My design process differs based on the project I’m working on. I’ve been an artist my whole life and find it interesting to compare my processes when working on a painting vs a graphic design piece, for example. When doing film work, I like to start with the final goal first. What do I want the audience to feel? What mood do I want to evoke? I find that once these big objectives are in place it’s easier to work backwards from them and figure out things like visual style and narrative form.
Our project is a lot more difficult to validate than many of the other projects. Not only are we less than one year into a projected three-year plan, but we will also have less tangible results because of the nature of our project. We will not simply have statistics to show whether or not people have taken a liking to the mushrooms we introduce or the test strips we try and sell. Instead, the results of our project are much more nuanced. We hope to create a better understanding of an ignored reality and hope to raise the collective consciousness of society around issues of maternal health very generally. In order to even be able to get to this point we must first be able to validate the project for now and the following years.
I think the best way to validate this project is to demonstrate how there is little work done on the topic of maternal health in Sierra Leone, especially in popular culture. With there being so little done in the way of projects with our focus we are filing an uncontested space and are thus one of the frontrunner in this area with the potential to strike up a broader conversation around the issue. Our greatest asset for the project is the fact that we are taking a unique approach to filling this gap in knowledge. If we are successful then the way people educate themselves around this issue and spread this knowledge will become much more accessible to a larger group of people. With this asset our impact will be much greater and more readily available, and I think the validity of our project comes from how much easier we will be making understanding this complex issue.
How we engage with the surrounding community once we are in Sierra Leone will be of the utmost importance and has the potential to make or break our project and could make all the work we are doing to prepare pointless. If we attempt to go in with a sort of savior complex and are condescending to the people we meet, even unintentionally, then our credibility and their willingness to work with us will be shot. In order to have the best outcomes for both us and the people we work with and around a few guidelines will need to be established so we do not overstep our grounds. In order to establish what those guidelines are I believe it is best to begin by examining what our philosophy of engagement will be on the ground. For starters, the most important principal in my eyes is making sure we stay oriented toward listening to community voice. This means not superimposing our preconceived notions of the problem onto the population and instead listening to see what they believe the problem is and why it’s a problem. This will allow us to have a much better view of the situation from the perspective of the people living through it and will ultimately improve our final product as it will be able to more truly reflect the reality on the ground.
Another key principal to our philosophy of engagement is to emphasize inclusion and diversity while doing our work. This comes in to play both internally and externally through the process of creating the documentary. For instance, internally we must be open to listening to the other people on the project team and ensuring we do not get bogged down into one way of thinking that might not really be leading anywhere. Externally, while we’re on the ground we have to be conscious of the diversity of the populations we hope to work with. There is an incredible difference between perceptions and understanding of the problem in the urban and rural areas. Knowing this, we must be able to create a plan that incorporates both understandings into the final product.