Removing Boundaries: Sean Peoples on Documenting Integrated Development in TanzaniaOctober 31, 2013 By Jacob Glass
“We knew that we had a lot of reports, we knew that we had a lot of policy papers, but what we wanted to tell was a good story,” said ECSP’s Sean Peoples speaking recently at Duke University about the short documentary, Healthy People, Healthy Environment: Integrated Development in Tanzania.
The film, which profiles a population, health, and environment (PHE) development program operating in several rural villages in the Pangani and Bagamoyo districts of Tanzania’s northern coast and premiered at the Environmental Film Festival this year, was screened for the BorderWork(s) Lab, a lecture series drawing students and faculty from the humanities, social science, and policy fields.
Peoples sat down with the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute afterwards to talk about the purpose and making of the documentary. “Some of things that we’re trying to do is actually remove some of the borders…from organizations like conservation groups or health groups…to say that ‘you guys can work together,’ [and] use the different partnerships to actually impact a community by making these interventions cheaper,” he said.
The villages Peoples and Director of Photography Michael T. Miller visited face a number of local scarcity issues. Deforestation, which is technically illegal, is cutting into surrounding protected areas; overfishing, often using damaging techniques like poison and dynamite, is reducing catch rates for fish relied on for food; and population growth is rapid.
The PHE model is “trying to both conserve the environment around them and at the same time give them a little bit more access to health needs [such as] clinics and reproductive health access,” Peoples said.
“The introduction of a new and relatively cheap energy-saving stove addresses these complex and connected issues with a practical solution,” the film explains. The cookstove uses less fuel, produces less smoke (an acute issue for the women who use them), and provides a new source of income for entrepreneurial bakers. Meanwhile, training on sustainable seaweed farming and education about contraceptive methods has allowed the community to better use their resources and plan their families. Gender empowerment is weaved into all these interventions, and the film examines the effect of this integrated approach on three women.
“You Want to Be Authentic”
Making a film in rural Tanzania about a topic with as many moving components – and organizations involved – as PHE was not easy, Peoples said. “When you’re setting out to make a film about partnerships, about community, about women and empowerment, there are many different obstacles both at the logistical end, and in trying to tell a story around how all these things interact.”
“You want to get buy-in from the folks who are funding us, but you also want to be authentic,” Peoples said. “You want to make sure you’re going into the community representing that community the best way you know how.”
Despite these challenges, he said the power of multimedia to communicate complex ideas and bring viewers to a place makes it worth it. While many development projects tend to stake out different territories of focus and “stovepipe” their approaches, the film shows how a more integrated approach can work.
“How do these communities live and how do we replicate this approach?” he asked. “How do we scale it up so that you can actually impact the lives of more people? These are conversation starters.”
“We wanted to show how these different communities and these different topics can interact and be better served by an integrated approach.”
Video Credit: “Sean Peoples on Integrated Development in Tanzania,” courtesy of Duke University’s John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute.