In March 2018, it is two years since the EU-Turkey migrant deal came into effect. Under the deal, Syrian refugees who had reached Greece were to be returned to Turkey, while Syrian asylum seekers in Turkey were to be resettled in the EU. Some regard the deal as a necessary evil; others as a diabolical pact. Gerald Knaus, the founder of a Berlin-based think tank, is the architect of the deal. He is reviled by extreme left-wing and human rights organizations alike but also admired for his intellectual courage. He travels around Europe arguing tirelessly for an asylum policy that is both humane and effective.
Meanwhile, the slow pace of procedures and relocation has left thousands of refugees stranded in horrendous conditions on the island of Lesbos. Local residents, volunteers from across Europe and refugees themselves are trying to alleviate the situation. The EU-Turkey deal now serves as an example for new agreements with countries in North Africa. But does it even work? For whom? And what have we learned from it? Documentary The Deal explores the answers to these questions as well as possible improvements for Europe’s current asylum policy.
The Deal is part of a cross media project ‘The EU Asylum Machine‘, a cross-border, multidisciplinary, transmedia project that explores the complex world of European asylum policy and connected asylum policies of EU member states. The main and initial component is a web documentary providing insight into the European and different national asylum policies and inviting users to think about how they think the policies should work. The EU Asylum Machine brings together investigative journalism, documentary film, photography, interaction and debate. Combining new material (text, photography, film) with excerpts from existing productions, The EU Asylum Machine takes its audience on a journey through the convoluted world of EU asylum policy. We also compare different member states. How do refugee numbers compare to those of our neighbours? Is a common European asylum policy realistic, given the many political compromises such a policy entails?
The project started with De Asielzoekmachine (The Asylum Machine, also available in English), which focuses on Dutch asylum policy. Now this ground-breaking project is looking passed Dutch borders.The EU Asylum Machine combines the expertise of documentary makers, journalists, artists, (web) designers and curators. For the different national projects we are looking for fellow journalists and documentary makers across Europe to use our online and offline storytelling tools to investigate their own asylum policies.
Watch the English subtitled version of The Deal by clicking the button below and using the password: TheDeal2018
Eefje Blankevoort (Montreal, 1978) studied History at the University of Amsterdam. Between 2002 and 2006 she lived in Iran on a regular basis, where she studied, compiled archive for the International Institute for Social History, wrote articles and worked on her book ‘Stiekem kan hier alles’ (‘on the sly, everything is possible here). In between she enrolled in a year-long graduate program American Studies at the ‘all women college’ Smith College, Massachusetts. Eefje writes articles and books, direct and edits (commissioned) films. She published the books ‘The Refugee Jackpot’ (together with photographer Karijn Kakebeeke) and ‘Dream City’ (together with photographer Anoek Steketee). In 2014, she made the interactive web documentary ‘Love radio’, in 2016 ‘The Asylummachine’ and in 2017 ‘The Holy Road’ (together with Dirk-Jan Visser).
In March 2018, it will be two years since the EU-Turkey migration deal came into effect. The deal established a ‘one in, one out’ protocol, with the EU accepting one asylum seeker for every irregular migrant returned to Turkey from Greece. Under the deal, Syrian refugees who had reached Greece were to be returned to Turkey, while Syrian asylum seekers in Turkey were to be resettled in the EU.
Some regard the deal as a necessary evil; others as a diabolical pact. Gerald Knaus, the founder of a Berlin-based think tank, is the architect of the deal. But does it work? For whom? And what have we learned from it?
The documentary The Deal, an example of excellent journalism and outstanding narrative, explores the answers to these questions as well as possible improvements in Europe’s current asylum policy. The documentary shows the efforts of Gerald Knaus, who is behind the EU-Turkey migration deal, to get it implemented in the way he envisioned.
We travelled to Lesbos to see what the EU-Turkey deal meant in practice. And we were shocked. Thousands of people were crammed into camp Moria, without decent sanitary facilities, no proper help for their medical needs, and without proper legal aid. It’s a humanitarian crisis in Europe and the EU is looking away. With our film we wanted to make a nuanced and critical analysis of the deal and the people directly involved: the ‘architect’ of the deal Gerald Knaus, refugee Ramy Qudmany, who crossed after the deal, was shipwrecked and has been stuck on the island for more than one and half years, the volunteers from all over Europe who want to help and Greek Katerina, who helps refugees and almost serves as a ‘moral conscience’. Read more
What did you want to tell with this story?
This book is what I wish I had read growing up. I had no choice but to write it. I always knew I wanted to help young people go through what I went through. It would have helped if I had read it growing up. People say to me that I’m so focused on race. But the thing is: I wasn’t brought up thinking about race. My father is a white Jewish German who moved to Great Britain as a child and fell in love with my mother, who had moved there from Ghana. They had always taught me to be confident and trust myself. I had never heard of micro-aggression or imposters syndrome. But all these things came my way when I ventured out in the world, and studied at Oxford for instance. Now that the book is out, I’m surprised how many can relate to my story. A lot of people feel alone or have a sense of their otherness being questioned.
When did you think “This is never going to work” and how did you overcome that point?”
Uh, I often thought it wouldn’t happen, this book. I wrote sixty versions of my outline, yes that’s 6-0. But once my agent felt I had nailed it and sent it out, we could pick a publisher. I went from defeat to being elated. From then on it was easy to write it; my outline was so detailed I knew exactly what to do. I felt I had already found my voice writing for the Guardian. But I had to take distance from my personal experiences and find a way to write about them. For the Guardian I rarely write first person or talk about personal stuff. And I felt really self-conscious – like the imposter syndrome I described, I was wondering: who am I to report this?
Who are your narrative hero’s in your country?
Can I mention someone from outside of my country? My hero would be Oprah – I just met her last week. I feel a lot of time we ask people to treat us fairly. But there’s only so much you can ask. Having to ask is actually demeaning. At some point she said: I’m not going to ask, I’ll just build my own platform. And that’s what she’s done. I love the spirit of that. That is how you create change. I’m currently working on two documentaries for the BBC. We’re now asking for equal pay, but we’re still years away from asking equal pay for people of all backgrounds. She’s my source of inspiration.
When I later joined the Guardian newspaper as legal affairs correspondent, it was important to me that this was a role that had nothing to do with gender or race. Coming as I did from a world of bundles of paper tied up in pink ribbon, cantankerous public-school boys paid to have a high opinion of their charisma and bravado, and white horsehair wigs, I expected the newspaper to be enlightenment personified.
But there, too, diversity was conspicuous by its absence. When Howard W. French, the distinguished black New York Times columnist, was posted to Japan as a correspondent, he regarded it as a victory far beyond the implications of actually reporting news from the country. He had broken outside the walled city of reporting ‘urban’ and ‘black’ places and stories to which black reporters are usually confined. ‘Howard has reached the river!’ French reported his colleagues as saying. ‘Someone had escaped, or so it seemed, what we sometimes called the “corporate negro calculus”, the careful tending of our presence, never dramatically expanding our numbers but also never letting them fall too low, all the while keeping us employed in predictable roles.’
The world French described is one I still recognise, characterised by what he calls the ‘persistent problem of typecasting’ – a deeply embedded view that regards certain topics as ‘black’ and the rest as ‘white’. It’s impossible not to notice a similar phenomenon in the British media. As far back as 2002, a report supported by a number of organisations including the BBC acknowledged that ‘the pattern of minority ethnic participation shows less contribution to heavyweight roles and subjects of a serious nature, while minority ethnic contributions cluster around vox pop interviews or stereotypical topics of minority group issues, sport, music and sex’.
To me, it’s non-negotiable that newsrooms should reflect the cultural, racial, class, religious and gender make‑up of the nation. I can think of no other profession where the personal contacts and perspective of an employee have such a blatant impact on their output. The playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah tells a story about how, growing up in west London in the 1970s, his mother would – very occasionally – shout up the stairs saying ‘Come quick! There’s a black man on the telly!’ Things were not all that different by 2001, when BBC Director General Greg Dyke famously described the corporation as ‘hideously white’.
I was in my second year at university then, and painfully aware at the paucity of black people – especially senior or visible black people – in all of the professions I was considering entering. Dyke was speaking just a few years after the Metropolitan Police were judged to be affected by ‘institutional racism’; it was as if the ‘R’ word, as the professor and broadcaster Kurt Barling has called it, was finally coming out of the closet and into the open for public analysis and dissection. It was a relief.
Collecting examples of blatant racism in the mainstream press is one of my hobbies. It’s too much work for one person, so I often rely on members of another WhatsApp group, this time a group of female journalists, which includes all races, the only requirement being that everyone involved is committed to increasing diversity in the profession. My phone buzzes endlessly with the constant stream of offensive examples, but some stand out. A Daily Mail cartoon from November 2015 in particular had special significance because of its timing. The newspaper published a drawing by its long-standing cartoonist Stanley McMurtry satirising the fact that the singer Tom Jones was exploring the possibility that he could have African ancestry. The cartoon, which I imagine would have caused offence in 1915 let alone 2015, showed a white explorer in colonial-era dress, in a black‑as‑night jungle, approaching a pot-bellied black tribesman with a test tube. The caption has the explorer telling the tribesman, ‘The DNA matches – now just one more question. Can you sing Delilah?’
What singled this incident out was the fact that, on the very same day that the newspaper published it, the Mail was playing host to a ‘special celebratory reception to mark 10 years of the Journalism Diversity Fund’ – a fund that dispenses bursaries to talented journalism students from ‘diverse backgrounds’. Joseph, the Hull-born mixed-race Guardian journalist who shared his experiences of childhood with me for this book, was at the reception, and listened to a speech by one of the Mail’s senior editors, in which he praised efforts to increase diversity in the industry and stressed how important it was that more was done. After the speech, Joseph made a point of showing the cartoon to some of the Mail grandees present at the reception, asking how depicting black people in this way was compatible with encouraging diversity. ‘Stop being a troublemaker,’ he reports being told.
It’s too easy to implement corporate diversity schemes and social responsibility checklists, without any actual thought about why our society excludes people of colour. Shonda Rhimes, the American screenwriter and producer – creator of multiple hit US shows including Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal – is often asked why she’s so invested in ‘diversity’ on television, in the sense that she has created lead characters who are from different minority backgrounds, who are women and who are gay. ‘I really hate the word diversity,’ Rhimes says. ‘It suggests something other. As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV. I have a different word: NORMALIZING. I’m normalizing TV. I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal WAY more than 50 per cent of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary.’
The problem is, things have been so skewed for so long, that tampering with the old ‘normal’ creates instant enemies. For many people, ‘diversity’ feels like discrimination against them; they see it as a zero-sum game. On my first day at Sky News, a senior female colleague gave me a dressing-down for my audacity in getting my job, saying, ‘Don’t take this personally, but you can’t get a promotion around here if you’re white these days. You should know that. I’m just telling you, as if people are less than pleased to see you, it might explain why.’ There was always this lingering suspicion that I managed to get the job as a result of some sophisticated scam or, worse, affirmative action.
At the Guardian, people kept asking me how I did it, as if there was some kind of story to tell. ‘I applied to the job ad in the Guardian, did two rounds of interview, and wrote three sample articles,’ I said. How did you get yours?’ The fact is that until a few years before I joined the newspaper, jobs weren’t even advertised as standard practice – in some cases, editors simply appointed people they knew. Privileged, straight, white men who lived in affluent areas tended to appoint – guess what – other people like themselves.
The media is changing, with streaming services like Netflix, online news platforms like Vice, and social media news services like The Young Turks disrupting the market and stealing the loyalties of a generation, who would never dream of waiting for the BBC News at Six to find out what’s going on in the world, as my parents used to when I was growing up. But the fact remains that the decisions made in the newsrooms and commissioning offices of our major TV studios still have enormous influence over public opinion and sentiment. Public service broadcasters in particular are among the first to acknowledge that their content is creating a narrative of the nation, to ‘enrich and challenge the assumptions of modern Britain, and connect its past and future’, for example, or to ‘increase social cohesion and tolerance by enabling the UK’s many communities to talk to themselves and each other about what they hold in common and how they differ’.
Afua Hirsch (1981) is the author of Brit(ish), a 2017 Jonathan Cape publication that explores Britishness and identity, and their seismic social and political impact. Afua is a writer, journalist and broadcaster who has worked as social affairs and education editor for Sky News and legal affairs correspondent for The Guardian in Great Britain and West Africa. She is a former barrister and has also worked in international human rights development. In addition to reporting on issues ranging from politics and policy, terrorism, the War in Mali, and Africa’s tech revolution, she writes and speaks extensively about social issues concerning justice and identity around the world. The Dutch translation, Brit(isch) will come out on April 18 2018, published by AtlasContact.
(Photo: Urszula Soltys)
The book started when I was a West Africa correspondent for The Guardian, living in Ghana, the country of my mother. I noticed many talented Ghanaians moving back. It had something to do with owning your history – knowing where you come from is an empowering experience. But it had also to do with being fed up in Britain, feeling limited, feeling put in a prison of race. It seemed healthier to go to a country where you are not defined by your race. I started thinking: what is it about the British that we feel left out?
This book is what I wish I had read growing up. I had no choice but to write it. I always knew I wanted to help young people go through what I went through. It would have helped if I had read it growing up. People say to me that I’m so focused on race. But the thing is: I wasn’t brought up thinking about race. My father is a white Jewish German who moved to Great Britain as a child and fell in love with my mother, who had moved there from Ghana. They had always taught me to be confident and trust myself. I had never heard of micro-aggression or imposters syndrome. But all these things came my way when I ventured out in the world, and studied at Oxford for instance. Now that the book is out, I’m surprised how many can relate to my story. A lot of people feel alone or have a sense of their otherness being questioned. Read more
Tracks is a combination of two distinct media: audio and video. Because they are never shown together –none of the interviewees speaks on-camera—they remain separated.
There is the story of the train operators who share their experience with jumpers, people who commit suicide by letting themselves be ravaged by a passing train. And there is the visual element: fairly uniform images shot from the perspective of the train operator. The viewer is immersed in the train ride. Without the audio, this could just be another show about beautiful train rides. But the combination with the story leads to something new: rather than a vehicle for a sightseeing tour, the train morphs into a murder machine. The viewer expects a jumper to appear out of nowhere for the camera. And tension gradually builds up as the suicide fails to materialize. Like in a good horror film, you know that a monster will make its appearance, but you don’t know when…
Watch the English subtitled version of TRACKS by clicking the button below and using the password: Master 160119
Gunnar Bergdahl (Stockholm, 1951) is a film critic, author, and filmmaker. His prolific career ranges from working as a programmer for an arthouse cinema, to becoming the Festival Director of the Göteborg Film Festival between 1993 and 2002. He was named Best Swedish Journalist in 1995, and was decorated by the University of Göteborg in that same year. His documentary, “The Voice of Ljudmila” was named Best Swedish documentary of 2002. He has published four books: ”The 20th Century of Bergman” (2000), ”Ludmillas book” (2002), ”Interlude in Smygehuk” (2002), "Elected Culture” (2008), ”Ljudmila from Chernobyl” (2011), and directed seven films: ”The Voice of Bergman ” (doc, 1997), ”The Voice of Ljudmila” (doc, 2001), ”Ingmar Bergman; Intermezzo” (doc, 2002), ”The Voice of Silence" (short, 2003), ”Ljudmila & Anatolij” (doc, 2006), ”TRACKS” (doc, 2016), ”Last Breath” (short, 2017). In addition, he has participated as editor for several newspapers. In 1997, the city of Göteborg named a tram wagon after him.
It is interesting to see how the combination of two readily accessible elements can bring about a completely new effect, in the experience of the selection committee when they saw Tracks. There is an audio layer with quotes from train machinists that have been confronted with ‘jumpers’. And there’s the perspective of the train operator during the train ride, the moving image, the camera in the cabin. The combination leads to increasing dramatic tension. As if there could be a jumper any..moment..now. The spectator can never truly enjoy the sublime Swedish landscape as it rolls by. And the viewer becomes aware of the continuous threat that a train operator needs to learn to live with. At first glance, theirs may seem the most beautiful office in the world, but it can quickly turn into a murder instrument, in a fate that is difficult to predict.
Tracks is a combination of two distinct media: audio and video. Because they are never shown together –none of the interviewees speaks on-camera—they remain separated. There is the story of the train operators who share their experience with jumpers, people who commit suicide by letting themselves be ravaged by a passing train. And there is the visual element: fairly uniform images shot from the perspective of the train operator. The viewer is immersed in the train ride. Read more
Journalist Stephanie Bakker and photographer Yvonne Brandwijk’s multimedia project ‘Future Cities’ explores five surprising hotspots for growth. The web documentary – which was awarded Innovative Storytelling, third prize in World Press Photo’s 2017 Digital Storytelling Contest – breaks new ground in both topic and delivery. CPN Web Editor Deniz Dirim speaks to the pair on steering away from traditional media and deepening the partnership between writer and photographer.
Imagine the world in 2025. With the majority of the population living in urban areas, which cities will be at the forefront of progress? Is it hubs for innovation; the many Silicon Valleys dotted around the West? Or maybe the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries’ reputedly imminent economic takeover comes to mind? The multimedia project ‘Future Cities’ by journalist Stephanie Bakker and photographer Yvonne Brandwijk is testament to answer C: none of the above.
When researching Africa’s fashion scene for a story, Stephanie “bumped into” a map of Global Cities of the Future by the McKinsey Global Institute. She was surprised to see Congo’s Kinshasa listed as one of the top ten hotspots for growth in 2025. Stephanie and Yvonne decided to dig deeper and found five unexpected cities that were leading in their respective fields: art in Yangon, tech in Medellín, gastronomy in Lima, and fashion in Kinshasa. Curious to know more, the duo pitched a five-part series on ‘Future Cities’ to one of the Netherlands’ biggest newspapers, De Volkskrant.
The initial idea was to cover five cities with traditional articles in the span of a year. “But then we started seeing The New York Times, The Guardian and all these newspapers doing such big things online,” explains Stephanie. (The pair cites The Guardian’s multimedia project ‘Firestorm’ as their main inspiration in pushing the boundaries of digital storytelling.) Stephanie shares, “And so we were back from Kinshasa and someone sent us an article about how the Guardian made ‘Firestorm’: 30 people, 7 months, full-time working. And then we thought, ‘Oh my God! We are only the two of us how are we going to do this?’”
Naturally, they sought out advice from their media partner De Volkskrant, hoping to benefit from their centurial experience. But, in 2014, even major newspapers were grappling with how to take full advantage of the digital storytelling realm. Yvonne reveals: “We thought the newspaper would be able to do a lot of the online thing. Now they know how to do it. But we found that in Holland – when we started almost three years ago – that was just beginning. We thought that they were way more experienced than us but, in the end, we found out that no one is very experienced.” And then Yvonne utters the four-words that can be heard from any creator who is innovative: “We just did it.”
MAKE YOUR OWN RULES
Despite being a photographer for 20 years, Yvonne had never filmed video before. She taught herself how to film with the EOS 5D Mark II on the job during their first trip and Stephanie supported with recording audio. Yvonne admits, “We made all the mistakes you can think of – totally. And when we came back home, we started to think ‘OK, it needs to be edited but we don’t know how to edit.’” The humble, successful pair makes an excellent case in point for storytellers exploring new mediums.
Stephanie explains: “We know how to tell stories. The only thing that’s different is the way you tell it. We tried to discover in the beginning: what are the rules of making an interactive? In journalism, you really have rules: what is a good story. And then we found out there are no rules for making an interactive. And that made it really free.”
Their approach to building the right team to produce ‘Future Cities’, was to do whatever they could themselves – by adding new skills to their repertoire – and then bringing in experts where needed. They often found themselves peeping the credits of projects they admired for direction. Yvonne reveals: “We had to figure it out ourselves. There was no-one who told us this is who exists in a team. So the sound designer came because I noticed the sound could be better. Then an interactive designer because we needed someone who was really experienced in telling a story that way. Of course, you need the web developers. A designer. A photo editor…”
Each of the city’s respective area of success – whether cultural or technological – is portrayed through five or so local protagonists. The website includes ample opportunities to see statistics that demonstrate each city’s development, but it is the characters presented which ultimately convince the viewer that things are not as grim as they might seem. Be it visual artist Nann Nann who against all societal pressure lives alone in her own (one-million-dollar) home in Yangon or Louisan Mbeya a fashion designer living in the ‘Paris of Kinshasa’.
In finding the right people to symbolise a city’s energy, the duo says research can only go so far. Upon arrival, they worked 16 hours a day, recording cityscapes in the morning light as well as attending evening events to meet locals. “They [the protagonists] are not on the Internet because nobody ever talked about them,” recalls Stephanie. “Because we don’t want the known people, we want the unknown people. You find them if you go to these places.”
“We really try to dive into this theme we picked. So for example in Kinshasa the first day we were there we went into a little sewing atelier. We started to talk to the lady and she didn’t speak English or French, only the local language. And she told our fixer that tonight there will be a big fashion show in one of the most expensive hotels in Kinshasa. And I said, ‘OK let’s go there, let’s see’.”
“And we went there and almost immediately we saw a man called Louisan sitting in the audience. He was wearing this yellow jacket, Prada sunglasses and a lot of bling bling – and we immediately saw a nice character. We started talking with him and he was like the star of the evening; everybody knew him and it wasn’t even his show. He invited us to his place where he works and lives. And we said to each other, I hope it’s not a fancy atelier because we are looking for someone coming up. And then we ended up in a slum. It could have been a fancy atelier because he was a really fancy guy but we ended up in his ramshackle house where he didn’t have electricity because it was broken down. And he told us such a great story.”
KILL YOUR DARLINGS
Stephanie and Yvonne first met in a co-working space and there sparked a desire to marry text and photographs more organically. They recount how they even discovered they had worked on the same assignments over the years without ever meeting. Editing ‘Future Cities’ was a reminder that such collaboration also requires sacrifice.
Yvonne explains: “Of course, I have to pick photos that I think is not the best picture. For example, the photographs of [protagonist] Elsa’s best friend in Lima are stronger than Elsa’s photographs. And that I find difficult. But Elsa’s story is stronger so you can’t have a big ego in doing a project together. My photography has changed since I started working closely with a journalist. It’s not about the best image; it’s about the best story.”
“We also realised things that work in a photo story or in a written story doesn’t work if you combine them. So the first city took a long time. It started with a lot text on the photos – and I was very unhappy. The photos didn’t tell a story.”
Stephanie confirms: “That’s what you do in a story. You write about the surroundings to transmit people to the place. But you don’t need it when you already see the photo. And you hear a lot, so you are already there and I don’t have to add much. At the beginning, we had some arguments but we ended up by both having the same attitude. We want to tell the best story – either in text, photography, video or audio. Now it doesn’t matter anymore.”
IT’S ALL ABOUT TIMING
One of ‘Future Cities’ most compelling aspects is its user-driven pacing. The viewer can hear, read or see bite-size chunks of information which ultimately paints a bigger picture. Yvonne explains, “Everyone is trying to find out what is the best way for digital storytelling. Some give the audience total freedom – you choose where you go. People with more experience told us that if you give a lot of choice, people don’t choose and go away so you have to find a part that you give to them – so they have the feeling that you guide them – and from that people think ‘Oh, I can also go there or there.’”
The multimedia format’s flexibility made it possible to flip the usual narrative surrounding urban growth. There are, of course, hardships in the five cities featured. But to create a positive impact, the duo believes the story must begin with the solution before outlining the challenges. Stephanie asserts: “The thing that we wanted to do as journalist and photographer is to tell people what’s going on in the world. And when you tell hopeful stories about powerful people, I think that has more impact. People stay to these kinds of stories. When it’s only about problems people leave with a hopeless feeling. But you cannot talk about the solution without touching the problem. Only the angle is different: we start with the solution, the inspiration and then we come to the problem – always.”
THINK BIG, START SMALL
Stephanie and Yvonne will publish their fifth and final city, Addis Ababa, this September – three years after the project began. When they started, their funders warned them not to be overzealous (they originally set out to do five stories in one year) and their home life (they are both mothers) affirmed their need to re-evaluate scheduling. But in the end, Yvonne tells me you have to think big: “We presented it as big, we were thinking big, we never doubted that we’d go to five cities but we started small with one city.”
Stephanie concludes with her advice for fellow storytellers who aspire to creating award-winning work: “Tell the story you love yourself. I was giving a guest lecture at a university last week and I was showing some of the videos of the main characters. And I looked at them and I really loved them one by one. So it really touches me and that’s the feeling I bring across as well. So I think you can only have this kind of recognition when you really love the story you’re telling and you really can embrace the people you’re interviewing. For me, that’s the most important.”
Photography by Yvonne Brandwijk
Original source interview: Canon Europe
Journalist Stephanie Bakker and photographer Yvonne Brandwijk have worked on their worldwide project Future Cities for the past three years. This cross-media web documentary forms a portrait of five cities of the future. What do cities like Lima, Kinshasa, Yangon, Medellín and Addis Abeba have in common?
Photographer Yvonne Brandwijk and journalist Stephanie Bakker have worked together since 2014. Future Cities is their first multimedia project. Combining their respective backgrounds in photography and journalism, they have pursued new ways of storytelling and managing long-term documentary projects with a social component. In their co-productions, photography and non-fiction narratives reinforce one another with an emphasis on solutions rather than problems. Their work has been featured in de Volkskrant, die Welt, Citiscope, El Pais/Planeta Futuro, Elsevier Juist, Le Monde Afrique and de Morgen. Future Cities won third prize in Innovative Storytelling in World Press Photo’s 2017 Digital Storytelling Contest.
Journalist Stephanie Bakker and photographer Yvonne Brandwijk’s multimedia project ‘Future Cities’ explores five surprising hotspots for growth. The web documentary – which was awarded Innovative Storytelling, third prize in World Press Photo’s 2017 Digital Storytelling Contest – breaks new ground in both topic and delivery. CPN Web Editor Deniz Dirim speaks to the pair on steering away from traditional media and deepening the partnership between writer and photographer. Read more
With the support of the Mediafonds and VPRO Dorst we were able to produce our first long form audio series. By investigating the story of Elisa and Bob and constructing the storyline as we did, we wanted to approach the topic of dementia in a different way. Instead of highlighting the improbability of the story of this 84-year old woman, we decided to take her words seriously and worked through hours of tape to carefully listen to what she was trying to dig up from under the layers of time and the taboos of her youth.
We searched through libraries, city archives, tracked down several (wrong) family lines – the smallest piece of information was enough to encourage us to keep going. But there were also long periods of time in which we found nothing at all, which caused us to doubt the whole premise of the series. What if what we were tracing was merely a ghost? We found ourselves listening to Elisa’s words in a different way, with growing scepticism and doubt. When, after another long period of doubt, another clue surfaced, we were always brutally confronted with how easy it is to brush away the words of an 84-year old as improbable and untrue, how it is so much easier to not take people of a certain age and in a certain condition seriously, and how absurd this tendency actually is, considering the long lives they have lived and the many lost chapters of history they carry with them.
We crafted the result of this journey in 6 episodes, building in cliff-hangers, laying out our leads and hypotheses, and including all our doubts and concerns. We are audio story tellers, so we spend a ridiculous amount of hours on cross fading, choice of music, balancing of sounds. But what made this story so explicitly suitable for audio was its very universal bottom line: everyone has a mother, grandmother, or is to become one, one day, and everyone will be confronted with old age. By giving Elisa a voice but not a face, her words can resonate beyond the individual story. The imagination of the listener is never confined to this one woman, but will inevitably flow to the faces that they know and see before them. And this is why the most rewarding comments are those from people that have told us that they have started talking to their mother or grandmother in a different way, altering their focus and really learned to listen in a different way.
Tracks is a combination of two distinct media: audio and video. Because they are never shown together –none of the interviewees speaks on-camera—they remain separated. There is the story of the train operators who share their experience with jumpers, people who commit suicide by letting themselves be ravaged by a passing train. And there is the visual element: fairly uniform images shot from the perspective of the train operator.
The viewer is immersed in the train ride. Without the audio, this could just be another show about beautiful train rides. But the combination with the story leads to something new: rather than a vehicle for a sightseeing tour, the train morphs into a murder machine. The viewer expects a jumper to appear out of nowhere for the camera. And tension gradually builds up as the suicide fails to materialize. Like in a good horror film, you know that a monster will make its appearance, but you don’t know when.
That’s why the film is also an experiment in content and image, according to Gunnar Bergdahl, who made the film with his wife, Annica Carlsson Bergdahl. In content because the media dedicates very little space to suicide, even though the number of suicide victims in Sweden by far outnumbers the number of traffic ones. The reluctance to talk about it stems partly from the self-imposed journalistic media code to prevent copycats. In Tracks, however, the focus is elsewhere. It’s about the perpetrators, but mostly about the very literal impact the collision has on train operators. Preparatory research showed the scope of these effects. Twenty operators were interviewed. Some couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about their experience. But one of them saw suicide-by-train as a form of ‘social interaction’: people were meeting, made eye contact, quickly assessed the other, and a bond of sorts was forged during the last seconds of a human life. When the conductor said this, Gunnar and Annica knew that this had to be in the film.
Visually, the film threads less accessible terrain. It is not the normal documentary with a portrait of the operator, including their everyday life outside of work. In Tracks they are all anonymous. Gunnar got inspiration for his camera work when, 15 or so years ago, he was invited to ride with a train operator on a remote route. The operator called it ‘the most beautiful office in the world’. For Gunnar it was an unforgettable experience: racing through the landscape, the continuously changing perspective, the speed and the peace that came together. This remained with him, and then he got the opportunity to make Tracks.
Tracks has not yet been shown on television, although efforts have been made, not even after it won the best short film award at her Norwegian Film Festival. The Swedish broadcasting climate is not very partial to these forms of narrative journalism, according to Gunnar Bergdahl. The two almost identical senders are focused on amusement, leaving little to no space for experimenting with form, in Gunnar Bergdahl’s view.
The intimate voice, the personal drama, and three young storytellers who follow their own curiosity – podcast Bob was a novum in the Dutch language. It stood out as the first true narrative podcast in the Dutch language.
Produced by young makers from the Woordkunst-program (“Word art” in English) at the Conservatory of Antwerp in Flanders, the podcast also made Dutch listeners aware of how much richer and more beautiful Flemish Dutch is. In 6 episodes, the podcast makers follow 84-year old Elisa, who is slowly fading into dementia. Only recently, years after her husband died, she has started to mention her old neighbor boy Bob, whom, she says, she has had a secret affair with and who even got her pregnant when she was just fifteen. Her three daughters are surprised; they’ve never even heard of Bob. Did he really exist? Is this truly a story of a romantic first love? And do they have a sibling that was given up for adoption at birth?
AudioCollective SCHIK creates audio stories to listen to in the comfort of your own home. They also venture outside, creating audio experiences in the theater or on the streets. Their work has been aired on Dutch and Belgian radio, and has won several awards, including the NTR Radioprijs and Korte Golf Award. Their first podcast Roes launched in 2016, and soon after they created the theatrical audiowalk So You Still Sort Of Have The Same Number, which was selected for IDFA DocLab. Their latest podcast BOB, made in co-operation with VPRO, was the first Dutch podcast that feels like a Netflix series. It was the first European podcast ever selected for IDFA 2017, for which it received the Filmfund DocLab Interactive Grant.
Nele Eeckhout (Belgium, 1988), has a Master of Arts in Languages and Literature, and a Master in Drama. In 2014 she won the NTR Radio Award with 'Vogelen', a documentary about the similar mating rituals of humans and birds, which received an honorable mention in 2015 at the In The Dark Audio Award under the title ‘Birding’. Her research on the merging of audio and theater resulted in the interactive audio performance 'This Is Not Happening'.
Siona Houthuys (Belgium, 1989) has a Master of Arts in Languages and Literature, and a Master in Drama. Her solo 'Speelgoed' won the Debuut-Award from Theaterzaken Via Rudolphi at the ITs Theaterfestival 2016, sending her on a national tour of Belgium. Her newest performance 'No Coincidence, No Story' will premiere in September 2018.
Mirke Kist (The Netherlands, 1991) has a Master in Drama from the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp. In 2014 she won the Korte Golf Radio Competition with her piece 'Twister'. Besides working as a radio producer, she writes. In 2015 she won the writing contest WriteNow! Her work has been published in Das Magazin and De Titaan and she has written a series of columns for Trouw.nl.
The intimate voice, the personal drama, and three young storytellers who follow their own curiosity – podcast Bob was a novum in the Dutch language. It stood out as the first true narrative podcast in the Dutch language. Produced by young makers from the Woordkunst-program (“Word art” in English) at the Conservatory of Antwerp in Flanders, the podcast also made Dutch listeners aware of how much richer and more beautiful Flemish Dutch is. In 6 episodes, the podcast makers follow 84-year old Elisa, who is slowly fading into dementia. Only recently, years after her husband died, she has started to mention her old neighbour boy Bob, whom, she says, she has had a secret affair with and who even got her pregnant when she was just fifteen. Her three daughters are surprised; they’ve never even heard of Bob. Did he really exist? Is this truly a story of a romantic first love? And do they have a sibling that was given up for adoption at birth?
With the support of the Mediafonds and VPRO Dorst we were able to produce our first long form audio series. By investigating the story of Elisa and Bob and constructing the storyline as we did, we wanted to approach the topic of dementia in a different way. Instead of highlighting the improbability of the story of this 84-year old woman, we decided to take her words seriously and worked through hours of tape to carefully listen to what she was trying to dig up from under the layers of time and the taboos of her youth. We searched through libraries, city archives, tracked down several (wrong) family lines - the smallest piece of information was enough to encourage us to keep going. But there were also long periods of time in which we found nothing at all, which caused us to doubt the whole premise of the series. What if what we were tracing was merely a ghost? Read more
Growing up, stories about abandoned babies made an impression on me. I have always gravitated toward unusual characters and stories. When I dug deeper, I found ten cases in Norway over the last thirty years. But one story differed markedly; there was something about its bizarre poetry: the churchyard, the plastic bag, the frost on the grass on the graveyard, the bloody receipt in the plastic bag, the spectacular reunion of mother and son. Here is a huge story, an epic tale of life, death and love.
As Jon Franklin, the first Pulitzer Prize-winner for feature writing, once said, “Most news stories are endings without the beginnings attached.” There is nothing about the hows and whys. But answers to these questions typically make for a far more interesting story than the mere facts. That’s where narrative journalism is so powerful, it is an attempt to find the deep contexts – and tell them.
Our story achieved record-breaking success in Norway, attracting more than 1.1 million unique online users, or 20% of the entire Norwegian population. It is now a worldwide success as well. Readers have now spent close to 24 years – over 220 000 hours – reading the series.
We spent 27.000 hours making it. It cost a huge amount of work and pain to finish the story. It took me two and a half years, on and off, from start to finish. At one point I was about to give up, but the story won in the end.
After three months of work we had a draft that could have been published. With a decent start, a rather exciting middle section with some strong turning points and a satisfying ending. But I felt the piece left many questions unanswered. In the research that followed, we kept on finding new people and new twists time and again.After half a year of collecting material, reporting, digging into documents and attempting to track down key people, I realized that the story had grown too massive, beyond the framework of a regular feature narrative. Then I saw the outline of a series.
When we found Victor Olav, the grown-up baby in the plastic bag, in Manila, we could have published the series with a totally happy ending. But we decided to wait until he arrived in Norway, more than a year later. I felt that the story had a much greater potential: to have him walk over the graveyard and meet the man who found him there in a plastic bag. The idea was too good to turn down. Moreover, we had a clear sense that Victor Olav did not know about his first minutes and days on Earth. We could not run the story until things were properly talked through.
In the meantime, we worked to present this series in an innovative way. That part was difficult to get approval for. Our management realized it would take a lot of time and resources. But our newspaper has some funds earmarked for quality journalism, which eventually supported the making of the online presentation.
We knew about the strategies for series from television, but there was little material to rely on when it came to serializing text and images for magazines and online newspapers. We decided to program everything from scratch to fit this story. It’s probably one of the most ambitious digital projects in the Norwegian press ever. It was essential that the effects and the digital, multimedia details would not stand in the way of the story, but rather reinforce moods, make an emotion linger, press the right buttons.
We ended up presenting the nine chapters as a series over five weeks, with powerful cliffhangers. Virtually all chapters were presented as a major happening, almost like a breaking news story. On the day of the US presidential elections, the publication of a new chapter was presented more prominently that the news from the US. Spreading chapters over several weeks also had a commercial upside, as it turned out. Every day the amount of time our readers spent on our story increased – to our delight – and we could monitor it in real time, thanks to the dashboard our analytic staff had made.
Halfway into the series our management decided to give the newspapers’ premium subscriber early access to the remaining chapters, a few days before they were published for free. This led to an avalanche of new subscribers, more than any article had generated in the newspaper’s online history at the time. Our newspaper has since used this as a model for boosting digital sales with quality long-form series.