Monday, May 20, 2013

A Short Salvadoran Journey

Of course one great thing about INPUT is that it is truly international, and most delegates try to squeeze in a little travel before or after the conference. I was able to tack on a couple of days at the end and see a bit of the country. Here are a few photos:

There is a memorial to the victims of the civil war on a wall in a park in downtown San Salvador, which I visited with Bill Gilcher of the Goethe Institute. A bas-relief frieze includes a woman holding a picture of Oscar Romero, and more than 30,000 victims' names are carved into the stone. The inscription in the picture on the right acknowledges that the names of thousands more victims will never be known.

But life goes on and the outdoor street market in San Salvador is a wildly eclectic, high-energy scene every day except Sunday. For about a dollar you can buy a cartoon-figure pinata - or just about anything else! And all the women wear a handy little apron with lots of pockets called a delantal.

On my last day in I took a tour of the western part of the country called "La Ruta de las Flores" - the flower route - with fellow INPUT delegates Eren McGinnis of the U.S. and Lefty Fylaktos of Greece. We visited 3 small villages, one of which, Izalco, was the center of the 1932 massacre in which some 40,000 indigenous people were slaughtered by the government for participating in an uprising led by communist guerrillas Farabundo Marti,  Alfonso Luna and Mario Zapata. The leaders were executed as well, as seen in the article in this photo. During the civil war of 1980 - 1992 the coalition of guerrilla groups that led the fight against the government  was called the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). Today the FMLN is one of 2 major political parties in El Salvador.

The tour was so full of history and things to eat and see that it seemed to last much longer than a day. Here are a few more pictures. The mural is in the little village of Concepcion de Ataco which has a lot of beautiful wall paintings.

Making pupusas, the delicious national dish

Iguana-shaped bread
A coffee mill in Ataco

         A quinciniera (15th birthday) celebration                                                        

                                                                                                                                       A stack of beaded bags 
Two young Salvadorans

As I was waiting to board my flight at the airport I saw this wonderful mural dedicated to Oscar Romero and next to it this plaque. In the name of the Salvadoran state, the plaque asks the pardon of the people of El Salvador for the crimes and human rights violations committed against them during the civil war, and is signed by the President.

Back home and reflecting on INPUT and El Salvador

Goodbye to Francois!

 INPUT President Judy Tam

Moderators Eren McGinnis (U.S.) and Stefano Semeria (Switzerland)

INPUT 2013 in El Salvador ended with a highlights session called "Desperately Seeking Identity" that had a focus on  racism and women. Then the moderators, with blue umbrellas, extended an invitation to next year's conference in Helsinki. They also thanked INPUT President Judy Tam, whose behind-the-scenes work contributed greatly to the success of the conference. And Jouko Salokorpi of Finland gave longtime INPUT manager Francois Smit a big farewell hug. We all wish him well in his future adventures - he will be missed!

It was an exceptional year to hold the INPUT conference in El Salvador, at a time when the country's public radio and television are quickly moving away from being the state-sanctioned media and becoming a true service for the people. I was able to stay an extra couple of days and travel a bit to get a sense of the history and culture of the country, and I was struck by the lasting resonance of the terrible civil war that devastated El Salvador from 1980 - 1992. I think a true public media will help the country heal.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

This was a short conference, but intense. Continuing my report on Wednesday, there was a lot of buzz about the CBC's programs that were screened in the morning in a session called "Get Me the Ratings! Attracting Attention to Get an Audience." Recreating a kidnapping and involving viewers' step-by-step input on what they think investigators should do, "Kidnapped, the Fifth Estate," raised a lot of issues, as did "The Dirt on Hotels." Since "Dirt" included an investigation on a Sheraton and most of us were staying at a hotel in that chain, well...I need say no more...

As usual at an INPUT conference there's way more available to view that is possible for one mortal. The discussions over meals and drinks make up for this a bit and of course are at the heart of the gathering, but I think everyone wishes they could be in 3 places at once. On Wednesday afternoon I went to the session entitled "Anatomy of a Daring Documentary: Exchange of Expertise." A highlight for me was FRONTLINE's "Big Sky, Big Money," produced by Rick Young, who did a masterful job of dealing with the essential but somewhat wonky topic of campaign finances in the US, specifically the fall-out from the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. From the discussion it seemed that even the inernational audience was able to grasp the complexities of the story.

FRONTLINE producer Rick Young with moderator Hiroshi Tanami of NHK.

Wednesday night the traditional midweek party took place at the beautiful home of a friend of our host. It was on the top of a mountain overlooking the city, a magical view.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Wednesday in San Salvador

The day began with a tour of Canal 10's studios at 7:30 AM by an intrepid group of INPUT delegates. Their modest facility surrounds a beautiful garden featuring tropical plants and the original antenna, now a sculpture.

The equipment in the control rooms is quite dated - they actually use U-Matic machines for playback, thought they record in digi-Beta. It occurred to many of us that we should send them tapes and equipment that we don't use any more. 

Nevertheless, their studios have beautiful sets and the whole atmosphere of the place is full of energy and excitement. We arrived during the taping of the morning show, with three young enthusiastic hosts. Yours truly was invited onto the set, along with a producer from Panama, to do an interview segment. Whew! I try to stay behind the camera, but this was fun in a nerve-wracking sort of way, and I hope I said something intelligent in my imperfect Spanish. I tried to make the point that public media is a right and belongs to all the people, the same as the highways and roads. Here's a shot of me on the monitor.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

INPUT 2013 in El Salvador!

Greetings from El Salvador! The conference has been so jam-packed that I'm only now getting around to my first blogpost. Here's a picture of everybody at the opening session on Monday, which consisted of a plenary and a whole morning of viewing programs as an entire group. This is a new approach, and included some excerpts, which has been a bit controversial but it's in the spirit of INPUT to create new challenges for itself and this new format allows more films to be shown.

But! Even before the conference officially began, on Sunday, those of us who have been coming to INPUT for more than 2 years in a row, as well as the Board and the moderators (that's the new name for the shop stewards) were invited to lunch at the Presidential Palace! El Salvador's Secretary of Communications, David Rivas, addressed the gathering. This is a great time to have this conference in el Salvador because the country is re-establishing its public media and there's lots of excited talk about what that can mean for the people of the country. Hopefully the INPUT presence will inspire and support their efforts. Here is our US moderator Eren McGinnis In the middle) with some international colleagues, waiting for the luncheon to begin.

Also - I just have to include this beautiful photo of a painting in the Museo de Arte de El Salvador, to share a little of the tropical flavor of this country.

We have quite a few American programs represented here this year, 8 in all, including 1 that was commissioned by a station (KCTS) and another by station producers from Penn State. Here are some of our presenters at their sessions:

Marty Syjuco and Michael Collins presented "Give Up Tomorrow" at the opening session on Monday.

Jhene Erwin presented her short dramatic film "The House I Keep", a commission of KCTS Seattle, at the plenary session as well.

Lindsey Whissel is the director of "You Can't Say That," a production of Penn State Public Broadcasting, producer Joe Myers. It was featured in a session called "How To Deliver Tough Topics To Teens." Joe also brought a Penn State program to INPUT two years ago in Budapest. Go station producers!

Today, Tuesday, Kimberley Bautista presented her documentary "Justice for My Sister" at a session called "Crusading Journalism - When Is It Journalism, When Is It Just a Crusade?" She is Colombian American but her film was entered by El Salvador and tells the story of a murdered Guatemalan woman. In the afternoon Kimberley and journalist Monica Gonzalez Islas presented a session on women and girls that marks the beginning of the broadcast of the documentary series 'Women & Girls' on Canal 10, El Salvador.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Annisa Kau, the Broadcast & Distribution Coordinator at ITVS, reports on a Mini-INPUT festival held for the ITVS staff last March. Now that INPUT 2012 is concluded, it's time to start planning for Mini-INPUTS to be held across the country. Contact Amy Shumaker ( or Betsy Newman ( if you're interested in organizing a screening in your community. 

Here are a shot of the ITVS staff at their screening, and Annisa's report:

 During the last week of March, we held a weeklong mini-INPUT festival for the staff here at ITVS. We showed programs from the Best of INPUT 2011 that were showcased in Seoul, Korea. Judy Tam, the President of INPUT and ITVS's CFO, gave an introduction about INPUT to open the weeklong screenings. 

A variety of programs, mainly documentaries, were selected to showcase the diversity of content that are on public television from around the world. On Thursday, we screened a selection of programs we felt would surprise an American public television audience. We used these clips to discuss the varying missions and mandates of public television around the world in comparison to our own expectation of public broadcasting in the United States. 

This was the schedule: 

Monday, March 26th: 
  • Blood In the Mobile 
Tuesday, March 27th:
  • Cleveland vs Wall Street 
Wednesday, March 28th: 
  • The Game of Death
Thursday, March 29th:
  • You Called That Television (excerpts plus discussion): 
    • Hardy Bucks
    • 20x Brandenburg - Warriors without Enemies
    • Barrier Free Variety Show 
Friday, April 1st: 
  • The Green Wave 
  • Tablo Goes to Stanford
 Thank you so much for providing us with the INPUT collection to choose from. It's always fun to be able to experience television from around the world.


Friday, May 11, 2012

INPUT Sydney - the last day!


The last day of the 2012 conference ended with a party given by next year's host, El Salvador. A group of Salvadoreans living in Sydney made delicious tamales and other treats from their home country, and performed a traditional dance.  

INPUT 2012 seemed to go by in a flash – hard to believe Friday was the last day. I hope we can keep up with folks and report on the great things everyone’s doing via this blog. Message to readers – don’t be shy about adding comments!

For me, Friday was another smorgasbord of TV treats. I began at the session called “Mobile Phones as Witnesses: User Generated Content in the News.” The first program at the session was “You Should Have Stayed at Home,” a CBC production constructed from mobile phone pictures and video taken during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto, when violent riots took place. The discussion, led by CBC producers Lynette Fortune and Jim Williamson, centered on the ways in which UGC can be verified and held to journalistic standards. Fortune explained that she had met every content provider in person and checked their media against a list of qualifying criteria that she developed.  Another means of verification was to compare several videos of the same event, shot from different angles. More than one camera shooting the same event = truth.

In general, though the network was able to pay only a nominal fee for footage, people were very cooperative and eager to share their media, providing the producers with many hours of recordings. Fortune found the videos first, on You Tube, and then went looking for the people who shot them. In one case she found only a photo of a young man being beaten by the police. After the show was broadcast several people came forward with video of the incident.

The other program presented in this session was “Mega Tsunami: Hidden Perils,” from NHK. The producers of this documentary used UGC to tell the story of the terrifying mega tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011, when the destructive power of water was followed by fires that broke out on the oil-soaked seas.  The video shot by witnesses pointed the producers to personal stories, making the coverage extremely effective and poignant. One member of the audience raised the question of the quality of the shooting, which of course isn’t in the same category as professionally shot media. But the consensus seemed to be that UGC adds an invaluable immediacy to news and documentaries and works best when verified and contextualized by professional producers and journalists.

In the afternoon I attended two sessions, beginning with “To Academic, Too Sophisticated? Delivering Bulky Content.” This session began with another NHK program, “Feast of Exquisite Beauty,” employing a well-known photographer to analyze Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” and try to replicate the painting in a photograph. Through his efforts to recreate Vermeer’s masterpiece, the photographer – along with the audience - discovers revealing details about the painting.  Although it had an annoying (at least to Western ears) “voice of God” narrator, the show helped me see “Girl with a Pearl Earring” in a new and unforgettable way and made me wish that we had more adventurous arts programming in the U.S.

Next up was Canadian Andrea Dorfman’s animation, “Flawed,” a beautiful short piece about personal identity. Unfortunately, the filmmaker wasn’t able to attend. It has long been a basic tenet of INPUT that someone from the production team must accompany the program and I hope this rule will be upheld in the future. Without one of the producers in attendance the quality of the discussion is completely altered, and not for the better.

Finally, I went to the “10 Ways to Involve Your Audience and Use Social Media” session. Here I saw presentations from Switzerland and ARTE that made me very envious. One is a virtual tour of a street in Zurich in which tweets pop up like thought bubbles as the user moves down the street – a lot of fun, and like nothing I’ve seen before: ARTE’s site is the partner site to the program “Photo for Life,” which I wrote about on Tuesday. Exceptional!

So – another great week of debate and inspiration. I’m thankful to have been part of INPUT for the last 3 years. I hope I can apply a lot of what I’ve absorbed here in Sydney to my own work back home.