Education through documentaries

Article, 18.01.2024

Documentary films are a powerful medium to address important issues, to persuade, educate, and challenge preconceptions. They are a unique tool that provides glimpses of real life and gives audiences new perspectives on familiar topics. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been financing the CineDOC-Tbilisi, an international documentary film festival organized by the Noosfera Foundation.  The aim is  to raise awareness about social issues, stimulate dialogue, and encourage youth to actively engage in shaping the future of their communities.

a group photo
13 filmmakers and cultural managers from the South Caucasus arrived in Batumi to participate in the workshop ©SDC

There is nothing like well-researched documentaries that often have a social impact by informing audiences, challenging their perceptions and facilitating cross-cultural understanding. By linking human stories to broader social and political issues, documentary films bridge the geographic and cultural divides.

On 19-24 September, Batumi, a coastal city of Georgia, hosted a CineDOC Youth Workshop bringing together thirteen cultural managers, filmmakers and producers from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The workshop aimed at training filmmakers from all three South Caucasus countries to direct and co-produce documentary films for a young audience. The participants were discussing the importance of documentaries for young people of different walks of life and the significance of delicate selection of films for screening.

“Young people like to watch documentaries because they can relate to them, the main characters, the films resonate with them. They understand documentaries better than feature films. They know very well that cinema is not Harry Potter only,” says Anna Hakobyan from Armenia.

Nathalie Chkhartishvili from Chaikhana says that young people feel more empathy with protagonists. She also believes that children shall be introduced to documentaries from as early age as possible. “Documentaries are getting popular in Georgia and it’s very good. Documentaries sensitize children with respect to the social, cultural and psychological difficulties encountered by other children of their age. Documentary is more natural than any feature film can be, and more real,” Nathalie added.

During practical sessions the filmmakers from the South Caucasus were trained on more hands-on production or distribution topics, including how to film protagonists in difficult situations, how to prepare the film material for editing, and what the benefits of co-productions are.

“I think the workshops are important in two ways - it is always easier for filmmaker to develop his project, when he is going through workshops. He has deadlines, he has feedbacks of the mentors and colleagues. And the second thing is that precious contacts we have with mentors and colleagues, that many times influence you in an unexpected way. Of course, you don't learn much within week, you learn by yourself, when you read, watch films. But this contact, this atmosphere of creativity, discussions, playing with editing, asking questions, they immerse you in a creative process, you feel connected, you feel your strength, you learn just by being around people with different experiences, the only thing needed is benevolence of the people, you are surrounded by,” says Afsana Yusifova.

Documentaries are the best means to put a face on an array of acute issues, such as early marriages, left behind children, bullying in schools, children living in abandoned villages, and etc. At schools, documentaries can stimulate and inform discussions about numerous issues, including human values and character, ethics, critical thinking, and environmental protection.

“The importance of documentaries for youth I witnessed during my visit to the school in Batumi and also during the pitching of our projects, where four school girls were in jury. I was surprised with the deep interest and understanding and feelings they had to the films. We sometimes underestimate kids, but it occurred that they understand and feel more, that we think of them. And why it is important? We get formed mostly in our childhood, we take our empathy, thoughts, vision of the world and attitude to it from our childhood, where we collide with strong emotions. And the films definitely are the media that may show and cause thoughts on the world, people, environment and other important things,” says Afsana Yusifova from Azerbaijan.

In addition, 19 newly appointed teachers were invited to participate in training sessions organized by the Noosfera Foundation. These sessions aimed to provide them with a comprehensive understanding of the impact of documentaries on audiences and equip them with the necessary skills to effectively facilitate the educational process through the use of documentaries.