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Local Voices, Global Visions

I'm riding on an Amtrak Acela train through snowbound Connecticut right now on my way to the National Model United Nations conference, where I'll be addressing a group of 500 youth delegates who are conducting a mock World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). To psych myself up for the talk, I brought along a DVD of TakingITGlobal's new documentary, Local Voices, Global Visions. I got the DVD in the mail just before I left for India a few weeks ago, so this was my first chance to see it.

If I could snap my fingers and burn 100,000 DVDs in a flash, I would send a copy of this documentary to every K-12 school in the United States, then snap my fingers some more until they turned raw so schools and youth groups around the world could have a copy as well. This 45-minute documentary, produced entirely by young people, does an astounding job at capturing what's at stake with WSIS, which will have its second summit this November in Tunisia. And it demonstrates the vital role that youth can play in policymaking, whether related to the digital divide or other important policy goals.

The video profiles groups of young people from around the world — Sierra Leone, Nigeria, India, the Philippines, Canada and Tunisia — as they organize national youth campaigns to mobilize young people into the WSIS policymaking process. The documentary is broken down into segments, each one profiling youth activists and their work in their home country. We get to know Andrew Benson Greene and his colleagues in IEARN Sierra Leone as they teach their peers to use digital technology and create music as part of their country's post-civil war healing process. In Nigeria, ‘Gbenga Sesan leads a national campaign to educate youth about the importance of participating in digital divide policymaking. In India, we meet a young woman who has opened up her home to a local orphanage so she can teach children computer skills. And in Tunisia, we learn about Marouen Mrahi, Rim Nour and their fellow engineering students as they galvanize Tunisian youth to participate in the next WSIS summit, which will take place in their home town of Tunis.

The documentary reaches its climax in Geneva during the first WSIS summit in December 2003. The young people profiled in the video, along with hundreds of other youth activists, organize seminars, participate in summit plenaries, and demonstrate ICT projects to government ministers. The summit is the culmination of more than a year of activities around the world, but it's quite clear that these young people have no plans of wrapping up their activities once they go home. For one thing, they've got another WSIS summit ahead of them in November 2005, but beyond that, you get to see how these young people are laying the groundwork for long-term initiatives to bridge the digital divide in their home countries.

I've met many of the young people profiled in this documentary in person, so it's great getting to see them in the spotlight, but it's not just because I know them personally. (Full disclosure — TakingITGlobal is a strategic partner of the Digital Divide Network, and I donated some photos from the Geneva summit for the documentary.) Watching them speak, organize local campaigns and take action, I couldn't help but think these young people are truly the leaders of tomorrow. In all seriousness, I wouldn't be at all shocked if one of them – or even more – end up becoming heads of state in their home countries. They have charisma, leadership skills, articulateness and a profound grasp of policy issues. Not only does this video document the role of youth in WSIS, it documents national leaders in the making.

Beyond the amazing people profiled in the video, there's the high production quality as well. TakingITGlobal produced it on a Mac laptop running Final Cut Pro editing software (I note with some pride, as these tools are my own documentary weapons of choice), with all the work done by young people. Twenty-one-year-old Jarra McGrath traveled the world shooting the film, with TakingITGlobal's Nick Moraitis collaborating as co-editor and as narrator. Even the music is produced by youth, most notably the songs recorded by IEARN Sierra Leone. The documentary is a perfect example of how young people can be producers of high-quality content, from video editing to interstitial animations to the Hollywood-quality DVD jewel box packaging.

I do have one complaint, though; the documentary is not available online. If you go to the video's website, there's a short clip, but otherwise only contact information for purchasing copies. That's a real shame — it would be an enormous public service to make the documentary, or at least more clips, available for noncommercial and educational use.

Otherwise, I can't say enough about this documentary. I am so inspired. It's reinforcing the creative buzz I felt during my recent trip to India, where I produced two documentary shorts on my laptop. My mind is racing with ideas, locations, editing tricks: I'm just dying to get out in the field and make more documentaries now.

But my short-term goal may have backfired. I intended to watch this video to get psyched for my speech later today, yet I may have to scrap my entire presentation for the conference. I'm almost – almost – tempted to shut up and let this documentary do the talking. With Local Voices, Global Visions, the youth of TakingITGlobal articulate the importance of WSIS better than I ever could with just an old-fashioned speech…. -andy

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