Video that means something

Video online opens a new world that few YouTube watchers have seen. Wide distribution for exposés of police brutality in Egypt, for example, have emboldened a timid local press to write for the first time about the longstanding practices of abuse and torture. In 24 Hours for Darfur, regular people make impassioned statements about stopping the genocide. A video from India inspires thousands to donate their eyes to the blind.

A diverse panel of documentary video aficionados at the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival (Sunday, Nov. 11, 2007) gave the audience a tantalizing look at what we can expect in the future. Led by Mike Wesch (the Kansas State anthropology professor who made The Machine Is Us/ing Us, viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube), the panelists showed examples of video that make you want to grab a camera and start telling stories immediately.

The final speaker — possibly the most inspiring — was Silas Hagerty, a 20-something filmmaker who is running a film production company, Smooth Feather Productions, on the principles of the gift economy. (Way to tell Andrew Keen where to shove it!) Hagerty showed his 7-min. documentary Lusaka Sunrise, about soccer players promoting HIV/AIDS awareness in Africa. He told us that one day after he had stayed up all night editing a video for a friend, purely as a favor, an act of friendship, and it had made his friend so happy, Hagerty was riding his bicycle through the streets of Brooklyn, bursting with happiness himself, because it felt so good to do something as an act of pure friendship. He thought, hey, is there some way I could do this all the time?

Make films for love. Crazy, isn’t it? Hagerty has given up his apartment and is making a go of it. People get excited about his ideas, and they donate their time, facilities, equipment. Someone just donated office space.

Jenny Douglas is another person who’s working for love, not money (although she still has her day job). KarmaTube is a site dedicated to finding videos that inspire. The founders like to think of them as “do something” videos — that is, stories that will make you want to take action. But the main criteria for selection, Douglas said, is that the stories inspire the viewers. As of Sunday there were 106 videos in the collection. They have no budget and no funding. By word of mouth, the site has gone from 7,000 views per month in January 2007 to almost 40,000 in October. In addition to the awesome Hostel Holi video, they have promoted a video about meditation in a Seattle prison and Beatbox on the Paris Metro, which captures an a cappella performance by American rap group Naturally7. is a crowdsourcing site that invites the audience to subtitle videos in any language. I saw this a couple of weeks ago when someone sent me a link to RSS in Plain English — now subtitled in almost 30 languages. “Language should be a bridge and not a barrier,” said dotSUB’s Michael Smolens at the panel discussion. Anyone can contribute subtitles to a video on the site. If you stop after completing only 10 percent of the subtitles, it’s okay — anyone can pick up where you left off. The interface is brilliantly simple.

Other examples of subtitled videos at dotSUB: Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus describes how he created microcredit, a movement that has lifted millions from poverty (about 100 languages); Vaughan Penn’s Ready to Rise, a music video (15 languages); Hands to Hearts, about a woman in India who trains unemployed women to look after orphaned children (15 languages).

You can embed the translated video on your own site or export a QuickTime version for download.

Sameer Padania told us about The Hub, a new project from, which promotes the use of video and online technologies “to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations.” They posted a graphic, horrifying video of police torture in Egypt and, more recently, several videos from inside Burma. Padania talked about the proliferation of cell phones with built-in video cameras, combined with YouTube’s ease of use, as providing a new power to document abuses of human rights anywhere in the world.

Sara Pollack, film manager for YouTube, has the job of supporting and promoting independent film through YouTube. (Who knew?) You can hear her speak in this video from Nov. 1 — it’s a lot like what she said in New York on Sunday. She showed us An American Wrongfully Imprisoned in Nicaragua as an example of documentary video on YouTube. She also showed us one of the videos from 24 Hours for Darfur, and the Pangea Day video, a promo for a worldwide documentary video project launched by Jehane Noujaim, director of Control Room.

Online media provide increased access to these videos, Pollack said, and also, increased opportunities to collaborate. As a result, she said, “We have an opportunity to witness — and, hopefully, understand — more.”

9 Comments on “Video that means something

  1. I love this idea!!! the story is very interesting, doing things because you love to do them is fantastic, I have been able to do it and it feels just like he says.

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  4. Your blog is such an amazing resource. Is the translate button new? I am coteaching a workshop for Arab journalists on online journalism in Beirut in December and will be referring to (and crediting) a lot of your materials. All the better that I can point these journalists to your site and they can get the posts translated, which my husband said were pretty good. Thank you.

  5. Yeah, I just added the translate feature today! I had tried a different one before, but it didn’t work well. This one has some quirks, but so far, it seems pretty good.

    Thanks for the kind words about my blog. I really appreciate it when people take the time to leave a comment.

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