A Different Spin on Development
Northern British Columbia – British Columbia
Friday, 15 February 2013, 04:09 PM
By: Brianna Rowe and Katrina Sieniuc, based on an interview with John Kerr
A Different Spin is a video production project established in 2000 by John Kerr. This project trains youth and local residents to film and produce videos in various First Nation communities in northern British Columbia. The idea for A Different Spin came through the Tatlayoko Think Tank (TTT) project – a community development initiative started by Kerr in 1990. Kerr explains that both projects share the goal of empowering people in rural communities through film. Through workshops, the goal is to teach people how to use technology to tell their own stories.
Part of A Different Spin’s success is due to its provision of film training to isolated communities. According to Kerr, professional film schools in B.C. like the Vancouver Film School or the Gulf Islands Film School, are difficult to access for many Northern community, given their far-off locations and cost (although they do offer scholarships to Aboriginal students). Kerr describes A Different Spin as a film school that community members can access closer to home. A Different Spin gives people the opportunity to learn how to tell their own stories in a professional setting. Kerr believes that participants feel empowered by the production process. They become proficient in using professional equipment, and they gain confidence in the filmmaking process. For example, one youth that Kerr trained in 2005 now works in Toronto as a professional filmmaker.
A Different Spin continues to face a number of challenges, particularly in terms of program sustainability. Kerr explains that the major difficulty in keeping the project alive is the fact that it does not make money. The most successful projects occur when the community finds a way to gain financial stability from their filmmaking. For example, a group of community members in Masset, B.C. continued to make films after A Different Spin left, because they had the financial means to sustain their own equipment. However, Kerr contends that this is not typically the case. Too often, funding runs out and there is no incentive for communities to continue with filmmaking projects.
A Different Spin’s funding mostly comes from outside donors. Past donors have included Industry Canada, groups involved with Geographic Information System projects, and the First Nations Technology Council (FNTC). Consequently, donor funding largely dictates which communities A Different Spin works with. Donors also determine the topics that the films cover. FNTC puts Kerr in contact with certain communities when a specific event needs to be filmed. For example, in 2005 a community in Fort St. James contacted A Different Spin though the FNTC to film a church ceremony that gave back land to the First Nations community in the area.
A further drawback is that A Different Spin does not sufficiently utilize the Internet or new media for distribution or promotion. This is largely due to the fact that there is limited Internet connectivity in many of these communities. The lack of access to connectivity severely limits the ability of community members to upload their content onto the web. As a result, distributing and promoting the videos remains a challenge. Often, Kerr provides communities with a DVD copy of their work, but no efforts are made for distributing or promoting the films further.
Sustaining the project’s appeal in communities is also challenging. Surprisingly, Kerr observes that the last few years have seen a waning interest on the part of youth to engage in A Different Spin. According to Kerr, many youth he meets are not as excited by the professional equipment and opportunity to learn filmmaking skills as they have been in the past. He thought this lack of interest may have something to do with the project’s failure to make use of digital media.
In conclusion, despite questions regarding A Different Spin’s lack of sustainability in the long-term, the experience in the short-term is beneficial for community empowerment. Kerr contends that the communities he works with are always enthusiastic to make films. He believes A Different Spin can be a tool for ‘development’, by enabling people to tell their own stories through film.