World Stories: bringing documentaries to “the poorest people”

February 26, 2015

By Javier Pérez de la Cruz

“What World Stories and the Why Foundation are doing is bringing very important, powerful documentaries to greater attention and to international audiences,” said Richard Porter, controller of BBC World Service English, on Tuesday 24 February at the Frontline Club. The event marked the launch of the World Stories series, an international documentary initiative, and featured a screening of one of the organisation’s most recent films: My Afghanistan – Everyday Stories of Bombs and Bullets, by Danish filmmaker Nagieb Khaja.

L-R: Nagieb Khaja and Christoffer Guldbrandsen

L-R: Nagieb Khaja and Christoffer Guldbrandsen

World Stories is a project established by The Why Foundation, an independent editorial organisation based in Denmark. Its CEO, Christoffer Guldbrandsen, shared with the audience their aim of ensuring that “compelling” documentary films reach an international and global audience, especially in areas outside the scope of the mainstream media market. In order to do so, World Stories works in partnership with local broadcasters on a global scale.

During the presentation of this new initiative, an audience member asked how editorial control was shared between the filmmaker and the World Stories project itself.

Guldbrandsen responded:

“The whole project is based on a collaboration between the filmmakers and The Why Foundation, so we cannot re-edit the film. The films are approved by the directors when they go out. What we of course respect and acknowledge, is that when you work globally there are different standards. And, as I said, our aim is to inspire freedom of expression.”

In addition to Guldbrandsen, World Stories is the product of a collaboration between BBC Storyville editor Nick Fraser, and Mette Hoffmann Meyer, head of documentary at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.

Meyer told the audience of the “great joy” she experienced in spending weekends writing to broadcasters from Bhutan to Vietnam or Afghanistan. She also highlighted the importance of translating documentaries into other languages, in order that they have a chance to reach “the poorest people.”

“At the moment, the only niche audience [for documentary films] is in rich countries. World Stories aims to remedy this,” added Fraser.

Porter commented that they had committed a “substantial investment” to show 20 programmes under the Storyville global brand each year, something he thinks will give the BBC a “greater impact.”

To highlight the quality of documentaries that World Stories will endeavour to broadcast, a condensed edit of Nagieb Khaja‘s My Afghanistan – Everyday Stories of Bombs and Bullets was screened. In order to capture daily life in the country, the Danish journalist distributed mobile phones with HD cameras to 30 ordinary Afghan citizens, in order that they could record in firsthand their daily lives. The result is a surprising and moving story, offering an alternative to the Afghanistan that is depicted by the mainstream Western media.

On the subject of his film, Khaja said, “The thing with this movie is that is not a complicated movie, it is not a hardcore investigative movie. It’s about relations, about emotions… It’s about universal things.”

For more information on My Afghanistan, including upcoming screenings, visit the website here.