"Awra Amba" - Documentary and Transmedia Activism

Curator's Note

The documentary faces a special set of challenges when trying to incorporate transmedia practice - can one extend the story across multiple story entry points in a manner that respects the “story” of its subjects? Can these characters contribute to their own story? Will the audience gain a better understanding of the subjects, or engage in actual dialogue with them? Can this lead to some greater impact?

In Awra Amba: Virtual Village, director Paulina Tervo experiments with transmedia practices to accomplish each of these goals. Tervo has created a relatively traditional broadcast documentary about a rural village in Ethiopia where the 400 inhabitants have come together with the belief that they can escape poverty by applying gender equality, dividing labor equally and by leaving behind traditional and religious practices. Tervo expands her story, however, by creating a participatory ‘virtual’ village online.

While the virtual village is largely experienced as a website, the components of this one platform are made up of multiple story-telling entry points for both her audience and her documentary subjects. The website will feature short documentaries expanding the story by focusing on other aspects of the community, chosen by the villagers themselves. By using WireWax technology (you must turn tags to on, not auto, on the left toolbar), these videos will be made interactive for online audiences. In the example shown, the user can click on character’s faces for more background media, or perhaps click on a person weaving and be linked to purchase that person’s fabrics. This last act being not just a consumer purchase, but also an action that can help make the village’s production sustainable.

Tervo is working with Ethiopian journalism students who will write articles about the village to be carried locally and (hopefully) throughout the world. Tervo plans to create a participatory photography workshop with the villagers, training them to use simple digital cameras to document generational changes. She will also encourage audience input and dialogue with villagers through social media sharing of impressions, stories and photographs.

By utilizing elements of transmedia practice, Tervo hopes to create a dialogue between visitors (real and online) and the Awra Ambans, as well as challenge existing stereotypes of Africa and power structures in media. It is an exciting experiment in the use of transmedia practice by documentarians, and a new example of what Lina Srivastava and Vicki Callahan call transmedia activism. I hope to see more.


Thanks for a great post, Brian, and for the mention of our work.  What is particularly exciting is that the web platform for "Awra Amba" and Tervo's use of WireWax technology can effectively extend the issue/activism universe by creating entry points into both the villagers' stories-- creating the context necessary to understand systemic challenges-- as well as direct action that enhances possibilities for economic sustainability.  I'm excited to see how this project unfolds.  Hoping it provides additional inspiration to other social impact projects.

Agreed-- thanks for highlighting this, Brian, as it gives a nice counterpoint to some of what I was trying to say eariler this week. I actually think that transmedia activism (or transmedia 'docs') can benefit quite a bit from tackling some of the world-building structures of larger transmedia fictions. I could easily imagine spaces where, say, objects have accessible histories, people have discernable paths through landscapes (and consequently the media representing those landscapes), etc. While I think that too much stricture/ standardization ultimately hurts transmedia practice, it's worth remembering that, for lack of a better word, transmedia fiction has always sought to present a more 'real' or authentic world to inhabit. I think the real world can, conversely, also learn a lot from fictional design.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.