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Student explores conflict transformation through film, music

portrait of ASU student Galen J. Lamphere-Englund
March 27, 2014

Editor's note: Galen J. Lamphere-Englund, a senior majoring in global studies, traveled to Ireland in the summer of 2013 with support from the Friends of the Center Student Awards Program to learn how music can be used in peacebuilding projects to strengthen communities and achieve social change. Here, he talks about his experience in his own words.

“I'm led by giving other people a voice.”

These were the first words I heard from Nick Danziger, a human rights photographer, and they resonated deeply with me. With the assistance of a research award from the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, I had just arrived in Ireland to take part in the Summer School in Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy to improve my activist skills. Seated across from Nick, the main instructor and a powerfully humble filmmaker, were a diverse mixture of sixteen human rights practitioners, filmmakers and advocates from eleven countries. Despite being a small group, nearly every age and walk of life were represented, all unified by a shared belief in the photographer’s words.

As I got to know my compatriots, I was both inspired and impressed by the range of their motivations. Kate, a German filmmaker, just finished a dark documentary on the rising Golden Dawn in Greece. Next to her sat Yemane, a young producer from Ethiopia, and Ko Zin, a changemaker from Myanmar who works on education advancement. A little further down the table sat Muhammad, a Jordanian who just finished a short film on female marathon runners.

Our varied backgrounds, unified by a guiding thread of human rights advocacy, helped to shape remarkable dialogues over the next ten days. I had set out to Ireland hoping to glean enough knowledge to eventually use film in my research for music and conflict transformation, yet because of my colleagues and teachers, I learned far more extensive lessons.

During our marathon, 10-hour daily sessions, we discussed how to pitch to producers, use media in conflict zones, disseminate content via the web and, most importantly, to make sure that people are able to hear the voices we hope to amplify.

Guided by Nick's expertise as a human storyteller, we walked through shaping narratives in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, India and beyond. Over many cups of Irish tea, we discussed the pitfalls of re-victimization, of not getting close enough, and the continual issue of truthfulness in film.

The director of Amnesty International's film project helped us examine the inner workings of human rights film festivals: selection criteria, organizational structuring and funding sources. Next, using our lessons as templates, we developed project proposals. I watched my idea, a proposal for a short film advocating funding for the arts in Bosnia, evolve through my peers' suggestions into an implementable, succinct plan. The pitching process, which included tutelage from BBC producers, greatly improved my skill set for developing projects.

While some of the skills I walked away with were tangible, the most impactful insights came from discussions with my fellow participants. Advocacy and human rights work is fraught with the constant risk of burnout – of losing one’s path in cynical tangles. The program in Ireland reaffirmed my belief that community – the joy of being in the presence of like-minded, passionate people – is the best path to rekindle and reaffirm why I seek social change.

During our breaks and dinners, we mapped out plans to collaborate on future projects and reconnect across the globe. More importantly, we discussed our individual coping tactics with secondary trauma, and shared powerful anecdotes from our experiences. This multi-cultural exchange of activist stories and strategies was remarkable. Swapping the tactics we use to survive and work helped me formulate new ways to remain sensitive and capable as I move forward in my own efforts.

Our discussions also spilled into documentary work and the dire need to not cause more harm, to avoid re-traumatization and, above all, to retain human connections through the camera lens. Ironically, each participant could share many times when they had witnessed this connection severed as human rights workers became callous, and neglected the fundamental reason for their efforts: to give a voice to others, and through that, to make better our shared existence

As Nick noted, in order to remain true to those ideals, we must seek out the stories that we are closest to, which one can live inside and make multi-threaded connections to. This is not to be driven by the desire to make a film, but to tell a human story.

My 16 fellow participants and I parted as friends, our own experiences made richer by the stories shared among us, which accompanied the applied lessons from our lecturers. From the technical to the emotional, the summer school program imparted to me a new set of tools which I will use as I set off on my path of doctoral research into how music can be used in post-conflict situations. The practical skills of producing and getting funding will allow me to be successful in my efforts. The slightly more intangible lessons will allow me to stay honest to my aims; to remain human, to get closer to each person whose stories I hear, to remember my humility and to do justice by creating works which can have an impact on our world. These lessons, some new, some simply reinforced, are ones which I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn, thanks to the funding of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.

The Friends of the Center Student Awards are made possible through the generous support of the Friends of the Center, a group of private individuals committed to advancing the research and education mission of ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.

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