Digital Media as a Tool For Change: The Monteverde New Media Expedition

By Karen Stults

Recently, I found myself on a plane to Central America, heading for digital video boot camp. Yes, you read that correctly.  Digital video boot camp!  Couldn’t I have learned how to shoot a camera and use video editing software right here in Baltimore? Yes. Did I really have to travel all the way to Costa Rica to do this?  No. But I did—for a variety of reasons both logical and random. And here is what was awesome about it: I learned to make a rough cut video documentary. While hiking. And traveling. And “interviewing” people in a language that I don’t know.

The brainchild of husband-wife video documentary team Austin Haeberle and Wendy Maria Jacques, the Monteverde New Media Expedition drew six participants from six far-flung locations (Los Angeles, Flagstaff, Queens, Oroville, London and Baltimore). We all came to learn video-making skills in a full-immersion format. We were also part of a media-based project seeking to protect and preserve an important ecosystem in Costa Rica.  Each of our rough cuts will eventually get cleaned up, subtitled and embedded within a larger digital narrative that will live online and will be embedded with educational tools. The intent is to create an effective tool for education about the human, economic and biological assets of the region in order to make these stories more accessible and alive.

The endeavor brought us face to face with farmers, educators, advocates and others who are living and working within a 164,000-acre parallelogram of land stretching from the Gulf of Nicoya to the cloud forests of Monteverde. With lots to do and not much time to do it, our schedule ran something like this:

Days 1-4:   Hike, travel, interview people, shoot a ton of footage

Day 5:         Learn Final Cut Pro X and begin using it

Day 6:         Self-produce a 3-minute rough cut documentary (one per participant); present said documentary at a community screening

Day 7:         Fly home.  No rest for the weary, as the saying goes.

We six participants made six mini-documentaries in as many days.  I learned that:

  1. Video editing software is surprisingly addictive.
  2. If it can go wrong, it will.  During my particular interview, which was conducted at the base of a huge old tree in the heart of the rainforest, we ran out of both memory and battery power. Oh, and it was raining.
  3. Hiking for hours with video equipment is tricky and laborious, but even a boom microphone can traverse two ridgelines, a wind break, a valley descent and a good amount of barbed wire.
  4. There is no way I could have, or would have learned all this in six days or less back home. Not because there aren’t good opportunities to learn and to create here in Baltimore- there are! But the faraway, full-immersion experience enabled me to get far enough outside of myself to try something altogether different and new.

Walking off an airplane and into someone else’s larger vision for regional storytelling and change was a tremendous, if sometimes challenging experience.  In the end, it was both rewarding and informative.  It gave me a glimpse into the role digital media can play in assisting a group of individuals to articulate a broadly-shared vision for a region, while each telling their own uniquely personal stories.

Can we do the same here at home in Baltimore? I sure hope so.

Read more about the Monteverde New Media Expedition and the Bellbird Biological Corridor.

Check out the rough cut here: 

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