When we were first asked to support the USAID/Albania Justice for All project in the fall of 2019, we were thrilled. We were tasked with working with 60 journalism students from across Albania to share new media production techniques and to produce documentary films about justice in Albania. At the conclusion, we would be able to share their films at the Albanian Food and Film Festival. To us, this project was an absolutely perfect fit.
While the COVID-19 pandemic took the focus of the entire world in 2020, we didn’t give up. Even more importantly, the students remained committed. At the end of this project, we are enormously proud that while COVID certainly changed absolutely everything we had planned for the year, it also made this project more special and more successful in every single way.
Find out how we managed to do all of this below in three stages, followed by the amazing Film Festival we conducted across three continents, links to documentary films produced, and a special bonus production activity at the end.
Rana Labs arrived in Shkodër and Elbasan in February 2020, working with 30 students in two universities. Our team arrived with mobile filmmaking kits comprised of Google Pixels, gimbals, microphones, laptops, lights and other gear. At each university, the students worked in groups to develop their ideas for films they wanted to produce about justice in Albania. Over the course of 6 days in each location, we practiced with equipment, wrote storyboards, and at the end, they pitched their ideas for the films they wanted to produce.
We worked remotely for several months during the pandemic, taking advantage of lockdown periods to work on our storyboards in Google Docs, have regular Zoom calls to catch up and discuss story ideas, and to plan for the next workshop”
We were finally able to return to Albania in October 2020. This time, students were ready to begin creating their films. Working with a seasoned television producer from the Rana Labs team, students worked for several days at a time to interview their subjects, create shot lists, film b-roll, and to make sure that all of the content they needed for their film was ready for editing.
In total, eight films were produced from many different regions of Albania. Each story featured Albanian voices telling stories of what justice means to them. Some films were first-person documentary format, while others used third-person narration to tell a visual story.
Now the time had come! We had our footage ready, our storyboards and shot lists in hand, and our laptops open. To create our films, the students learned how to use Adobe Premiere Rush for the first time. They first created the story arc, cutting the narratives to match the storyboard. Once we agreed the story had been assembled in the right way, we added b-roll, music, on-screen text and the ending credits. Watching the students learn Premiere Rush was an incredible experience – it really made for an intuitive, fun, and hands-on learning process.
Leading up to the film festival, we hosted an online voting platform for students to get as many votes as they could for their films. The votes they received, and more. Beyond this platform, we were also counting the number of views each film received on YouTube and Instagram. All of the films did tremendously well, and many groups managed to get a lot of votes and views!
The US and UK Ambassadors to Albania joined the film festival to share in some of the awards announcements, and five jurors provided expert advice to the students on how they can continue to improve in filmmaking. Rana Labs team members participated in the event from Kampala, Guatemala City, Washington D.C. and Jerusalem.
You read that right! We issued a call for Production Assistants to join us in the final task of this project: The production of seven more films, this time about the Justice for All project itself. As we commonly do for organizations around the world, the project wanted to document success stories over the course of the five years working in Albania. However, we didn’t want to do this without some of the most talented new content creators in Albania… Our own former students! We hired six of them as paid interns to work with us in developing storyboards, conducting interviews, writing transcripts, and assembling story arcs in the editing phase. We successfully produced all of the films, and we could not have done it without our talented team.