CAC School News and Events
Meeting in October, 2012
The training workshop, held on October 20-23 in Trabzon, marked the penultimate stop on the training course schedule (preceding a putting-of-the-finishing-touches study stay in London due in December) and focused on analyzing the drafts of what would be the students’ capstone projects for the three CAC classes (photography, documentary filmmaking and quality article writing).
The photography sessions saw the students go over hundreds of photos, their own and their fellow trainees’, as the trainer, Ibragim Chkadua, anatomized all the images, pointing out their technical merits or shortcomings and explaining why some of the shots worked well to complement a chosen storyline while others did not. The journalists spent some time getting the hang of some standard image editing techniques. But while teaching them how they could ‘polish up’ a photo, Ibragim warned them against overusing what he said were gimmicks unbecoming to a professional photographer.
At the filmmaking classes, what time they had left after submitting their draft videos to trainer Dato Pipia was consumed by practical work. For hours the trainees wandered streets in the vicinity of Usta Park Hotel, the venue of the training workshop and their temporary home, in an impromptu filming session, with a warrant from Dato to capture anything they felt could make an interesting story. The outings resulted in a slew of video-sketches, each of them providing a different glimpse of the city going about its daily routines: a bootblack attending to his client, a vendor touting delicious sesame donuts, souvenir shops bustling with tourists, a group of stray dogs dozing in the middle of a crowded alleyway, blissfully unaware of passers-by, local men whiling away their time in teahouses, and, hovering above it all, the voice of the muezzin calling the local pious to prayer.
The most mentally challenging for the students was, perhaps, the article writing part of the workshop led by Mark Grigorian. One after another, they took the floor to present their respective workpieces, many still very rough. In recounting what it had taken them to research their assigned themes, some trainees lamented the difficulty they said they had encountered of getting government sources to comment on the issues their investigations raised. Mark narrated a story from his own experience as a reporter to teach them how to deal with red tape and chronically ‘unavailable’ officials. He gave them until the 15th of November to have their materials worked into functional drafts and sent over to him for editing.
Meet-up in July, 2012
The 2012 round of Go Group Media’s Caucasus Authors’ Course (CAC) passed a new milestone last week, as yet another portion of face-to-face grounding in photography, documentary filmmaking and quality article writing was dealt out to its trainees – ten young people hailing from different parts of the South Caucasus.
The meet-up, the second of its kind this year, took place on July 27-29 in Istanbul, Turkey. A peripatetic training scheme was employed once again, as students, divided into three groups, moved from one makeshift classroom to another and, accordingly, from one to another of the three trainers to report their studying progress since their first get-together (in Turkey’s Kemer in mid-May), to be provided with more qualified insights into each of the three disciplines making up the course and to get new assignments to work on at home.
“Don’t go searching for the one percent of people who are exceptional in one way or another. Seek to give voice to the ordinary ninety-nine percent,” Margarita Akhvlediani, Go Group Media’s editor-in-chief who led the CAC story-writing classes in 2011, said at one of the Istanbul sessions, when themes for the students to cover in their final journalistic projects were being discussed. “Everyone has something that makes them interesting, you only have to dig deeper to find it.”
Elaboration of topics for the graduation projects was one of the main features of the meeting in Istanbul. The ideas the trainees proposed for what would be one measure of their ultimate academic achievement as CAC students were analyzed thoroughly, with the result that each trainee came away from the workshop with a customized and detailed plan for accomplishing his/her obligatory trifecta of projects (a documentary film, a quality article and photo-story).
Some of the themes to be covered are: old-age poverty in Georgia, Abkhaz Mojajirs going back to the land of their ancestors, environmental problems in an Armenian region, broken lives behind the repaired facades of Baku’s Old City, young Karabakhis sharing their memory of the war, South Ossetia’s brain drain problem.
Opening workshop, May, 2012
In the comfortable oriental setting of an isolated hotel hall the trainees learnt to differentiate between article genres (analysis, investigation, interview, etc.), were introduced to the “zigzag principle” of article composition (alternating facts and ‘colors’) and to the three basic parts a well-written story cannot but have (the introduction, body and conclusion).
Mark used samples to highlight technical aspects of writing a good piece of journalism, urging the students to always make sure their narrative was logical, to avoid overusing adjectives and adverbs which he said were a drag on a story flow, and to beware of clichés (‘The ‘inedible, dead words’ that will weaken the impact of whatever message you have to convey in your story!”).
As they analyzed publications introduced to them as examples of different article genres, the trainees found themselves discussing professional principles a journalist is expected to abide by (Differentiate between fact and opinion! Ensure that information you disseminate is accurate and balanced! Respect a respondent’s wish for his/her name not to be published! Don’t produce material that can lead to hatred or discrimination on any ground! etc.). Moral dilemmas journalists routinely encounter were also discussed (When is a reporter justified in obtaining information by means other than straightforward?).
“A photo is like wine. If it’s bad, it will go sour in no time at all, but if it’s good, it will become better by the year”, Ibragim Chkadua said at one point during a lecture he was giving to one of the three groups of trainees.“A really good photo very seldom occurs by fluke. Almost always it is a result of much hard work, commitment and intellectual endeavor,” he told another group.
“To succeed as photographers, you’ve got to read a lot and be knowledgeable in fields other than photography,” he exhorted the others. The lectures, supplying enough technical information to last the students till their next face-to-face meeting with Ibragim and to allow them to cope with their first assignments (experimenting with different photography genres, including portraiture, still life, reportage, etc.), were punctuated with hands-on work, when the groups would sally into the Kemer streets to try out the new concepts they’d just learnt in a ‘shooting spree’, photographing whatever came their way.
“I am still a newbie, but I do know now how to tell a good take from a bad one when watching a film. If nothing else, I’ve stopped being a thoughtless viewer,” said Asmat Chkotua, a student from Abkhazia, after a full day’s training in documentary storytelling.
Vistas and medium shots, close-ups and details, the ‘golden’ rule of thirds and use of ‘white space’, aperture and shutter speed, back lighting and tracking shots – this is only a small portion of the filmmaking lingo Dato, the trainer, treated his wards to, furnishing it with in-depth explanations and hours of practical exercise, when the trainees would film each other playing out simple scenes. Dato would then anatomize the footage resulting from these sessions, explaining to them how they could have done better.
December 2011: final workshop
The final CAC training workshop, held between December 5 and 7 in London, took the students through a jam-packed schedule of putting the finishing touches to their journalistic projects, ones they would have the opportunity to proudly present at the graduating ceremony two months later. Following what had become a habitual pattern, the trainees, divided into three groups of three to four, traveled between classrooms (set up streets apart from one another by the way), analyzing their draft essays with Margarita Akhvlediani, or preliminarily crafting the footage they had brought into documentary films with David Pipia, or putting together what would be their photography graduation projects with Ibragim Chkadua. Though utterly excited to be in London, the students would forget about it as they pored, for hours on end, over their classroom assignments, only getting a chance to become fully aware of the city around them in the evenings, when, a training day over, they would set out to see its sights and do some souvenir shopping. For the trainees and the trainers alike, the stay in London was tainted with sadness: it was bringing the training course to its close, and there wouldn’t be many chances for all of them to come together again. They parted, promising each other to keep in touch on the web-pages of the Facebook CAC Group.
October 2011: meeting and training workshop
The trainees converged on October 25 in the Black Sea port city of Odessa. They spent the remainder of the arrival day getting acquainted with Odessa’s most famous landmarks and rediscovering each other after almost three months of only seeing and talking to one another virtually - on the web-pages of the Caucasus Authors Course Facebook Group or during the program’s online training sessions (the latter have been provided to reinforce the lessons the journalists have learnt during the in-person training get-togethers, of which the Ukrainian one is the latest, following two others held in Istanbul and Trabzon, Turkey, in mid May and early August, respectively).
A joint supper in an esoteric Ukrainian food restaurant effectively restored them as a close-knit team with personal bonds, as well as with shared professional interests.
Next day, following the training pattern adopted at an early stage of the project, the trainers - Margarita Akhvlediani (in-depth report writing), David Pipia (documentary-making) and Ibragim Chkadua (photography) - divided the journalists into three groups of three, each of which featured a “strong” student, a middling performer and a trainee who’d come to the session more or less unprepared. A “nomadic” learning scheme was put in place, where the groups moved from one classroom to another, alternating in spending one full training day with each of the three trainers. The training days started at 9 a.m. and lasted well into the evening, only interrupted by meals, when all the groups came together to take a short rest from a laborious exercise of analyzing and correcting their “homework” assignments. (Each student had brought to Odessa a rough version of an in-depth report looking into an issue of importance in the place he/she comes from, footage for a documentary and a draft photo-story covering a topic assigned to him/her at the previous training session. All the journalistic works are to be finalized by early January next year, when a ceremony will be held in Tbilisi, at the British Embassy headquarters, to present them as the most tangible result of the CAC project). Later, the trainees would all say that among the project’s three training components the one led by Margarita was the most labor-intensive, requiring maximum attention and a huge logical reasoning effort on their part.
Some of the themes the trainees have chosen to investigate are: 1. Corrupt practices in the education sector in Azerbaijan.
2. Discrimination against women in Armenia.
3. The life of repatriated Muslim Meskhs in Georgia.
4. Growth of anti-Armenian feelings in Georgia resulting from a law recently adopted by the country’s parliament.
5. Homophobia in Georgia.
6. Small-business climate in South Ossetia, etc.
Margarita went over the drafts with a fine-toothed comb, pausing to explain every mistake they contained– be it simply a logically misplaced paragraph, heavy reliance on anonymous sourcing or use of unsubstantiated claims – and encouraging the attendees to come up with suggestions on how to improve the stories. In having their works thoroughly parsed, the trainees refreshed their memory of basic structural requirements a quality feature article must comply with.
An investigative report by Anna Politkovskaya, the famous Russian journalist and human rights campaigner assassinated in 2006, was read out to them as an example of how factual information uncovering an issue of major public concern can be impactfully conveyed through the words and emotions of real people who have first-hand knowledge of the problem in question (in Politkovskaya’s report, the real people sharing their personal stories are grief-stricken residents of Beslan, North Ossetia, shown struggling to return to normalcy a year after their town suffered a bloody terrorist attack, the one that made headlines across the world in 2004).
At the summing-up meeting, asked about how they’d benefited from the training course so far, the students all said they were coming away from the session with a deeper awareness of the importance of reflecting ordinary people’s voices in their journalistic work.
July 2011: meeting and training workshop
The second seminar for the CAC School students took place at the end of July in Trabzon, Turkey. Before the students gathered for the seminar, they were given intensive online training for two months; as a result the quality of their photographs, films, and articles considerably increased. It should be mentioned that the students got to know each other better thanks to the Facebook page created especially for the CAC School; so when they eventually met in Trabzon, they were pleasantly surprised to feel like old friends. During the three-day seminar, the students not only worked on various practical assignments, but also started to ponder over their final projects they were supposed to finish by the end of the course. The trainers gave the students instructions and advices to consider while working on the projects. By the end of the course each student is obliged to make a documentary, a photo story, and to write an article. The third seminar is scheduled for October; before then weekly online sessions will be conducted. The participants are so carried away by photography and documentry film making, that they will continue studying even after the seminar is over.
May 2011: first meeting and training workshop
The first seminar of the CAC School took place in Istanbul in May, 2011. After the first part of the six-month training course was over, eleven journalists from various regions of the South Caucasus gathered for the three-day seminar and learnt the basics of modern documentary film making, photography and social journalism. The trainers decided to divide the participants into three groups of 3-4 students, three trainers – Margarita Akhvlediani, David Pipia and Ibragim Chkadua – worked with students. Throughout the seminar each group worked with every trainer. During the seminar the students worked on practical assignments, which sometimes required teamwork. It contributed to their professional development, and also drew them closer. It should be said that for the most of participants the seminar in Istanbul was the first opportunity to meet and talk to a Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Abkhaz or Ossetian. Certain tension between the students could be felt on the first day; however, it was quickly overcome thanks to work in groups and joint discussions. The students managed to fully reveal themselves and make friends with each other. The second seminar of the CAC School will be held in July. Before then intensive online lessons will be conducted. The trainers will work with each student individually. The restricted Facebook page of the CAC School has been created; the students will be able to upload their assignments, to examine them and analyze mistakes with the trainers, and to get new assignments for futher online sessions.