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Havana-Miami: Video diaries across borders and platforms

In 1997 I interviewed documentary filmmaker Ilan Ziv – a pioneer in video storytelling in projects like On the Edge of Peace (1995), an Israeli-Palestinian coproduction in which three Palestinians and three Israelis were given cameras to record their experiences during a hopeful period or peace negotiations. Ziv was a powerful advocate for small-format reports on “ordinary lives shaped by political circumstances,” producing video diaries in many parts of the world. When I spoke with him, they were being broadcast by BBC2, Channel 4 (UK), Ikon TV (Holland), but US television wasn’t interested.

Back then, Ziv saw hope in digital technologies, saying, “We need to create our ‘television’ … make sure there’s a little corner reserved for the people… and the technology is constantly going in our direction.”

Fast forward to 2010 and Havana-Miami: Times are changing (http://havana-miami.tv), an interactive online documentary launched in February 2010. The series follows the daily lives of 12 young Cubans – six in Miami and six in Havana -- over three months in two-minute “video snapshots.” It reveals how people deal with divisions they didn’t create and – in the case of Havana-Miami subjects who range in age from 12 to 38 – histories they didn’t experience.

Havana-Miami is a cross-platform transnational production beyond Ziv’s wildest dreams. Commissioned by ARTE TV (France/Germany) in collaboration with Radio Television Suisse. The series is co- produced by Ziv’s Tamouz Media (US) and Alegría Productions (France), in association with the Knight Center for International Media (University of Miami) and Troqua Vision (Spain, Cuba). Le Monde, the Miami-Herald, and Internazionale (Italy) are partner newspapers.

These stories about work, family, sports, love, separation and connection appear three times a week on a social networking site that allows users to comment, embed and export videos and upload their own video and photographs. (The site has been receiving 50,000-60,000 hits per week.) Both production teams include training for young media makers. The US stories are shot by undergraduate honors students at the University of Miami’s School of Communication, trained by graduate students. The Havana team is led by a professional Cuban documentary filmmaker and include Cuban film school graduates.

Havana-Miami grows out Gaza/Sderot: Life in spite of everything, which reported the daily lives of people on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli border (http://gaza-sderot.arte.tv). The Web project won Prix Europa and those video diaries became the basis of a stand-alone documentary. Ziv and his collaborator, Serge Gordey (Alegría) hope to make a documentary composed of Havana-Miami stories, for broadcast in Europe and US distribution.