Dr Jonathan Stone is a risk management specialist and former Global Resilience Adviser at Tearfund. He recently worked as part of a team called the STREVA project, making a series of short films to communicate risks from volcanoes for small communities in Colombia and St Vincent in the Caribbean. Both areas have experienced volcanic activity in the past.
‘Most risk communication films tell a story based on the expert's point of view – they are very factual and “correct”,’ says Jonathan. ‘How you frame risk is different for everyone. Not many people focus on the difficult choices people have to make. We wanted to tell a different story, where those affected by disasters played a significant role.’
As such, the team included local people in all stages of the film-making, from location sourcing and interviewing to the final edits. ‘For the risk message to be of value, people need to engage with the content they see and hear,’ adds Jonathan.
Guidelines for making films that have impact
- Encourage people to share oral histories of events.
- Look for multiple perspectives, from villagers to local government officials (it may be the first time either has heard each other’s point of view).
- Use recognisable places and faces: this helps to convey risk messages.
- Keep the films short, around four to six minutes but under ten minutes.
- Use historical events to inform future decisions and prompt reflection.
Jonathan adds, ‘Images convey powerful emotions and a more immediate sense of space and place than written facts and statistics. We're not good at making decisions about risks we haven't seen or experienced, and the films allow us to experience what someone who has been there has done in that situation. They create a human connection.’
This was certainly Jonathan’s experience when he watched a community screening of the films they had made on St Vincent, outdoors with the speakers turned up and the sunlight fading. ‘Watching the films they had helped to make moved some of the local community to tears,’ he says. ‘It moved me to tears, too, and it wasn't because the film was sad. Disasters are difficult times; but this was a shared celebration, where people talked about seeing it with new eyes.’