“Making films, making society” was the overall topic of lab 17 at the World Forum for Democracy. How can films ensure that all voices are heard? And what are problematic issues related to that? Tunisie4.0 and Lenguas Jóvenes (language for the youth) are two examples of initiatives which use films as a tool to give a voice to citizens.

How to give a voice?

Tunisie4.0 is a platform which publishes documentaries and docu-fiction films about different topics which are relevant in the Tunisian society. Those topics are Islam, technology, democracy, and geopolitics. All the films represent views and visions on the future of Tunisia. It became especially important after the Arab Spring when people wanted to express themselves and wanted to have the opportunity to “say what you have to say”, as mentioned by the presenter Syhem Belkhodja.

Lenguas Jóvenes is part of the initiative Puerta Joven and was founded in Mexico with the aim to support indigenous people who migrated from rural areas to the cities. Because they usually speak their own, indigenous language and intercultural awareness is lacking, they have problems to get included. By getting taught on how to use new technologies, such as making videos with mobile phones, young people receive the possibility to express their views and needs with regard to their environmental context.

Can films make a real difference in democracy?

According to Aldo Arce, who is the founder of Puerta Joven, the initiative does not only provide a platform to connect and exchange but it “goes beyond film making”. The films are only a tool to attract policy makers. After that, proposals are developed to influence public policy and to improve the situation of the indigenous youth in Mexico. An example of a successful story is that policemen now get training on how to treat young people in a more respectful way.

In the case of Tunisie4.0 young people get the chance to express “what kind of democracy they want”, independently from the background they are coming from. So although there are many different groups with different backgrounds, there might be one common vision on democracy which can be shared with all the other citizens.

Responsibility

The question of responsibility was also one concern raised by different participants during the lab. Patricia Sasnal, who was a discussant, shared some of her insights about film making. She thinks that we should differentiate between films used as an expression of art and films made via the phone and used as a mass tool, for example. The first ones, in her eyes, are rather undemocratic as art is something not attainable for everyone and reaching only a small amount of people. Furthermore, art does not always represent reality. Films made by phones and made public for almost everyone, in contrast, are more democratic in nature as everyone can use it and they are not “controllable”, as she says. So in both cases, when making films, the people involved should be aware of that they have a certain responsibility. The content of the films should not be manipulating or unbalanced, and it should be made clear if the pictures show reality or fiction.

But in my eyes, it does not only need the responsibility of the film makers, but even more the responsibility of policy makers and local authorities. They need to take the responsibility in a way that they take these initiatives seriously and that they recognise what the people’s needs are. Finally, they should take action in order to meet the needs of the citizens.

Conclusion

In order to make the impact of films more powerful and to have an influence on policy makers, training is needed and possibilities need to be provided to express different views. This is what both initiatives offer to the citizens of their countries and it is a big advantage that “more and more people have the tools to make films”, as noted by Michal Micousek during the discussion. But it is also important to see actions resulting from the messages spread. The gap between the citizens and the policy makers needs to be closed.