Feelings about ‘unwatchable’, 10:10 and the wonderful insanity of the Internet

As many of you will know, amongst other things, I’ve been working on a project with Darkfibre to raise awareness of the horror in the Congo, and the links between electronics manufacturers and the weaponised rape that happens there on a daily basis. It’s been an absolutely extraordinary experience, both frustrating and fulfilling in equal measures.

For who have read the various bits and bobs in Marie Claire – the campaign is due to launch at the beginning of February 2011.

In the meantime I thought I’d share a little bit about the campaign and how it relates to the current 10:10 debacle.

The campaign centres around a film, god forbid viral in nature. Anybody who knows me knows I’m as cynical as they come about the whole viral mumble, but in this case I read the script and knew immediately it would spread – whether for the right reasons remains to be seen.

It’s actually an incredibly simple idea: “What if what was happening there was happening here – wouldn’t we do something about it?”

As such it’s a straight transposition of a terrifying number of true stories. In brief, an armed group turn up, rape and murder a family in the Cotswalds.

So now you don’t have to watch it.

It’s an incredibly strong film. It illustrates the humiliation, dehumanisation and desecration that is a part of daily life – if you live in the eastern provinces on the Congo.

Given that I myself have had some misgivings about the film I sent out a rough cut to some close friends and family to ask their opinion on whether the ‘line’ which we are dancing with had been crossed.

One of the ‘best’ was from the girlfriend of a mate, and hope she doesn’t mind me sharing this:

I have watched this as someone who knows little about the making of films, but i am a consumer, a rights lawyer, someone who lobbies for these very same issues and a woman. My first reaction was to be physically sick (and i was)- my second was to say ‘the world needs to see this’.

Public denial is a deeply rooted problem in the educated West – we turn the channel over when adverts show the homeless, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the victims of political and economic unethical practice – people tune into Comic Relief for the funny stuff and make tea when the images of starving children take over the screen… unless you force it, ram it, into peoples lives there will never be the reaction necessary to provoke the awareness that true change needs… It is no longer acceptable to be sugar-coated by a mainstream approach to these issues – when we dress it up in rock concerts and wrist bands… it means nothing to the general population unless they actually see and feel and have a visceral experience … and in 6 long painful uncomfortable minutes Unwatchable achieves this.

The danger is that it is indeed such a controversial way of illustrating the problem that people will relate it merely to their own lives, and fear for their own wives and daughters instead of contextualize it into the ‘show and tell’ it actually is. If this happens the danger may be that the subject will be eclipsed by peoples own private fears and this be talked about and shared for the wrong reasons. it would indeed by tragic if the film was known for sensational value rather than the issues it seeks to expose… but my personal view, and from my experience of lobbying for change through ‘conventional’ methods (which seldom works in the face of media spin and red tape) is that nothing short of horrific, unthinkable, fear and pity inducing images can achieve this. Whether this film is shared with the world or not, the horror in the Congo continues – 200 times a day no less – why the hell shouldnt we force people to sit uncomfortably for a while – on balance the change and awareness it will provoke will outweigh the shock value of those who are merely morbidly curious about such images.

be brave – someone has to be.

All the feedback has been incredibly useful, even from those who hated it. There was a common theme that if you are going to drag somebody into such a horrible place you need to have all the supporting information there – right there – when they watch it.

Tell me more they said, after they stopped crying or shouting.

I might sound flippant but given I can’t watch the film, or even talk about the reality, without bursting into tears I reckon somebody somewhere will forgive me.

Then along comes the ‘No Pressure’ campaign from 10:10, embedded here.

The campaign genuinely couldn’t have gone more wrong.

They made a film which wasn’t funny, with a message that was so easy to misinterpret, they blew up children for a giggle, then pulled the campaign and apologised inspiring both sides of the argument to denounce the whole thing.  You can see some of the feedback here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/green-living-blog/2010/oct/04/10-10-activism

Anyway this whole mess has had far reaching repercussions in the Charity/NGO world. Basically nobody is will to take risks now for fear of a major backlash.

Seems to me the trick is to be responsible about what exactly you are releasing so I’ve tried to put together a bit of a plan, outlined below, to avoid the 10:10 turbulence. This was written prior to the launch of their campaign and I guess the question is: Is there any more that we can do?

How do we prevent children from seeing it?

On the Internet it’s simply impossible to stop anybody from seeing anything.

However you can be responsible and there are steps that can be taken to limit exposure.

We are tagging the content as inappropriate for minors. Essentially we are voluntarily black listing it.

It means that it won’t appear in google (or other search engines) if ‘safe search’ is on.

It won’t turn up in any environment that has a ‘net nanny’ system, eg. every school, many work places and anybody who has opted-in at home.

We are creating a player to contain the film which will have age verification at the start (same as alcohol sites, etc). While this doesn’t really stop anyone it does make it perfectly clear what we are trying to.

How do we prevent people to whom it will cause serious upset from seeing it accidentally?

We want to include BBFC certification up front to make it clear it’s intended for mature audiences.

We have worked hard on the messaging included before the film to make sure that the viewer knows they are going to watch something deeply upsetting; We called the film ‘Unwatchable’ for a reason.

There will be NO mass email mail-outs. There are many lists which have demographic information attached so in theory we could filter out kids, however, what we don’t know is anything more specific about the individuals’ lives eg. The potential for the recipient to have been a victim of sexual violence, so therefore we will rely on a social distribution.

We are also working with a major NGO in the UK to make sure there is a help-line to support those who are affected by viewing.

How do we insure that they can ‘find out more’?

The main purpose of the interactive player is to be able to keep the facts about the Congo with the film at all times.

The extended content is a detailed FAQ about the background of the conflict in the Congo, Conflict Minerals, The Making of… (or more to the point: Why we made it), and ways that people can help and get involved.

We won’t be pushing out the film on its own.

How do we prevent people ‘mashing’ it up / editing out the context?

Realistically we can’t, however we can make it harder.

By embedding the film within our own player we can make it more difficult to get a full copy of the film out.

That being said, anybody who is technically minded will be able to extract it, but hopefully it will be enough to dissuade the casual masher.

However – forewarned is forearmed so if anybody reading this wants to take the film and abuse it so we can learn before launch. Please ping me and I’ll sort you out with a copy.

How do we respond to a backlash?

We are showing as many NGOs and relevant charities as possible, as well as journalists, prior to launch to make them aware and insure they don’t fuel any kind of media hysteria.  We want to pre-empt and respond as much as possible. We know there will be a backlash – we can but minimise the damage.

On the net the only thing you can really do is be absolutely open, honest and transparent. Unlike other campaigns there is no opposition here eg. Barring the crazies, nobody is going say that RAPE IS OK, and one would hope that the more rational voices on the net will challenge or simply ignore trolls.

However people will question our methods – the need to shock, the setting – and accuse us of sensationalism. As mentioned above, we have prepared an extensive FAQ (embedded with the film) which aims to address the most obvious lines of attack. The reality is we want to shock, challenge taboos, create noise, but we’re very much aware it is our responsibility to ensure anger, disgust, horror is channelled into useful action.

We will have twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc. manned to answer and discuss the issues and the film.

So have I missed anything? The campaign isn’t launching now till the new year so we have plenty of time to ‘get it right’. And we want to.

I’d really appreciate any and all suggestions of how we can behave as responsibly as possible with this.

Thorts?

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    • Ash
    • October 14th, 2010

    Hey Jon,

    I’ve not seen the film, but would like to do so before forming an absolute opinion. However, from what you’ve said and what I’ve heard from those that were consulted about it, it would seem you’re actually showing this rape and murder. Seems like an obvious move, right? How else does one get such a reaction other than to show graphic detail? This seems to be the question you’re asking. Well, in filmic terms at least I’d disagree – often ‘shocking’ films fail in my eyes because they show too much, this is why films are rarely as good as their literary counterpart, books leave more to the imagination which will pretty much always fabricate something more shocking than if it’s spelled out for you in front of your eyes (think when they revealed the ‘monster’ in Jeepers Creepers, fear of the unknown psychopath was far more palpable than when you could see it was some twat with wings driving about in that van, ruined it. Or conversely why Blair Witch / Paranormal Activity was so successful – it was what you *couldn’t* see).

    Also, I’ve always been surprised by the amount of women that have confessed they’ve been the victims of rape, I think showing that level of detail will gain a reaction for all the wrong reasons, certainly amongst those personally affected by it.

    If done carefully / cleverly then showing the emotion rather than the action itself will be far more ‘successful’, it would be crude not to. I remember an old boss of mine often told me that less is more, he was right.

    • Less is more – yep – would normally agree, absolutely hence the soul searching. However I think in this case it’s justified. Continuing the film analogies the perpetrators of these atrocities aren’t the big bad monsters in the dark – they are the brothers and fathers and sons, it isn’t based on an isolated ‘true story’ of a child being possessed or something, it’s based on hundreds of thousands of true stories of families who live (and die) with this reality to the point where its the accepted ‘norm’. It’s been going on for a long long time, been in the press on a regular basis and yet is still happening.

      There have been some fantastic campaigns around the various issues which have treaded lightly and alas have had little effect (at least till recently).

      I can’t say I like the film, in fact I genuinely hope nobody ‘likes’ it, but to ‘cut through’ as it were, genuinely provocative was the best way to go.

      The idea wasn’t to be clever, or creative for creativity’s sake, just honest and unfortunately that makes for some pretty unpleasant viewing.

    • Chloe
    • October 22nd, 2010

    Hi – where can the film ‘Unwatchable’ be seen?
    Thanks x

  1. hi, i saw an ad in marie clair uk magazine about “unwatchable” when i was in london last month but i cat’t find the film anywhere? :S ..

    is it on youtube? as i said.. i simply can’t find it!

    /freja, sweden.

    • Due to circumstances beyond our control the campaign has been pushed back till the end of January next year – Marie Claire jumped the gun a bit! When it launches above and beyond all the blogs I suspect we’ll be on you will be able to see it on http://www.unwatchable.cc

  2. Hi Jon,

    I’d rather give some money than have to watch this – from your description it sounds like it would be very upsetting to watch.

    Maybe THAT should be your campaign “we could have made you watch this but we let you off, some people aren’t so lucky.”

    I’d hate to think that I’d be ‘thrilled’ in the horror sense by someone else’s pain and suffering. In other words, if I was horrified, that would be a sensation and an experience. However cleverly and realistically this horrible thing is portrayed, it’s still not ‘real’ for me. I am safe and sound. So how can it escape being sensationalist?

    Agree that it’s important to bring things to people’s attention. However, the world has an infinite amount of pain and suffering… People can read and understand to a certain extent a description of suffering and decide who they want to help in the world. Is it right to try and almost coerce people into supporting one group of victims over another group by making such a description very shocking?

    Isn’t the news full of reports of suffering and death? The miners story has been a rare tale of empowerment and survival.

    I’m afraid that portrayals of violence propagate violence.

    I’m afraid that portrayals of terrible experiences will help to make people more fearful generally and more reactive.

    Do Africans and women really wish to be portrayed internationally as victims? Why not show a story of survival and recovery?

    Found this article on the Guardian just now about rape victim survivor response to the rumour of a film by Anglina Jolie about Serbian rape camps.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/23/angelina-jolie-bosnia-serbian-rape-camps
    There’s some interesting comments.

    Great that you’ve opened this up for discussion and are thinking so carefully about it.

    Frankie Sinclair

    • frankie :

      Maybe THAT should be your campaign “we could have made you watch this but we let you off, some people aren’t so lucky.”

      ___ i completely agree with that

  3. Personally I agree with a good deal of what you’ve said.

    One thing I didn’t mention is that when I sent the rough cut out, I had a lengthy preamble which described what it was and why it was important. A significant chunk of my friends and family simply wouldn’t watch it – they were horrified by the reality and wanted to help but didn’t feel the need to see it.

    I don’t think anybody needs watch it I think they need to do something about it hence building the ‘player’ around it so you can act regardless of seeing the film.

    However I would like to respond to:

    “Do Africans and women really wish to be portrayed internationally as victims?”

    This was and still is a significant topic of debate. From a disclosure p.o.v as you may have guessed I am neither African nor a woman so my opinion is somewhat subjective but the initial discussions was that the difficulty in Western media is that Africans are *always* portrayed as victims to the point where the masses simply switch off when confronted with ‘pictures of starving children’ or ‘yet another genocide over there’. It’s obscene but there is truth there. Hence the decision to transpose the violence to England to take geography and race out of the equation -what we’re trying to say is what’s going on is simply wrong – it’s doesn’t matter where it’s happening or to whom it’s inhuman and should be stopped. It’s a pretty base tactic and I guess time will tell whether or not it’s effective or not.

    “Why not show a story of survival and recovery?”

    There are many reasons but one of them is that by pulling out any of these amazing women and focusing the campaign around them we put them at risk – many of the women in the Congo who come out and are seen to protest are targeted repeatedly for their actions. I can’t speak for anyone else but I ethically and morally wouldn’t get involved if I thought that that was a possibility. Make sense?

    Thanks for the comment and on a side note – love your work!

    • Christine
    • October 30th, 2010

    Hi, can someone pls tell me where I can watch the ‘unwatchable’ film ? I have been trying to find it since it’s apparent launch on 13 oct but am having no luck ? Even the page on the global witness site has been removed ? Thanks

    • Vanessa
    • November 2nd, 2010

    Hi Jon, I’m the features editor at Marie Claire South Africa. I’m working on a short piece on the violence in the Congo and I would love to get a few quotes from you. please could you drop me a mail? Thanks. Vanessa

    • Ren
    • November 7th, 2010

    Where can I watch the unwatchable film online? I can’t seem to find it anywhere

    • tim
    • November 25th, 2010

    I have just seen unwatchable.. even before the end i was so moved i was gasping for a way to vent my horror at being party to the truth this film portrays. We must not underestimate this truth.. i honestly cant think how such truth could have been conveyed any better. There needs to be instant access for the viewer to respond.. every viewer will have a mobile phone and therefor be complicit in the actions portrayed. the ultimate goal of this film is for change and the potential for change is huge. it is a nobrainer .. the world must be made aware.

    • Cat
    • December 29th, 2010

    I have some major concerns about this campaign. Before I outline them, please let me make it very clear that I am very much aware of the atrocities being committed against women and children in the Congo, so this is not about not wishing to be educated (although really, I don’t want to watch it and therefore am choosing not to). There is a massive concern though about showing this at cinemas.

    Firstly, there is a concern that for every horrified individual in the audience, there will be people who have a ghoulish interest.

    Secondly, I’m not up on recent rape statistics, but I know people who have been raped, and I know this will be extremely distressing, on an occasion where they have chosen to go out for an evening to do something relaxing. I can’t imagine people I know will be the only individuals, in the hundreds of cinema goers, who could be very damaged AGAIN by this being forced upon them.

    Thirdly, I fear that this will cause a backlash AGAINST the campaign, for the reasons outlined above, as well as others.

    Make it available online, absolutely. Advertise it’s presence and encourage people to log on from home. But please, do not force this on people. The distress and anger it will cause may increase awareness, but there *will* be a backlash from the people it damages.

    I am not someone who can tolerate horror/violence. I won’t go into detail here but I overheard a death by violence when I was small. This is not something I can watch. I will be asking my local cinema not to show it, and if they must, to make it clear with a warning so that people can choose to leave. I would ask you, please, to reconsider.

    • All valid concerns which I’ll address point by point

      1) There is absolutely no way to account for the internet audience – it’s sad to say but I’m sure there is somebody who will have a ‘ghoulish’ interest in the film – however the film is positively tame compared to what hollywood chucks out – the difference is that its a true story. It’s unavoidable I’m afraid but does that mean that nobody should ever do anything challenging?

      2 & 3) We are not and have never planned to run it in the cinema, at least not to the general public – for much the very reasons you’ve outlined. It would be both irresponsible and harmful and there most definitely would be a backlash. This is not group viewing and I personally feel very strongly that the film must be contextualised before watching i.e. told what it’s about and what’s going to happen, nobody should ‘accidentally’ be exposed to it and we would never force anybody to watch it the whole way through if they are affected. Also online we won’t be doing any mass mailings and in the player you can choose to embed it with the actions first and not the film.

      Does that in any way alleviate your concerns?

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