Global series gains momentum


Cape Town-based Don Edkins of STEPS International is executive producing Why Poverty? – a documentary series consisting of eight long films and 30 short pieces produced by filmmakers from around the world. At the time of going to press 40 broadcasters had committed to the project.

The long films are in various stages of production to be completed for global broadcast in November 2012, and will reach audiences of about 500 million. Why Poverty? asks why over a billion people still live in poverty in the 21st century and it looks at the structural causes of poverty.

The concept for Why Poverty? was borne out of discussions by the STEPS working group, the non-profit organisation that initiated another global project, Why Democracy? as well as the southern African series on HIV/Aids, Steps for the Future.

Says Edkins: “Over two years ago Mette Hoffmann Meyer of Danish broadcaster DRTV spoke about problems of inequality in society and the BBC’s Nick Fraser said we should do something about poverty. We had an initial brainstorming session in London in November 2009 with broadcasters, experts and filmmakers. Lots of people are making films about poverty at the moment so wanted to make sure our series would be different. These films aim to inspire people to try and tackle poverty.

“We wanted stories that present possible solutions to poverty. This series is set against the background of the Millennium Development Goals, which remain in the hands of governments and do not empower citizens. Public service broadcasters reach mass audiences so a series about poverty can go a long way to highlight the issue. Poverty is one of the greatest violations of human rights – there is no reason why anyone should have to live in poverty in the 21st century.’

STEPS set up an editorial group and identified filmmakers who were invited to pitch proposals for the eight long films. “We also received proposals from other filmmakers. As these films are to be shown on the world’s major broadcasters we had to commission people with a proven track record. We had discussions with all the filmmakers because each has their own style and the films must fit in with our theme. Some of the long films are feature length while others fit into the broadcast hour,’ explains Edkins.

The films are: Solar Grandmothers (Egypt / America); Next Harvest (Africa / Britain); Stealing Africa (Denmark); How to do Good (Sweden); Welcome to the World (Britain); The Animated History of Poverty (Britain / Netherlands); Chinese Dream (China); and Upstairs Downstairs (USA).

An open call as well as a targeted call was put out for 30 x five-minute films that prioritised Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.

Edkins issued a call to South African producers at the Durban FilmMart in July. “I’m hoping to attract lots of South African participation. Short films are a difficult genre but a wonderful way of giving new filmmakers a voice. Some of the short films will be viral.’

Why Poverty? was presented at MIPCOM in Cannes, France in October. Edkins notes that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is a very important partner as it gave STEPS development funding so that the core broadcasters (YLE, DRTV, BBC, VPRO, SVT and NRK) could start to develop ideas and secure commitment from other broadcasters. Recent partners to come on board include Doordashan, MBC, RUV, BNT and Futura.

Broad access

To extend the reach of the project there is a strong online element to it. While the long films deal with global structures, Voice of the Poor will utilise a method developed by Bolivian filmmakers and used in Finland where ordinary people can have their voices heard.

“The idea behind this is that you pitch a “story tent’ in a particular location and people come in and tell their stories on camera. These will be collated as short pieces and also made into a single long film. The first “story tents’ will take place in Bolivia, Asia, Middle East and Africa.

“Our long term objective is to make Why Poverty? as accessible as possible to the public and to NGOs, educational institutions and so on. We’re working with a group called Purpose which is the co-founder of social movements like Avaaz, GetUp and Livestrong. Purpose is devising a strategy out of the content that we’re producing that will create a way for more people to get involved and take action against poverty,’ concludes Edkins.

To be a part of this global project visit:

SCREENAFRICA Print Magazine – November 2011 (view here)


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