Stories of Participatory Communication
for Social Change
TITLE: Projeto Vídeo Popular TV Maxambomba
MAIN FOCUS: Community organisation
PLACE: Nova Iguaçu (Rio de Janeiro)
BENEFICIARIES: Grassroots communities
PARTNERS: Centro de Criaçao de Imagem Popular (CECIP)
FUNDING: NOVIB, World Health Organization (WHO), International Labor Organization (ILO), UNESCO, UNICEF, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development(CAFOD), Trocaire, Christian Aid, War or Want, Comité Catholique conte la Faim et pour le Développement, France (CCFD) and others
"The land is generous: she gives back, multiplied many times, what you give her". Cristiano Guedes is a tall, strong peasant, the father of ten children, grandfather of 30 and great-grandfather of eleven. They all come here and take what I get from this land, working all by myself. When I first came here, there was nothing around. I liked the place and decided to cultivate it. I made a tent over there, his finger points somewhere among the banana trees, and lived for six months, clearing the land of thorns and weeds. I planted black beans, corn, manioc, bananas and some vegetables. When the land started to return what I gave her, I bought a small cart and started selling my things around. I have faithful customers, because I'm a good farmer. My stuff is better and cheaper than what you get in the supermarket in town.
Then one day a man came up, with a big gun, and said to me, 'Nigger, what are you doing? I don't want anyone planting here, you understand?'
He had a big gun. So I said, 'Yes sir, I won't plant any more, just these things I have here for myself.' Now, I said that but as soon as he would leave I'd start planting again. And so I stayed. This is my life, see?"
Now when Guedes' image appears on the television screen in sessions we hold at church grassroots communities, local residents' associations or schools, people listen attentively.
"Another man came up recently, saying he wanted to make a deal with me. My rights would be respected, he told me, 'but the others came much later; they have no rights. 'They think that because I'm illiterate, I'm stupid. He wants to get rid of the others and then get me. So we all stick together, shoulder to shoulder, united like the fingers of a hand. The audience laughs as Guedes runs his fingers through his grey hair". The man is illiterate, but his words make more sense than the president's, someone says.This testimony on video is part of the popular video project established in 1986 in Nova Iguaçu.
As described by Claudius Ceccon, Centre de Imagem de Criaçâo Popular, Brazis (CECIP), executive secretary.
TV Maxambomba is a project of CECIP. It was created by 1986 as the Popular Video Project, but changed its name to TV Maxambomba by 1990. Maxambomba was the name given to the slaves who once carried farm products to boats heading for the capital. Not only has the name changed, the project has also developed a larger presence in the region, a better understanding of social events, and an opening towards community participation in the communication process.
TV Maxambombaas had TV Viva in Recife during the 1980s spends more time in the streets, in public squares, schools and open markets, in every place where 200 to 300 people gather to watch the public screenings. Aided by a video projector and an old Volkswagen mini-bus bought with support from NOVIB the main funding agency, TV Maxambomba increasingly became a people-driven project.
TV Maxambomba uses video to record the experiences of local people, appraise what is done by grassroots or community organisations, and brings information necessary to the understanding of people's rights. It also produces videos on local culture and programmes for children.
Some of the projects are video documentaries on special issues. One of the most famous produced by CECIP is The Debt Game. A key scene shows two well-dressed couples dining at a fancy restaurant; they laugh while eating sophisticated food and drinking French wine. One man notices a beggar nearby and asks the waiter to give him the leftovers of the meal. The beggar is delighted with the food and eats with his bare hands. The couples leave and the waiter brings the bill to the beggar, remarking with irony: "Why, didn't you participate at the banquet?"
Humour and short animated subjects helped TV Maxambomba clarify the meaning that was hidden by a jungle of figures, the complex issue of Latin America's international debt was conveyed to the general population. To facilitate discussion during and after the show, it was decided to split the one-hour video into five segments, so that after each segment a discussion could take place.
As many as 100 video documentaries have been produced since 1986. Various relevant social issues have been treated, such as democracy, citizen's rights, education, gender, environment, black culture, health and sexuality, as well as the production of programmes for children. TV Maxambomba also entertains people with mini-soap operas and parodies on political Brazilian personalities.
The subjects portrayed in video and discussed at the community level make a list that never ends. Examples such as the creation of a small factory to employ jobless youth; a health centre built by the community; a national women's meeting; and many other issues are ignored by the private television system.
Working in Nova Iguaçu is challenging every day. In September 1992 TV Maxambombas van, video projector, giant screen and sound equipment were stolen at gunpoint in the very centre of the city. Performances by artists and celebrities raised funds so the project could replace the stolen items, but above all they learned how much solidarity they were able to inspire.
In terms of funding, CECIP and its pet project TV Maxambomba have received support from a large number of international cooperation agencies, both from the United Nations sphere and from individual European countries.
Per capita income in Brazil is around US$2,000 a year. However the real distribution of this income is extremely uneven. Only 36 percent of the population have jobs; 70 percent of people who work earn less than US$100 per month. The wealthiest 1 percent of Brazilians have 51 percent of the national income.
Television in Brazil reaches 80 percent of the population. More than 90 million people watch television, while the total number of printed newspapers doesn't reach five million copies a day. Commercial television in Brazil e.g., Rede Globo, Rede Bandeirantes is controlled by powerful political and economic interests, which do not provide the immense mass of the population with the information and participation necessary to lead to social changes in the direction of democracy.
A group of people concerned about the fact that no real changes in Brazil can happen without the active participation of the majority of the marginalised population decided to do something. They created CECIP, an independent, nonprofit association dedicated to producing educational materials using video and graphic media, aimed principally at an audience of poor sectors of the Brazilian society.
CECIP is located in Nova Iguaçu, an area on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Nearly two million people live there. Fifty years ago it was an agricultural area, and its population was ten times smaller.
There is an almost absolute lack of infrastructure and services in the neighbourhoods farthest removed from the centre of the municipality: only 35 percent of the houses receive water. Nova Iguaçu has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the country.
Nova Iguaçu is a microcosm of Brazil: crowded, unequipped urban centres and vast, empty, unproductive rural areas. It is one of the most violent regions, because of the combination of poverty, disease, unemployment, corruption and government neglect.
In TV Maxambombas videos people express themselves articulately, defending their points of view, saying things with all the flavour, irony and humour characteristic of them. This fact alone would justify the project for its political and humane contribution to the self-esteem of the people.
The open discussions on-and off-camera in both cases prompted by the video production process have certainly contributed to find concrete solutions to many of the problems faced by people in Nova Iguaçu.
Visual aids, such as video, have helped the large majority of those who had difficulty reading to participate in social and political life, as they had never done before.
Nurseries have been created in Nova Iguaçu to take care of babies while their mothers are working. People are more confident in the choices they make when its time to participate in elections or other democratic activities.
Overall, their capacity to develop a critical view of Brazilian society and to better organise to achieve their goals as a group, have notably improved. Video has been instrumental in contributing to strengthen local organisations.
TV Maxambomba videos increasingly involve the participation of the people for whom they are done. They are shown in the communities as an alternative source of information and communication. Watching the videos is a collective experience, considerably different from watching TV at home. The videos prompt people to discuss local problems. The examples of what was achieved in other places spark new ideas and show that is possible to take a situation in their own hands.
No off-camera voice explains the images on the screen or paraphrases what people want to say. Their productions have the eloquence of those who have been silenced for much too long and can tell their truth now.
The nature of delivery of media is of vital importance. The medium is the message. TV Maxambombas street screenings bring neighbours together and build communities where presently none exist. In a country where less than four percent of the population read newspapers or magazines, video is a most effective means of communication.
TV Maxambomba avoids communicating with a popular audience adopting simplistic forms. People are accustomed to watching sophisticated productions shown by the big television networks, and demand creative efforts. The information is organised in such a way that it corresponds with the language, the experiences and the real problems faced in their everyday lives. Group discussion produces new knowledge, resulting from collective participation.
Materially speaking TV Maxambomba is an investment without return. The people have no means to pay for it; therefore it is supported through an incredible number of international and national cooperation agencies. But of course, the question of sustainability will always be there.
From an experiment of community-based screenings in public squares and schools, TV Maxambomba has grown into a production house respected for innovative techniques and high-quality video productions. Will this curtail the practice of keeping close contact with people at the grassroots? Will it change the participatory approach when producing videos on social reality?
The information for this chapter was based on e-mail exchanges with Claudius Ceccon and:
Claudius S.P. Ceccon. "A Seed in Fertile Ground". One World November 1987.
Claudius S.P. Ceccon. "Brazilian Centre Shows That Video is an Agent of Change". Media Development April 1989.
Claudius S.P. Ceccon. "Learning to Reach the Grassroots". One World May 1993.
Percq,Pascal. "Les Caméras des Favelas", Editions de l'Atelier 1998.Pp.157.
Mayer, Vicki. "For the People and By the People: "TV Maxambombas Regeneration of Popular Cinema". Latin American Popular Culture Spring (1998).Pp.223 232.
Click here for CECIP Web site.