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Participatory Film Training

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Stepping Stones in Malawi – participatory film training

In April 2013, Salamander Trust and the Coalition of Women Living with HIV in Malawi held participatory filming training workshops with members of the Coalition, their male partners and other community members. The workshops were led by Dr Dominique Chadwick of Social Films, who is an anthropologist, fim-maker and film-trainer. The following films are the result of these workshops. They represent the experiences and understandings of the participants, in relation to issues related to HIV, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), livelihoods and gender based violence (GBV). (Or click here if you want to order multiple copies of the DVD and accompanying booklet, or to request free copies.)


NOTE: if you are fortunate enough to have strong enough internet to watch these films online, please consider donating to our “Bridging the Digital Divide” appeal, so that we can also share them in hard copy with those who also want to see them but can’t! Every little helps and we – and the recipients – will be most grateful to you!


How did the process work?

Several training workshops were held over a 2-week period with groups of 8 women (COWLHA members), 8 men (their partners) and 8 youth from the local community and friends of COWLHA. Both the men’s and women’s groups have participated in Stepping Stones workshops run by COWLHA. Each of the three groups listed above were given a separate three-day workshop in participatory film making. Each time, the eight participants were taught how to use “flip” video cameras and trained in basic filming techniques. They reflected on how stories can produce and convey messages to their audience. The eight participants were split into two sub-groups of four. They were encouraged to reflect on the impact of issues such as HIV and gender-based violence in their own lives and asked to share a story relating to this with the rest of their group. During a collaborative process of discussion, one story was picked for each sub-group of four people. Participants were encouraged to look at their stories as powerful tools that could convey messages, raise awareness and advocate for change. They were trained to storyboard their film and organise each shoot with the participation of local members of the community as actors. The participants were entirely responsible for the choice of topic, storyline, message, content and dialogues of their films. They were also trained in these groups to edit their own films. Overall six participatory films were made, two films for each of the three groups.


What is participatory film making?

The participatory film making workshop facilitators engage the participants in a course of active learning of new skills and encourage them to develop upon their existing competencies. Participatory film making is designed to be a creative, enabling and empowering process. It brings together groups of people to engage and reflect with ideas through the medium and practices of film making. Participants were involved in each stage of the production of the film – from conception to development to filming to editing and beyond.




The film making process enabled a reciprocal process of learning for Salamander Trust and the participant film makers. Whilst the film trainers imparted the participants with the technical skills and the means to create videos, Salamander Trust was able to learn, through the workshops, about the issues that are important to these communities and to better understand the real effects of the Stepping Stones programme on their lives. The principal objective of the training was to enable the participants to use film as a powerful and sustainable form of advocacy and to support them to go on to engage local audiences in Malawi with some of the issues addressed in their films. These included HIV, gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, livelihoods and all the relationship and communication skills needed to navigate these issues throughout their lives. “Video provides opportunities for those with poor or no reading and writing skills to record and to review, and to revise and organise what they have recorded, before using it to represent their views to others.” (Braden, Su, 1999)


How best to use the films

How do we understand stories? How can we use them to open ourselves to new understandings and perspectives? In order to help audiences to reflect upon and challenge their own interpretations of the videos, we have devised some suggestions for resources to accompany the films. We know that conversations about HIV and the associated issues are hard, sometimes very hard, to initiate. We hope that these videos can act as a tool to encourage discussions and new ideas in a community setting. The questions were specifically designed to initiate positive and constructive dialogues based around the issues that are raised in the videos. They provide an opportunity to think in constructive, holistic and creative ways about some of the problems and unresolved tensions highlighted within each story.


  1. Community Screenings
    For community based screenings, where knowledge about and attitudes to HIV will be variable. This type of screening should be followed by a discussion of the themes and challenges raised. We know that conversations about issues surrounding HIV and the associated issues are hard, sometimes very hard, to initiate. The videos can act as a window, to open up discussions and new ideas. If you are based in or near to Malawi, you may want the film makers themselves to come to your community to present their films and talk about the process that was involved. Please contact us to discuss this possibility further.
  2. Online
    Although easy, watching these videos online means that they are taken far away from the context in which they were made (by farmers in a rural community of Malawi). This changes how we watch these videos and the significance we draw from them. Please take this into consideration and view the questions alongside the films.
  3. Training Workshops / Support Groups
    These videos could be included as part of training workshops or community support groups as a way to stimulate discussion and illustrate issues of communication, gender, HIV, livelihoods and SRHR. These videos can be shown to Stepping Stones participants, after which they can discuss, the issues and the types of behaviour portrayed in the videos. Below we suggest some questions to spark discussion after each film. You will see that all these questions are designed to think about positive possibilities. If you devise your own questions to add, please also focus on the positive possibilities that spring from these films.


Participatory Videos and Suggestions for Springboard Questions

Life of orphans

lifeoforphansthumbnailFilmed and edited by a group of four women, all members of the Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS and participants in the filming training workshops.

Story Summary:

Chisomo is an orphan. She has become responsible for her two younger siblings, yet she cannot afford to feed them. When she meets an older man, who offers to marry her and look after her and her siblings, she says yes without hesitation. Sometime later, we see that her husband is violent. He did not keep his promise to look after her family. Also, Chisomo feels unwell and her aunt convinces her to go for an HIV test. She is found to have HIV and attends a COWLHA support group where she finds support and help. COWLHA talk to Chisomo’s husband on her behalf to help him to understand why it is important that he also go for a test. He ends the film by stating that he will look after his whole family, including Chisomo’s siblings.

Some questions to consider:
  • How could Chisomo have been better supported by her community so that she did not feel the need to marry the man in order to support herself and her siblings?
  • How could the man have been supported not to behave violently towards Chisomo at all?
  • Do these situations take place in your community? If so, how can you support everyone involved?


Love one another

loveoneanotherthumbnailFilmed and edited by a group of four women, all members of the Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS and participants in the filming training workshops.

Story Summary:

A pregnant woman argues with her husband because she wants them to get an HIV test together. She cites his behaviour (drinking and staying out late) as the reason for this. At first the man doesn’t want to go but a COWLHA member convinces him that it is important for the future health of his wife and baby. The man and woman go together to the clinic to be tested. The wife is found to have HIV whilst the man is found to be HIV negative. At first the husband and his family want a divorce – but one of his aunts convinces them that this is not the right path of action. Later, the wife is seen selling groundnuts on the road. Two local women who have heard rumours about her HIV status will not buy from her. They mistakenly believe they can acquire HIV from the nuts that she has touched. However, a COWLHA member comes to educate them otherwise. After learning the facts, the two women are happy to buy groundnuts from the seller.

Some Questions to Consider:
  • The woman is found to have HIV. What effect did her HIV status have on her ability to sell her produce? Was this fair? Does this happen in your community?
  • How could the woman and man have been supported by the community before they had an HIV test?
  • Do you have problems between husbands and wives in your community? What can you do to support them to improve their relationships?


My life

mylifethumbnailFilmed and edited by a group of four men, all of whom are partners of members of the Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS and participants in the filming training workshops.

Story Summary:

A wife hides money from the sale of their chicken from her husband. Angered, he beats her until she hands over the money. He spends the money out in bars, drinking and dancing with other women. Later we find out that both the wife and husband have HIV. As a result of the diagnosis, the wife is discriminated against by the village chief. COWLHA intervene and advise the chief about why he should alter his behaviour. The chief agrees. The man and the woman are seen to be happy at the end of the story, planning their future finances together.

Some Questions to Consider:
  • How could the couple have been supported by the community so that the woman did not feel the need to hide the money she had worked for from her husband?
  • The husband at the end offered his wife a piece of cloth from money they had earned together. What gift could he have also given her which was created just by his own efforts? What gift could she have given him created just by her own efforts?
  • Do couples in your community have disputes over how money they have worked for together is spent? How can your community resolve such disputes fairly? How might things have happened differently?


No more sexual abuse

nomoresexualabusethumbnailFilmed and edited by a group of four men, all of whom are partners of members of the Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS and participants in the filming training workshops.

Story Summary:

A young girl is attacked, on her way home from school, by a young man. She runs home to tell her father what has happened. Her dad tells the police. Together with a policeman they capture the abuser. The father tells everyone in the community about what happened to his daughter. A community member tells the local children that it is important and brave for children to tell adults when they experience sexual abuse.

Some Questions to Consider:
  • Research tells us that the most significant single factor for a man to be violent towards females is for him to have witnessed violence towards females in his home when he was a boy. How do you think we can change this?
  • If children experience shame or bullying, anger, physical or sexual abuse when they are young, they grow up thinking that it is OK to behave or be treated like this. What do you think we can all do to change this?
  • In the film, the girl was believed by her father. Does this happen in your community? How can we support children to speak the truth, to share what has hurt them with adults and to be listened to and believed by adults?


Stop violence against children

stopviolenceagainstchildrenthumbnailFilmed and edited by a group of three young community members and a local healthcare worker, all participants in the filming training workshops.

Story Summary:

Two children stumble upon an uncle attempting to rape his niece. They save the girl just in time and take her back to her mother. They try to warn other girls to be careful. The boys have a discussion in class to understand why rape is wrong and destructive.

Some Questions to Consider:
  • In the film, there is a discussion in which two characters disagree about whether rape is wrong or not. How can we support everyone in our communities to understand the damaging and destructive impact of sexual violence?
  • Is it true to say that acquiring HIV will “destroy” a person’s future or that they are a danger to others? What can we do to change people’s negative and false ideas about people living with HIV?
  • Is sexual abuse within families an issue in your community? How can we best support children and young people to keep themselves safe and happy?


Let’s listen to each other

letslistentoeachotherthumbnailFilmed and edited by a group of three young community members and a local healthcare worker, all participants in the filming training workshops.

Story Summary:

A boy tells the story of his uncle, Sayikonda, who was a successful businessman. However, he started to have sex with sex workers and to drink heavily. His sister tried to warn him away from these activities but he ignored her because she was living with HIV. Sayikonda eventually lost all his money, acquired HIV and later developed AIDS – from which he died. Young people discuss the effect of this story upon children.

Some Questions to Consider:
  • How could this man have been supported by his community not to get sick and lose his money?
  • Is it fair to suppose that all people with HIV somehow “deserve” it through their unwise behaviour?
  • How can your community support all marginalised people, including sex workers and people living with HIV?


These are just our suggestions. If you have other ideas about how best to use or support these videos… do please let us know! We look forward to hearing from you.


The Stepping Stones in Malawi Documentary Film

stepping-stones-in-malawiAs well as the participatory films, film maker Dominique Chadwick of Social Films produced a documentary.

“Seeking Safety: Stepping Stones in Malawi”

“I used to abuse my wife when she went to the hospital to collect her ARV treatment because she came back late and I didn’t like it. I stopped the abuse after COWLHA members came to my house to counsel me that what I was doing was violence”

The film is also available to view in french here.

About the Film

Members of the Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS in Malawi (COWLHA) and their partners meet to talk about how they used the Stepping Stones programme (published by Strategies for Hope), to overcome gender-based violence, improve communication and relationship skills and restore peace and prosperity in their families and communities. 
The film highlights the importance of developing good gender relationships through negotiations around money, medication and condom use in the context of HIV, GBV and SRHR.


Order the DVD and Accompanying Booklet!

To order the handbook and enclosed DVD, download the following order form by clicking on the red resource link below. This will open up the order form as a word document. Complete and email it back to us at: [email protected].

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