Nyukuri, was given the task of shooting feature stories around the East, while Kinshasa-based director Alan Brain would shoot material around the West. Every month, Carlo would come up with story ideas that we would fine tune in conference calls with Kevin Kennedy, and then he would go on the road with Titus and our reporter Horeb Bulambo and shoot 3 or 4 stories per trip. Titus would do a rough cut in the field, and then send the stories to Kinshasa by hand, as described previously.
Meanwhile, our national staff cameraman Serge Kasanga and Daniel Wangisha would cover news stories in the field and in Goma and Kinshasa as needed. Back in Kinshasa, every Monday, head writer Ado Abdou would finish a script and send it to me. I would do a rewrite, and send to the Director for approval, and then send it to the Presenter on Tuesday night. We would then shoot the presentation on Wednesday, and editors Meriton Ahmeti and Kevin Jordan would finish the program on Thursday afternoon so I could then submit it for final approval by the Director, so we could distribute to the TV stations by the weekend.
With this workflow, we were able to produce over 120 programs between 2008- 2010, barely ever missing a week, and maintaining a consistency of quality. In this regard, special credit must go to our brilliant graphic designer Meriton Ahmeti, who gave the show a production value that was unlike anything the Congolese had ever seen, and therefore aroused great visual interest. The Congolese TV stations paid us the supreme compliment of showing the program in prime time without charging an extra fee, and we received direct accolades from both Information Minister Lambert Mende and First Lady Olive Lembe Kabila, and we never had a complaint of any kind from our target audience, the Congolese .
Our only detractors consisted of the Spokesperson and his cronies, for reasons known only to them.
As far as I am concerned, MONUC REALITES was a mission well accomplished, and I am very proud to have been part of this team effort. It is my sincere hope that this program serves as a point of departure for future video programs by other DPKO missions. For the immediate future, I shall be writing a doctoral thesis on digital documentary for Sweden’s University of Lund, and my old school, Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, has offered a position in 2013 in their newly created Film Department as a Professor of Documentary Film.
I feel indeed fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work on Peacekeeping missions, and I am open to the possibility of a consultancy in the future., though preferably not with MONUSCO, for reasons which will become evident in Part IV, Come what may, I shall always be more than happy to share my experiences and whatever I have learned with DPKO colleagues in the future. For me, this has been both an honor and a privilege.
Friday, January 22, 2016
2.3: CHALLENGES AND LESSONS
The primary challenge of any Public Information Division is to create support for the Mission Mandate among both the population being served and the external world. The primary challenge for the Video Unit in this context should be to produce quality Video Product which helps achieve these goals. These were our goals when Mario Zamorano and Kevin Kennedy were our directors.
However, after the departure of Kevin Kennedy, our primary challenge became to produce quality video product in spite of incompetent and even sometimes destructive supervision – supervision which had no interest in hearing our professional opinions on any matter, creative or professional.
Under these conditions, protecting the integrity ot the Video Unit became my top priority.
During this period, I used every means available to avoid personal confrontations, even under extreme provocation. Over the years, I have learned that such confrontations seldom produce desired outcomes, and often makes things worse.
Aside from a few decades of professional production experience around the world, what enabled me to survive in MONUC was my training as a yudansha in aikido, also known the art of peace, which I have been practicing for 20 years now. In Kinshasa, I helped the Chief of Staff of the Japanese Embassy, Fujita-San, to create a dojo with Congolese students, and this free time activity helped me understand the Congolese people better than any official UN program. Furthermore, I am not aware of any UN training program which helps staff deal with some of the complex internal politics of the organization, which can be a serious distraction. Therefore, I would encourage anyone of any age seriously interested in becoming a real peacekeeper to explore aikido. Peace begins in our own hearts and minds, and is reflected in the way we treat others. If we peacekeepers cannot work together, we can hardly expect the populations we serve to do so.
When I felt the climate in the division was becoming truly unbearable, I also turned to the Ombudsman for advice and support. For most of my tenure, the Ombudsman was Gang Li, and he taught me a great deal about the UN system while advising me on how to best defuse combustible situations. I felt I could be perfectly frank with him: it was like having the luxury of a good lawyer for guidance and counsel. My previous mission, UNTAET, had no Ombudsman, and the difference was remarkable. I feel the office of the Ombudsman is an invaluable addition to Peacekeeping Missions, with the caveat that the Ombudsman must be completely independent from the mission, and that all communication with the Ombudsman must be kept confidential.
Other major challenges involved our dependence on other divisions.
For example, on a technical level, Video Unit had a challenging relationship with CITS. We were completely dependent upon CITS for all internet services, and, despite the efforts of every PID Director, we rarely ever received the support we needed to do our jobs properly.
The sole exception was UNIFEED, Thanks to the program File Catalyst, combined with the hard work and dedication of our Video IT experts Titus Nyukuri and Kevin Jordan, we were usually able to send short video clips to UNIFEED, the UN website on a regular basis,
FTP has been the industry standard for electronic transmission of video material for several years now, but we were never able to get it functional in MONUC or MONUSCO, in spite of many a conference and many an unkept promise. We recommended a privately paid, dedicated line for
FTP transmission from Goma to Kinshasa on several occasions, only to be told it was against
UN rules. Frankly, had we adhered to all UN rules, we never would have been able to do anything.
As a result, we were forced to send tapes by hand from Goma to Kinshasa several times a week, putting us in violation of MOVCON rules. I authorized this practice – with the tacit understanding of the Chief of Transport, once he understood our predicament.
Likewise, the CITS ban on YouTube made it impossible for UN staff to see our weekly programs on our YouTube channel. As a result, we had to send our programs by Intranet to our colleagues, and there were always problems. Many in the sectors could not open the files, so naturally they directed their complaints to me, and I, in turn, attempted to direct them to the CITS Helpdesk. I felt it was important that our colleagues had some contact with what was going on in the rest of the mission, so this was definitely a worthwhile effort.
Our YouTube and Facebook channels remained essential to the effort to get our message out to the external world, and we turned to CITS for assistance to make it possible to upload our programs from our offices. However, we never could find a time-efficient way to upload programs on our UN computers, so we did all of the uploading at home on our private servers, at our own expense. It was worth every penny.
However, a dedicated line for some $300. a month with a private server was a option that would have solved both the FTP problem and the uploading of material, but that was one that was never approved, due to so-called “ UN rules” that I never really saw or understood.
Indeed, this solution would have been far more cost effective than the expensive BGAN option proposed by CITS, which would have cost at least $3000 or more per week, depending upon the number of transmissions. Just for the record, BGAN is based on sat phones, and only makes sense in a remote location when no other options are available and time is of the essence.
The final challenge I will deal with here was the baffling decision by Finance in 2011 to make it impossible for to hire freelance Congolese presenters, even though we had plenty of money in our budget to pay freelance Congolese talent, and we had been doing so for three years without any problems at all. Budget failed to understand that articulate, attractive and hard working presenters do not grow on trees, and we had searched for a long time before finding our star Horeb Bulambo, who became the Congolese face and voice of the mission for many Congolese. And since he was educated, attractive and charismatic, he did an excellent job as our front man promoting the MONUSCO mandate from remote locations around the country. Anyone with any knowledge of television will understand when I was say that he had been very hard to find. Yet our friends from Budget, doubtless with some encouragement from some of our PID colleagues who were jealous of our success, turned a deaf ear to our pleas, effectively killing the program at a critical time just before the elections.
This was particularly aggravating to me because I had just been in meetings in New York with Caroline Petit and Stephane Dujarric of DPI, who liked MONUSCO REALITES, and were trying to set up a free distribution deal for the program with Belgian RTBF, which wanted to broadcast the program for free in Europe, thereby reaching the Congolese diaspora and others . Astonishingly enough, then PID Director George Ola-Davies gave us no support either with Budget or RTBF, and a very promising opportunity withered on the vine, along with MONUSCO REALITES. No explanations were offered. In the world of communications, such professional negligence is a serious matter, and would be grounds for dismissal in any professional organization I am familiar with. Backdoor communications with the Administration had never been my style – nor did COS or the SRSG ,much to their credit , encourage them - so there was little I could do at the time.
A related challenge was our relationship with Radio Okapi. As far as I am concerned, Radio Okapi is the jewel in the crown of MONUC PID, and is the greatest accomplishment I know of in any DPKO Information operation. Radio Okapi is a real radio station that has become the most popular and
trusted voice on the DRC airwaves, thanks to a joint effort by MONUC and the Swiss Fondation Hirondelle. The relationship between PID and Hirondelle has been stormy, however. Hirondelle
representatives often feel that PID was in the propaganda business, while Okapi should be doing objective news. By the time I arrived in 2007, there was clearly a lot of bad blood in the air, and to this day there are many at Radio Okapi who still do not understand they work for the UN.
Thanks to Radio Okapi chief Jean Jacques Simon (who was professional enough to work with me in spite of past differences,) I was able to obtain the services of two Okapi presenters who wanted to expand into television presenting. We began to use them for MONUC REALITES, and they gave our program an intimacy and warmth that had been missing. When it came to paying them, however, I was told UN rules prohibited them getting any compensation. Since I needed the presenters to know their lines and be punctual, I made a private arrangement with the presenters, and my solution worked perfectly. The female presenters were excellent and we made them look even more beautiful.
Soon, other reporters from Okapi wanted to work with us . I was very interested, since I had been seeking an alternative to Horeb for some time. The Okapi reporters were educated professionals who could travel and work in the field, unlike anyone else available. Some collaboration seemed natural, since it would have promoted Okapi capacity building for the future, and would have eliminated our dependence on freelancers. What I had in mind was having some reporters for a week or two every month.
However, when I proposed the possibility of some collaboration with Okapi to then Director George Ola-Davies, his response was to try to create a conflict between myself and Radio Okapi Chef d’Antenne, Amadou Ba. Fortunately, both Amadou and I could see what he was trying to do; and neither of us had any reason for dispute, so we dodged the bullet. However, that meant curtains for what should have been an obvious option of maximizing talent at hand for the benefit of all, especially our Congolese partners.
Episodes such as this, along with others, made me wonder what on earth was going on in PID. In the case of George Ola-Davies, it seemed that at times we were not working for the same organization. More on this in Part IV.