Participatory Filmmaking

Historias de Matagalpa / Colectivo Veinte21

(In collaboration with: Gloria Carrión, Emanuel Giraldo, Milton Guillén, Natalia Hernandez, Mercedes Moncada, and Fernanda Soto)

The goal of this project was to provide a space for Nicaraguan youth to reflect on the country’s recent history through documentary filmmaking, and to transfer practical skills that could be applied in other multimedia projects to address social issues in the future.


Over the course of four weeks, high school and college students, experimental documentary filmmakers, scholars, and the broader Matagalpa population will collaborate in a workshop to produce several video documentary projects about the “histories” of the revolution/civil war in Matagalpa. The project was successful in that it allowed other young people to recognize their own past, and through that recognition, become empowered to imagine alternative political possibilities for Nicaragua.


I started out by investigating diverse community filmmaking experiences and their methodologies, and consulting with a broad group of people willing to offer feedback both on the methods and the content I was proposing. Next, I sent out invitation letters to different documentary filmmakers and scholars where I proposed that they take over a “slot” of the workshop and worked with them to settle on the specific content that they were going to facilitate. Thus, the design and implementation of the workshop became a collaborative experience.

The second stage was the implementation of the workshop. Roughly speaking, the first week was dedicated to introducing the genre of Documentary filmmaking, and the issues of representation that arise with it: what is truth? Does documentary film depict reality? However, we had this discussion thinking specifically about how to represent memory or history within documentary. We also introduced and discussed memory and history function in our society. Who writes history and from where? Who has memory? What histories of the revolution and the civil war do we know? Where do we learn these narratives? What impact do they have in our lives? They too would be entering the politics of memory through their films, it was imperative that they had some sense of how memories circulate in the public sphere: the role of institutions like schools and their own family narratives in building a sense of “history”.

seleccion-veinte21-55From this stage on, the participants divided into four groups, started thinking about topics, and began the research process. Because one of the goals of the workshop was for the participants to ultimately construct a “way of seeing” the past that was their own, I decided to let them run with their ideas. They had autonomy in the entire process, with the sole constraint that the projects had to somehow engage with the “past,” however broadly defined.

I found that they too were frustrated by the fact that youth feel unauthorized to ask or reflect on the past, and that on top of that, that “we” as a generation are being called “apathetic” and “individualistic” for not having unified collective projects to work towards.Approaching history allowed us to gain perspective: concerns about what we have inherited as a youth emerged, particularly about the kinds of leadership structures that became the legacy of the militarization and violence that was lived through, and what this means for familial relationships.

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We began to recognize ourselves as individuals who had been somehow touched by this war, and who lived within a society –and within families– that have not been able to discuss what it lived through openly. In response, all (but one group) decided they were going to make films about their own families.

The participants documented the stories of a grandmother who turned her house into a “safehouse” for young people who were fighting to free Nicaragua from the Somoza dictatorship in the 1970’s; mother who delivered undercover messages in the struggle against the dictatorship; another mother who, at age 16, taught 15 adults to read during the 1981 literacy brigade; and the mythological figure of Carlos Fonseca, founder of the FSLN revolutionary movement and its presence in Nicaragua today.

See projects produced here: