When MediaStorm went to Angola to make a short film about de-mining

Earlier this week, the award-winning production studio/marketing group MediaStorm launched their short film Surviving the Peace, to promote Mines Advisory Group’s de-mining operations in Angola. Mines Advisory Group (MAG) launched with a premier in DC and a fundraiser in Angola (go figure, but hey, attendees in Luanda got free copies of the film). This is not a critique of mine removal work. We’re just not that hard-hearted. De-mining work in Angola is critical to the economic livelihood of rural populations and the free circulation of people and goods throughout the country. Right now Angola has the third largest number of in-the-ground mines and UXO (unexploded ordnances) in the world — after Afghanistan and Cambodia.

Numerous NGOs have been working in Angola since the first elections in 1992 and with renewed and consistent effort and support since the real end of the war in 2002. MAG has been there since 1994.

MAG does good work. But we do have some thoughts about MediaStorm’s filmmaking. Hired to make a short film to serve as part of the fundraising campaign, filmmakers Nathan Golon and Rick Gershon had 10 days to find the perfect people to drive their narrative and shoot the film. The film’s website presents it as reality TV adventure — new equipment, a blur of foreign tongues, and a local civil war history with Cold War entanglements that just needed to be explained in plain language.

The result? Watch and tell us what you think:



Here’s our list of things to look out for:

* Billed as a “story about Angolans, told by Angolans” the film tightly embraces the fantasy of transparent media by disappearing the cameras, filmmakers, and technology of production with the same vigor that the production notes fetishize (and advertise) technology.

* Listen as much as you watch.

* The MPLA was “Communist”, UNITA was “non-Communist” — huh?

* The inter-galatic presentation of facts and figures — so slick, clean, and other-worldly (is this supposed to make us trust their sense of order? Will they set the universe right?)

* How much do you think it cost to produce this film?

* And what fraction of the $100,000 fundraising target is to fund this film?

* Plus did you know MediaStorm does image control for Starbucks? How similar do you think their media strategy is when they report on the native harvesters? (Now compare these two project descriptions to their campaign to “Create Jobs for the USA”).

According to Halo Trust, another de-mining NGO that works in Angola, their work depends on charitable funding and it was tough going in the heat of the financial crisis in 2008-2009. The effects of landmines victimize innocent men, women, and children decades after they are laid. The US and Russia bear serious responsibility for the current landmine situation in Angola. So, by all means, let’s support de-mining operations. Let’s have another fundraiser, in DC, where the USA [diplomats?] refuse to sign the convention banning the use of landmines.

* Megan Eardley contributed to this post.

Comments

comments

Marissa Moorman

Marissa Moorman is a historian of southern Africa and on the editorial committee of Africa is a Country. She is the author of 'Intonations: a Social History of Music and Nation in Luanda, Angola, 1945-Recent Times.' (2008).

2 Comments
  1. Actually, I have read this piece twice (and watched the first 15 minutes of the film, which is a long time for someone who has seen countless films about why landmines and cluster bombs are bad) and I don’t quite get what the author’s problem is.

    Let’s take one of the main critiques:
    “Billed as a ‘story about Angolans, told by Angolans’ the film tightly embraces the fantasy of transparent media by disappearing the cameras, filmmakers, and technology of production with the same vigor that the production notes fetishize (and advertise) technology.”

    Huh? What does this sentence even mean? How do you disappear a camera? And as far as technology fetish films goes, this seems like some pretty low-grade stuff to me. Anyway, why is it bad to use slick production to garner support for this issue? Are NGOs only allowed to use crappy equipment and dated technology?

    I get the idea that funding should be spent on clearing landmines, not on splashy media. But guess what? In this very post, the author criticizes MAG for spending money to get more support to carry out the lifesaving work (admitting she doesn’t t even know how much was spent) and in the next breath notes that funding is drying up. Ok, fine. What solutions does she propose?

    Oh, here it is:
    “So, by all means, let’s support de-mining operations. Let’s have another fundraiser, in DC, where the USA [diplomats?] refuse to sign the convention banning the use of landmines.”

    “Let’s”? So does that mean the author is going to hold a fundraiser for MAG? Or continue to sit behind a computer and critique efforts to get the job done while other people are out there working hard every day to ensure landmines are banned, land is cleared, and survivors are assisted?

    Something tells me it’s the latter…

    And what’s with the “[diplomats?]” bit?

    Perhaps if I watched the whole thing, my tune would change. In any case, this author should have spent a bit more time come up with a coherent argument before attempting to be critical, because this piece falls flat.

    p.s. The way the filmmakers write out the numbers does bug me. “500 thousand”? And then “4 million”? Pick a style and go with it. I’m all about using as many zeros as possible: 500,000 or 4,000,000.

  2. Thank you for watching the film and your support of mine action. I want to clarify that none of the money from the campaign or from individual donors goes towards film production, fees, or distribution costs or any other material costs. The film is designed to build awareness and is distrtibuted for free on our website – http://www.magamerica.org. We are very proud of the film, which was funded by grants, and the MAG staff in Angola. The free premiere was attended primarily by others in the non-profit community working in Angola and individual contributors. Please go to our website to learn more about our work and the campaign to held this country desperately in need. From Patricia Loria, Markeing Manager, MAG America

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