At the Movies: Reviewing SPS Community Media

Every so often, movie night comes to one of the villages of the Dewas district, and the community gathers outdoors around a large screen to watch a Charlie Chaplin film projected out of the back of a truck. From a third person perspective, the setting seems out of place–a crowd of men and women dressed in vibrantly patterned clothes in a remote Indian town fixated on the black and white images of Chaplin’s bowler hat and waddle as if it were a 1920’s cinema screening. Nonetheless, the crowd cheers for the old time piano tunes and slapstick misadventures of the silent film. This unexpected scene is the work of the SPS Community Media team, whose characteristic method of outreach through film screenings is both entertaining and effective.

The media team focuses on writing and producing documentary-style films on the work of SPS. The films include instructional videos on topics such as watershed management and agricultural practice techniques, as well as narrative-based films that show the stories of beneficiaries of SPS initiatives. The films are used to educate community members undertaking certain projects and to raise awareness for various issues or programs available in the area. Several of the films have received acclaim from audiences at international film festivals, but it is not just the content and editing of the movies that engage the community members–it is also the way in which the media team screens the films.

Because personal transportation is often limited for people of the Dewas district, especially the women, the media developed the mobile screening initiative. The team has equipped their own truck with a portable screen, projector, and generator that can be easily set up and brought to any village for an outdoor screening. To help gather a crowd for SPS film, the team begins with playing entertaining movies, such as the Charlie Chaplin films or episodes of “Tom and Jerry” for the families. When the audience is settled, the team introduces themselves, and begins the film. What makes the documentaries particularly engaging is that they are usually set in a nearby village featuring people that the audience recognizes. Often, someone watching the film will point and yell out if they see someone they know during a particular scene. “Hey, that’s my cousin at the market!” It is this familiarity that allows the audience to relate to the movie and helps them engage with its message. Afterwards, the team moves into a period of discussion where the audience describes what they understood from the documentary and can ask questions. The media can relate what has happened in the film to what is going on in the village, whether it is promoting a new scheme or creating a platform for conflict resolution between community members. Because many members of the target audience do not have strong reading skills, the film provides an engaging and understandable format for teaching the community. With the mobile screening program, the SPS team has observed a growth in adoption of projects or initiatives promoted by the films within villages throughout the region.

One afternoon, the group of interns attended one of the film screenings for the Kumbaya employees at the Neemkheda Bhavan. We were able to observe how the media team interacted with the audience and how the screening was operated. Once the mobile screening truck arrived, one of the media team members played a name guessing game with the Kumbaya employees as the screen and projector were set up to play the documentary “Apna Bazaar”. The film documents the success of the kirana loan given out by the SHG program, which is a loan designated for the group purchase of groceries in bulk. As a group of consumers, the women gain more power and respect when negotiating prices and quality of products with store owners, and as individuals, the women must take greater care in allocating their savings for the bulk purchase that occurs three times per year. Highlighting this method of savings was the key objective for the screening that afternoon. The Kumbaya workers typically receive a weekly check to for bus separate from their wages, but to facilitate payments going forward, their wages would be increased to include the cost of bus fare. The post-screening discussion focused on showing how the women in the film learned to set aside a portion of their income or savings for the new system of buying groceries, as the Kumbaya employees would have to do with their new system of payment for bus fare. Rather than the managers just verbally informing the workers about the change in their wages, the film helped demonstrate, in a related way, what the impact of the change would be. After exchanging the last questions and answers, the media team packed their equipment and left the Kumbaya employees with an informative and entertaining afternoon.

Members of the media team discussing the documentary at the Kumbaya Bhavan

Members of the media team discussing the documentary at the Kumbaya Bhavan

What I have observed about SPS is that teams approach their work with a truly holistic perspective.The organization recognizes the interdependence among the needs of water availability, food and agricultural security, and economic stability, as well as the need for effective communication between the NGO and its beneficiaries. The work of the media team and the mobile film screening program is the creative platform for such communication that distinguishes the work of SPS. I am assured that as the organization continue continues to expand its reach, so will the fan-base of Charlie Chaplin.

Roll credits,


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About Andrew Shannon

UPenn Earth and Environmental Sciences '15, Masters of Science in Applied Geosciences '16 Intern with SPS for the summer of 2015 in Bagli, Madhya Pradesh