Lights, Camera, Caption

Short captioned videos are a proven way of getting people to engage with challenging topics. Now it is possible to make high quality films using regular smartphones meaning great content can be made with a tiny budget, opening a new world of communication for civil society.

The Almaty video school was the Prague Civil Society Centre’s second video school and first in Central Asia. Captioned videos provide an accessible and budget friendly option for civil society to reach a wider audience.

How can activists and NGOs in Central Asia get their message across with limited resources and when opportunities for exposure are so few and far between?

The answer may be sitting in their pockets.

The rise in smartphone ownership in Central Asia means that people already have all tools they need to create engaging content that can help bring attention to the issues they work on.

Recognising this potential, the Almaty Video School brought participants from all over Central Asia to Kazakhstan for a crash course in caption video production. Caption videos are short, hard hitting mini films with text explainers to give context to the images.

The school built on last year’s successful video quest in Lviv that brought participants from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to the Ukrainian city to produce video stories. The idea behind that school was to create content that would appeal to Central Asian audiences and balance the official Russian narrative about events in Ukraine.

This year was bigger in scope with activists, journalists, bloggers and entrepreneurs from all five countries of Central Asia coming to Almaty for ten days for an intensive caption video workshop. Guided by experts from Current time and the School of Journalism of the Ukrainian Catholic University, this was a workshop in the truest sense of the word with little lecturing and a firm focus on producing content.

Participants worked in their groups to produce short captioned videos that focused on real social issues in Kazakhstan. For example, one team set out to shed light on the difficulties people with mental health problems face finding work in the country. The video focuses on the day in the life of Yura, a young man with leaning difficulties who has managed to get work at a social café in Almaty. The charismatic Yura explains his sense of empowerment from being able to earn his own money. His story providing an engaging human narrative that keeps the viewer hooked alongside the broader aim of explaining how the authorities are failing people with mental difficulties.

This approach of a strong human story that sheds light on important social issues is a successful formula and was mirrored in the other films produced during the workshop. From animal rescuers to one man’s mission to save a lake from destruction, participants produced high quality and powerful videos that received tens of thousands of views.

All filmed on smartphones, participants returned home with the skills to produce powerful films on a shoestring budget. The Almaty video school demonstrated that making quality videos is not something impossible and inaccessible. Participants are already using their skills to make films that are getting thousands of views in their home countries, no mean feat in a region new to the power of the caption video.