Migrants document their experiences with RIMA's digital storytelling

A series of workshops in digital storytelling hosted by the RIMA project invites migrants iving in Malta to learn how to tell their stories through new media platforms

Dagmawi Yimer (left) and Francesca Vitalini (right)
Dagmawi Yimer (left) and Francesca Vitalini (right)

The ongoing, collaborative RIMA project – taking place under the auspices of the Valletta 2018 Foundation – will be holding a series of workshops in digital storytelling, once again inviting migrants of all nationalities living in Malta to learn how to tell their stories through new media platforms.

Teodor Relijc catches up with the workshop’s coordinators, Dagmawi Yimer and Francesca Vitalini

In your experience, what are the most important things to keep in mind when creating a mechanism for migrants to tell their stories, and how do you hope to apply it in this workshop?

Dagmawi Yimer: First and foremost, the participants need to be made fully aware, and be conscious of, the importance of storytelling. They should ask themselves some fundamental questions at the beginning of the process. Why do we need these stories? To whom are we addressing them, and where are we telling them? And who owns these stories, in the end? It is generally important to keep in mind that, while migrants have various tools, formats and genres at their disposal to tell these stories – whether it’s true video, painting, writing or whatever – not everyone is equally gifted to narrate their stories through the same means.

However, I’m confident that those who sign up for the workshop have already answered these questions for themselves in some capacity. People who want to participate will have made this desire known – through social media, primarily.

It puts me to mind of something the acclaimed film director and documentarian Werner Herzog said when speaking about teaching documentary filmmaking. Emphasising that documentary is not mere reportage, he encourages his students to, “try not to be ‘flies on the wall’, but ‘off the wall’ instead”. By this he means, don’t conform to any current trends in filmmaking. And I think this is very relevant within the context of migration. Because stories about migrants tend to be about victimising the migrant, because everybody is concentrated the stories related only on the dramatic endeavor of the migrant. What this does is suffocate individual stories with a looming, collective narrative of ‘migration’. To combat that and create that crucial perspective shift, we should really involve migrants directly in the process of creation – remaining “off the wall” throughout.

Francesca Vitalini: Communication has basic rules, which remain valid in whatever context. These basic rules will be illustrated during the course and we will build the storytelling process after establishing them. Storytelling is an art and a tool for portraying real or fictional events through words, images, and sounds. It is an art that we will amplify using social media. It is an effective communication that involves content, emotions, intentionality, and contexts. Participants will have the opportunity to experience that the appropriate use of some mechanisms and communication tools can enable them to effectively create and distribute content that they will choose themselves ... So, there is no limit to narration, respecting individuals and the themes that narration brings with it, in the common construction of a representation of migration, which, who knows, may turn out to be far more different to what is represented in mainstream media!

What are some of the main stumbling blocks and issues that you found, when it comes to encouraging migrants to tell their stories? How do you think these issues could be circumvented?

Yimer: Migrant stories are told by individuals as a consequence for every subject, one should create the place, the atmosphere, the time to listen those stories. One of the important questions to answer is: What do we need those stories for, and what is gained from telling them? If we don’t have the answer we can’t captivate the interest of the story teller. The answer to the question can change according to the circumstances. We may simply need the stories to be exposed for the sake of research or journalistic purposes, archiving, political militancy/ activism, to write a book, a play, film or simply to share experiences among small groups. Building trust among the one who tells and the one who gathers the story is one of the best ways to start.

Vitalini: Those attending the course know that we will all be part of a sharing “game” where the common goal is to use communication and the new media for our benefit, within a creative context. Indeed, participants will be free to choose whatever subjects they want describe with words, pictures, video to learn the use the new and more common technologies and social media. According to data from the second quarter of 2017, Facebook has 2 billion active users every month and among them 1.3 billion are using it every day! In other words, it’s a very large virtual community where people can enter to ‘narrate themselves’ in the ongoing process of self-building (an ever-more urgent concern within the context of migration), as well as to promote their own businesses and to maintain links between family and friends.

Are you looking forward to collaborating with RIMA? What do you hope to achieve with the Digital Storytelling Workshop, and what appeals to you in RIMA’s approach more generally speaking?

Yimer: Yes, I’m very much looking forward to collaborating with the RIMA project. First of all, because they’ve invited me to share my experience and secondly, I’m looking forward to finding out whether other migrants who find themselves in Malta – mostly by coincidence – could find something useful in my own experience. And last but not least, I believe that RIMA, and other such initiatives across Europe, are working against the flow. For this reason, sharing our experiences all across the European context is crucial.

Vitalini: RIMA is an extremely interesting Maltese association because it is very composite, hybrid, we might even say. Its anthropological base is enriched by an artistic and cultural view in the knowledge of the other. It proposes a different way of seeing contemporaneity that is heterogeneous and irreducible to a unilateral and unique perspective. The workshop is perfectly situated in this context, because it encourages the use of different voices and registers to bring its initiative to the fore.

The RIMA Digital Storytelling Workshop will be taking place at Spazju Kreattiv at St James Cavalier, Valletta on October 12 and 13 (17:00 – 19:00) and October 14 (14:00 – 17:00). Participation fee is at €15; free for students or the unemployed. To book, and for more information, log on to: http:// www.rimaproject.org/2/39/ Digital-Storytelling