The problems with MediaStorm’s filmmaking

MediaStorm went to Angola to make a short film about de-mining. Their techniques gave us pause.

Construction worker in Luanda. Image via Stephen Martin Flickr

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.

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